City of Lockport youth department looks to turn Washington Hunt to community center
Youth Recreation Executive Director Melissa Junke approached the City of Lockport Common Council Wednesday with the hope of purchasing Washington Hunt Elementary School to turn into the Lockport Community Center.
Lockport City School District voted earlier in the year to close the elementary school at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, leaving the building soon empty. There was reported interest from the Eastern Niagara Hospital, but according to Junke, they have since backed out.
Junke said being a non-profit organization, the city’s department of youth and recreation services could potentially get the building for between $4,000 and $6,000, which they currently have from recent fund-raising efforts.
The importance of a community center is to create one location that the entire community can go to, especially youth.
“This should be viewed as a center for the community,” said Junke. “You want a central place in the community where people can go.”
Junke said peak hours for violent juvenile crime and victimization occurs between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the hours most parents are at work and children are out of school. She said research also shows those are the peak hours for adolescent sexual activity and the risk that eighth-graders will smoke, drink or use drugs doubles.
New York state is the third highest state for dropouts and of those dropouts, 40 percent do not work, which makes New York the highest state in the United States.
In Niagara County, Junke said Niagara Falls and Lockport have the worst unemployment rates of any city or town in the region and Lockport has the highest number of juvenile arrests in the state.
Also in Lockport, approximately 50 percent of children qualify for free lunch and Junke said in a recent survey, 68 percent of youth polled said thy feel the Lockport community does not value them.
By creating a safe motivating environment, enrichment and varied learning experiences, Junke believes they could enhance results. She said adolescents who participate regularly in community-based youth development programs — arts, sports and community service — have better academic and social outcomes, as well as higher education and career aspirations.
There would be a monthly cost to run the center, Junke believes it would be a lot less than current bills for the school and could possibly be offset by allowing other non-for-profit organizations to rent space in the building.
In 2011, the utility cost to run Washington Hunt was a little more than $32,000. But that includes opening the building 16 hours a day, with electricity on in all rooms, constantly.
Junke said if they were to use the building they would not be using every classroom. Sections of the school could also be shut off, decreasing that cost, greatly.
The youth and recreation department would also use the facility to run all of their current programs and holiday events, meaning they would no longer have to rent out space or equipment, also saving money.
Another suggested option for the city would be to consider a trade-off with the district. The district is looking to acquire Kibler Park to increase parking and access to Roy B. Kelley, the school current Washington Hunt students will attend next year.
One of the reasons Washington Hunt is being closed by the district is its lack of an elevator, failing to make it ADA compliant. Junke said though they would have to eventually look at installing a chair ramp, unlike a school, they could use the facility and offer programs on the first floor.
Future programs and usage for the Lockport Community Center could include a center for young parents, Lockport wrestling, legal assistance, storage for city records, theater, music or dance programs, child care, job counseling, recreational and cultural programs, a teen pregnancy program, youth development services, job fairs, play space and basketball.
Kenmore, Amherst and Lewiston are communities in the area that have purchased a school building and created a community center.