Tonawanda News

The Town

October 22, 2010

Worries persist about Parkside community center

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The Sheridan Parkside Village Community Building is home to a number of agencies. Ken-Ton Meals on Wheels uses it, as do the Literacy Empowerment Action Plan of Western New York and the Towne Players theater company.

The Clean Air Coalition of WNY often hosts meetings in the building. It is also used as a youth center offering neighborhood children a variety of gym activities, special events and crafts.

This fall, the building also became home to Health Sciences Charter School, an innovative new school that offers its students real world experience to position the pupils for careers in the local health care industry.

Neighbors are happy to have the school, but some, like Kathy Russell, are concerned about the building’s future. The charter school currently has a two-year lease for the building to house classes for ninth and 10th grades.

But as the school expands to include junior and senior classes in the coming years, some Sheridan Parkside residents are worried that Health Sciences will buy the building and force its other occupants to relocate.

If that happens, “We want to know where our children will go,” Russell asked during a recent town board meeting. She said she feels like some town officials aren’t particularly concerned about the well-being of the Sheridan Parkside neighborhood, saying some would rather see it “fall off the map.”

Russell implored town leaders to consider the possible ramifications of selling the community building.

“Our children would be the ones to suffer if the youth center is gone,” said Russell, who chairs the area’s Neighborhood Watch group. “If you sell our building, build a new one.”

Neighborhood resident Betty Johnston shared a similar view.

“The youth center is the only thing our kids have,” she said.

School officials could not be reached to comment Thursday. However, during Monday’s town board meeting, Youth, Parks and Recreation Director Dan Wiles briefly addressed the matter after Russell spoke.

He said the school currently has enough space for two grade levels. “They have to make a decision as to what their needs are,” Wiles said, adding that school leaders have set an “in-house” deadline of mid-December to make such a decision.

Wiles assured residents the town doesn’t want to take any educational and recreational opportunities away from Sheridan Parkside residents.

“There’s been no talk whatsoever of discontinuing services,” he said. “The manner it could be delivered could always change. That’s a fact of life. But ... it’s too early to comment. I have no idea what the future’s going to bring.”

Whatever the future does bring, though, Russell and her neighbors want to make sure town leaders know exactly where they stand. “We’re just concerned that the town board reassures us they’re going to have a place for the kids to continue getting the services they have now,” she said. “We just want to make sure they know how important the building is to us.”

Russell said she and her neighbors don’t hold anything against Health Sciences Charter School. In fact, she said, she’s met with Principal Hank Stopinski on several occasions. “They’re very community oriented,” she said.

For many kids in the Sheridan Parkside neighborhood, the community building offers plenty of programs and activities, all within walking distance. Residents hope they won’t soon have to worry about sending their children farther.

“It’s very close by, in our own neighborhood. Kids don’t have to go anywhere for the services,” Russell said. “They can walk right over there.”

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