The meeting hall of the Principessa Elena Society in Saratoga Springs saw strong turnout of area residents on the evening of Thursday, April 24, as Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson hosted the first of many public forums in the Saratoga Speaks series.
Johnson has introduced the quarterly meetings as an opportunity to speak face to face with area residents on topics impacting the city. The April 24 meeting focused on recreation programs.
What we can do presently to better define our youth to give them more opportunities, to help them become better and more productive adults ` really comes under the realm of recreation and education,` said Johnson. `The youth is the future of our community, and recreation is a huge component of growing up in any community.`
Chief among the night’s topics was the presentation of a preliminary concept for an indoor recreation facility formerly slated for construction on Weibel Avenue. As Saratoga Springs Recreation Director Linda Terricola explained, it was recently determined the structure would better serve the community if built at the Southside Recreation Field along Vanderbilt Avenue and Worth Street.
The Southside location will be easier for youths to bike or walk to, and already sits along a bus route, said Terricola. Conversely, most would have to be driven by parents or walk along busy Route 9 to reach Weibel Avenue, she said.
`You couldn’t ask for a better location,` said Terricola, who also stated that the Southside fields are currently underutilized when it comes to organized activities.
As currently planned, the facility will contain two full size basketball courts, locker-room facilities and community spaces for various events. An indoor walking track will ring the basketball courts. Some outdoor space will be retained, including the spray park area and playground. Indoor racquetball courts and a rock climbing wall could also provide a possibility for generating revenue.
The move to a more residential area has changed plans for the facility slightly, according to Johnson. `Out on Weibel Ave. we could have put up a metal box and no one would have cared,` he said. `We’re trying to keep height down to lessen impact on the surrounding space.` The facility will also be placed near the corner of Vanderbilt and Worth, and the parking area built in the back, both to lessen impact on nearby homes and put the entrance closer to the bus stop.
A few residents expressed concerns over area youth losing free play opportunities if the Southside fields are done away with. Terricola noted that the facility will still provide the opportunity for unstructured play, and will also be usable year round.
`Your children are still going to be able to go every day after school or in the summertime and utilize the facilities,` she said.
Area resident Kathleen Christopher also noted that while Southside is currently seeing unstructured use, it often occurs after park hours and is sometimes unsavory. `This park situation has just degraded,` said Christopher. `Anything they can do to improve the current situation is welcome.`
Since the proposed structure would lie on city land, the project is poised to move ahead. Mayor Johnson said a more refined plan should be available by then end of May, and the hope is to break ground on the facility in the fall.
Also discussed was the construction of lights at the Geyser Park baseball fields. The fields already see heavy use and, according to Rick Stone, a member of Saratoga Spring’s Babe Ruth Baseball Program’s Board of Directors, the popularity is making it difficult for his teams to secure games.
`We are finding it very difficult to play home games on Saratoga fields,` said Stone. The lights would allow for later play as games would not have to be called on account of darkness, and Stone said this could alleviate some of his concerns.
Terricola expressed hopes to have the lights up by the early fall.
Another project Johnson hopes to see tackled under his administration is making fit for use of a waterfront parcel on Saratoga Lake the city acquired in May 2006. The site lies off of Crescent Avenue and was the location of the Waterfront Restaurant. Though a committee report suggesting uses for the 4-acre parcel was submitted in December 2005, there has been no movement to actually develop the site.
`It’s a project that needs to be moved forward,` said Johnson. `It’s taxpayer money that has gone to the purchase of the land, and my administration has every intention of moving it forward as soon as possible.`
There are two bidders competing for rights to develop the site, according to Johnson. He would like to see the bidding process completed in the next 30 days, though he said having the site ready for public use this coming summer might be `a bit enthusiastic.`
Johnson also announced the creation of a Friends of Recreation group. Members would be tasked with raising money and signing up volunteers for the recreation department. “