Wheatfield Recreation Director Ed Sturgeon oversees a number of workers and a variety of programs, but the description he gives his own job is remarkably simple.

“My job is to get people up, and get them moving,” said Sturgeon. “We have to give residents, and their kids, every opportunity we can to get out of their houses and get active.”

Starting this year, Sturgeon will be able to offer both youths and adults one more place to shoot hoops, run a track in winter and take part in a number of other activities.

Four other recreation projects could also be on the way, but only if Sturgeon and Supervisor Timothy Demler can close deals with private parties and convince the Town Board that they’re worth the cost.

“I think we’ve reached the point now where we want to enhance the quality of life for residents,” Demler said. “Part of that is getting our recreation programs going, but at minimal or, preferably, no cost to them.”

At least one councilman believes the price tags he’s heard for some of the projects — such as about $100,000 to build soccer fields, and up to $500,000 to purchase land for a Fairmount Park extension — could put them out of the town’s reach, at least for now.

“We don’t have half a million dollars to spend right now,” said Councilman Larry Helwig. “It’s a good idea, but the price seems high.”

But most agree that the town will sooner or later need to consider expanding its offerings for a growing population.

“The quality of life is what’s attracting people to the town of Wheatfield ... we probably provide a little bit more than other towns can,” said Councilman Gilbert Doucet. “We’ve expanded our recreation program quite a bit, and we’ll be looking at more ideas soon.”

Centering on youth

At its last regular board meeting in December, the town approved issuing bonds to fund a new $1.4 million youth center, likely to be built in Fairmount Park, to replace the facility the town currently leases on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The current youth center offers a gathering place for young residents to meet, read and play video games, Sturgeon said, but not enough space for the kind of activity parents want to see their kids taking part in.

“It’s great that they’re playing video games here, rather than without supervision, but I want to get them into some kind of activity — basketball, running, dodgeball, something,” Sturgeon said. “When you look at the childhood obesity rates, you can see why that’s a priority.”

One of the best sports to get as many kids as possible moving is soccer, Sturgeon says, and it’s the fastest-growing program in town. Not surprisingly, new fields are near the top of his future plans.

The town had about 100 youth registered for its soccer programs when Sturgeon moved into his position about three years ago. Now it has about 500, and fitting all their games into the off hours at six area fields has become difficult.

The growing soccer demand has spilled over into the Northtowns Soccer Club, which has grown from about 500 participants to nearly 1,100 this year, with much of the growth coming from Wheatfield, said Northtowns Vice President and Wheatfield resident Frank Huber.

Northtowns directors are scheduled to meet Thursday with Demler and other town officials, Huber said, to discuss possibly running a Northtowns program on the town’s land near the Summit, with five to eight youth-sized fields and one or two full-size “tournament” fields.

“This would be a great thing for both of us,” he said. “The numbers in Wheatfield are definitely growing ... but the town doesn’t need to create its own soccer program, when we have one that’s working just fine.”

Aquatic center still an option

One of the other projects promoted by Demler at last month’s annual town employee luncheon had a familiar ring to it.

A plan for a town-built aquatic center had been floated by Demler more than three years ago, and he even formed a committee to study its feasibility and prepare plans. But the idea fizzled out when the town council questioned an annual $2 million cost of operation.

Now, however, Demler said he wants to offer a national non-profit agency, whose name he declined to disclose, a 20-year lease of land behind the Town Hall on Church Road. The agency would then build and staff a $14 million aquatic center, offer town residents discounted rates — about $200 a year for couples, $150 for singles and less for children — and have a purchase option at the lease’s end.

“Do I think if we did it on our own, it would have been profitable? Absolutely,” Demler said. “But how do you beat next to no cost?”

Both Helwig and Doucet said they first heard of the plan — supposedly being negotiated with a YMCA group — in news reports, and have not been presented with an proposals.

Councilman Arthur Palmer said the town’s master plan calls for the land behind town hall to be used for a “town center” of some kind.

“When I think of a town center, I think of baseball diamonds, a walking path ... something everybody can enjoy,” Palmer said. “I don’t think of a pool run by the YMCA.”

At least one of Palmer’s ideas is incorporated in a tentative plan for about 18 acres next to Fairmount Park, owned by developer Anthony Barone and initially planned for the next phases of the Parkside Estates subdivision.

If the town and Barone can strike a deal — Demler said the prices being discussed range from $300,00 to $525,000 for different acreage amounts — Sturgeon said Fairmount could add baseball and softball diamonds, paths for running, bicycles and cross-country skiers, and even a “senior path,” with a walk around the perimeter interrupted by periodic exercise stops.

Both Helwig and Palmer noted that the town had turned down a previous offer for the land more than five years ago. And Helwig noted that the area around Shawnee Road, where most residential expansion is occurring, is not factored into any of the plans.

If all that weren’t enough for the town to chew over, Demler said Tuesday that the owners of a new business opening near the former golf dome on Niagara Falls Boulevard have expressed interest in discussing a purchase of the accompanying nine-hole golf course by the town.

“We’ve got a lot of projects, they all have the potential to be great deals, and we’re working on all of them,” Demler said.

Palmer sees it a bit differently.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “Let’s look at all of it, let’s take any ideas into consideration, but let’s make sure there’s funding for them, that they can work.”

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