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Massena Recreation Commission discusses Bushnell Field sports complex

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MASSENA - A Massena man who is involved with the local Little League program is proposing an athletic complex that would centrally locate outdoor sports at Bushnell Field.

Pete Firnstein told Massena Joint Recreation Commission members Tuesday that the current setup with Little League fields at Springs Park and on North Main Street poses safety and handicap accessibility issues which could be resolved by creating a sports complex.

“It’s a parking nightmare on North Main if 20 teams are there,” he said, noting spectators often have to cross the busy road to get to the park.

Soccer fields located behind Massena High School are also difficult for spectators to get to, he said.

“One of the biggest complaints I hear is elderly people have to walk so far behind the school to get to the field,” said Mayor James F. Hidy, who joined Mr. Firnstein at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Pete has a vision for Bushnell, where he’d like to see a more event-filled campus. I’ve been there a couple of times. All there are is a couple of baseball diamonds. He was hoping this was something we could start discussing,” he said.

“I was just thinking something for the kids - a multi-field complex in one location. Everything is centrally located. It’s for the youth of Massena, but I think it will benefit the community as a whole,” Mr. Firnstein said.

He has come up with an outline that would centrally locate sports such as football, soccer, baseball and softball under one roof at Bushnell Field. The fields could be used for indoor sports year-round, allowing for some seasons like soccer to stretch out longer, he said. They could also be used by sports organizations from other municipalities, as well as by the proposed Boys and Girls Club of Massena which hopes to open its doors in May 2014.

“There’s only so many things (the Boys and Girls Club) is going to be able to do in that building (St. Joseph’s Social Hall). I’m trying to think outside the box and get everything in one location. I’m trying to think of an opportunity to give kids something to do in the winter months,” Mr. Firnstein said.

“It will affect more than just the village. It will affect the whole county,” he suggested. “If you don’t build something to get people to come, they’re not going to come.”

While Recreation Commission members said the plan was admirable, their concern was funding.

“We don’t have our own funding supply,” Chairman David M. MacLennan noted. “It’s a nice facility but a high price tag.”

Board members noted that Dr. William Orlando had come to them several years ago with a similar idea to create a softball complex, but funding was still the issue back then.

“Dr. Orlando came down here. That idea has been tossed around. It’s a nice idea” if funding is available, George Hammill noted.

“It didn’t go very far,” Mr. MacLennan said. “It comes back to the bottom line - funding.”

“It died a quick death because of funding. He envisioned a very large complex. You should contact Dr. Orlando. He contacted us. He had gone beyond conceptual planning,” Councilman Albert N. Nicola, the town’s liaison to the Recreation Commission, told Mr. Firnstein.

Mr. Hidy and Mr. Firnstein said they believed funding was available to assist with the project. Mr. Hidy noted that the Massena Community Center had been partially funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I know there’s money out there,” he said, suggesting that if necessary they could “piecemeal it” one or two fields at a time.

“If you want it bad enough, there’s way to do it,” he said.

Mr. Firnstein said he had heard about a “green” grant that would cover 90 percent of the cost, with a 10 percent local match needed.

“I’ll research it a little more and find out what grants are available,” Mr. Firnstein said, noting that federal funding available to Native Americans might also be a possible source of money.

“It’s worth researching and see what’s out there,” Rec Commission member George Hammill said.

Board member John J. Horan said he believed it was a “great idea that I think is well worth considerable research.”

He suggested that a task force be appointed, consisting of members with backgrounds that could be used to explore the project fully, including someone with grant writing experience and someone with civil engineering expertise.

“I think that’s well worth our effort to try to put together a group with a variety of expertise,” Mr. Horan said, calling it “a mega project that’s going to take mega dollars.”

The project, if it came to fruition, could mean additional revenue for the Recreation Commission, he said.

“It does have some revenue potential in the long run. It would bring people to the community. This could be one of those things to make us a destination,” Mr. Horan said.

However, he reiterated his belief that a task force would be better suited to exploring the project’s feasibility.

“I think (the Recreation Commission) should be part of it,” he said, “but I think it should be a group that has that as their sole mission.”

Mr. MacLennan agreed.

“I think the Recreation Commission could be part of it, but I certainly don’t think we should be spearheading it,” he said.

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