July 19, 2006

New Rec Center For Westhampton? Concept Plan Unveiled

By Lisa Finn

Westhampton Beach residents who've long bemoaned the dearth of recreational activities in town may soon find nirvana in the shape of a shark — or SHARC, the newly proposed Southampton Aquatic & Recreation Center. But with the price tag for Phase I of the project estimated at $9.8 million, the project still needs some big dreamers to transform the vision into a bonafide reality.

Members of the Southampton Town Board met last week with members of a citizen's advisory group that has been working on the project, as well as Michael Tortorice of BH&A Architects and Timothy Rumph, president of Araiys Design, to unveil the first-ever conceptual designs for the long-anticipated rec center.

The proposed recreation center, modeled after the Southampton Youth Services' North Sea Athletic Facility, would be located on 16.8 acres on Old Country Road, north of the railroad tracks in Westhampton Beach. The centerpiece of the facility would be an 8-lane, 25-yard pool, with 500 foldable bleachers. The pool area would be modeled around the concept of an indoor beach, with area for classes and walls that could be opened on warm days to let in natural light.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi, who was a town board liaison, along with Councilman Steve Kenny on the project, emphasized that the focus was on keeping the integrity of the property, which is wooded, intact, with a 1.9-mile recreational trail and buffers to protect the scenic corridor along Old Country Road.

Also offered at the facility would be the only turf field in Southampton Town, an outdoor, multi-purpose recreational field, with two ballfields.

One area of concern in regard to operating the facility was how to ensure it remains revenue positive. To that end, a fitness facility as a tenant is an integral component of the plan, with classes offered in swimming, karate, yoga and possibly a rock-climbing wall, for which participants would pay a fee. Other integral pieces of the proposed project include a day-care facility, which would be run on-site, and a summer camp, both revenue generators.

The plan, said the architects, is to build the facility as a green building, with the focus on energy efficiency.

The new center would feature locker rooms and showers, as well as a lobby, or gathering space for individuals attending the multi-functional facility.

The idea for a new recreation center is not a new one. Kenny, instrumental in pulling together the project, said concepts have been bandied about since initial plans for a Hampton Bays pool were ultimately voted down by public referendum.

"What we need now are a couple more dreamers to participate," said Barry Altman, a member of the citizens' advisory board, who also pointed out that it is the obligation of area residents to provide such opportunities for their children and grandchildren. "We're surrounded by water but we have no real place for children to learn how to swim." Disasters, although uncommon, he said, "are unacceptable, just because someone couldn't afford a swimming lesson."

The center, which would be a "safe haven" for children and families, would be fully handicapped accessible and focused toward intergenerational activities.

Projected costs for the center, estimated to cost $9.8 million for Phase I, said Kenny, are conservative, with numbers that could run between $7.5 and $11 million. The cost for the project averages $250 per square foot, plus a contingency plan.

A private benefactor has stepped up with $2 million; the town has pledged an additional $2 million for the project.

Councilwoman Linda Kabot questioned whether it might be wise to proceed with the pool portion of the project, something residents have been eager to embrace. Tortorice explained that the cost per square foot of building the pool is the most costly facet of the project and the amount for the fitness is not only less, but will generate income.

"It's still a vision," said Altman. But although the plan is just a concept, the board was enthused. "It's an exciting project," said Nuzzi.

A meeting to review the proposed concept plan will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Westhampton Village Hall; public input is needed and encouraged.

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