Linda Terricola, Saratoga Springs recreation director, kicked off a lively banter about the construction of an indoor recreation center at the Southside Recreation fields when she opened the public session of the City Council Tuesday, May 20, by reading from a letter addressed to the City Council.
There’s lots of activity, said Kathleen and Henry Christopher in the letter, following up on comments made at a Saratoga Speaks forum on Thursday, April 24, during which the Christophers, who reside across the street from the Southside Fields, said the park’s use was `unstructured` and `unsavory.`
The letter described a scene in which errant baseballs clobbered neighboring houses and men urinated at the basketball courts to a backdrop of foul language and loud music.
Peter Brown, a resident and father who lives close to the planned site, called the Christophers’ depiction as `stereotypical.` He also said that descriptions of heavy drug use and constant problems at the park were `hyperbolic.`
Although he admitted that it isn’t organized sports that use the park, Brown said the park is not underused and that people are there almost every day.
`It’s the fathers like me with their sons throwing baseballs,` he said.
Brown said he supported building a recreation center, but questioned the cost of building a center at the Southside location, saying that the city had not exhausted all other possibilities. Like other residents, he opposed destroying green space by replacing a park with a big building and huge parking lot.
`Is a park too much of a price to pay for a new rec center?` he asked. `We ask that you please not pave the park.`
Gerard Hawthorne, a member of the recreation commission, presented the council with almost 500 signatures from adults and kids who live at the nearby Jefferson Park supporting the center at the Southside location.
`I would have the kids here, but they can’t get here. That’s the problem,` Hawthorne said.
Hawthorne noted that the originally planned structure had been reduced by 5,000 square feet, leaving one-third acre of green space. The existing spray park and playground would remain as well.
With replacing the Southside fields, the center’s plan would include two full-sized basketball courts, locker rooms, a walking track and community spaces.
The center was previously slated to be constructed on Weibel Avenue, but was moved to the Southside location at Vanderbuilt Avenue and Worth Street because of its accessibility, said Terricola at a previous meeting.
The new location would allow residents to access the center by foot or bike, eliminating safety concerns about kids walking along busy Route 9, as well as reducing the strain placed on working families to transport kids seeking recreation to various sites around the city ` one of several reasons resident Robert Fusco said he supported the center at the Southside location.
Fusco said the recreation center could consolidate programs and provide kids with supervised alternatives to hanging on the streets.
At the close of the public hearing and during the break that followed while council members convened in an executive session, residents could not agree in whose back yard the center should be built in, but there was little question that one was needed.
`I’m not opposed to a rec center,` said Brown. `Just like you or I did, kids are just being kids. Ultimately, they just want to be able to go outside and play.“