By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — The Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority filed Monday for a $4.7 million state grant that would advance the proposed recreation center at the Pennsylvania House Commons property, officials told the East Buffalo Township supervisors Monday night.
The grant is a “good match” for the Miller Recreation and Wellness Center, said Jim Mathias, recreation authority board chairman. He said plans now call for the demolition of the 93,000-square-foot warehouse on the property and the construction of a “right size” facility of about 65,000 square feet.
Meanwhile, Evangelical Community Hospital, the Union-Snyder Agency on Aging and Bucknell University have signed letters of support for the center, meaning that if their boards approve, they too would become part of a collaboration that already includes Geisinger Health System.
Also interested in the center is the YMCA, which may consider the location for a fitness center, programs for youths and seniors as well as an aquatics center in phase two, Mathias said.
Meridian Development Partners, the New York developer of the former Pennsylvania House furniture factory property, would handle demolition of the warehouse. Mathias said he expects to hear in May or June if the project wins the grant.
The authority worked about three weeks preparing the application for the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, a state-run grant for regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects.
The grant is a one-to-one match and requires the applicant to prove it has at least half of the matching funds banked, Mathias said. The grant application is under Playworld Systems Inc.
The Miller family, owners of Playworld Systems, a playground and fitness equipment manufacturer in Lewisburg, who conceived the community rec center idea, has pledged $2.5 million toward the grant, Mathias said. Geisinger initially has pledged $250,000.
The additional $2.5 million would come from other entities and fundraising, Mathias said.
If that happens, “We would need to start on it in late 2014,” he said.
Costs for the state-of-the-art, community indoor wellness and recreation center stand at $9.6 million, up from $6 million initially reported last April when the Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority and the Miller family, of Lewisburg, announced the project.
Original plans called for transforming the old warehouse into the center. However, an action plan by Sports Facilities Advisory, a consultant for sports complexes and recreation centers, found the “right size” for the facility would be 60,000 to 65,000 square feet, Mathias said.
Because of the YMCA’s interest, however, the recreation authority wants room to grow at the site should the aquatics center happen, Mathias told the supervisors.
“When you buy and rehabilitate a building, it will run about 80 percent of the cost of building new if the building is used for the same purpose,” he said. “The existing building didn’t meet that criteria, so we’re building new.”
If things go according to plan, the new facility could open in fall 2015, Mathias said.
“We aren’t going to ask for more money from the municipalities for this project nor take on any debt,” he said. “We see an opportunity here to broaden participation in BVRA operations to include other municipalities,” although the authority has not approached any yet. “We want to see a regional community center.”