Community Center

Dear Islanders,

Community Center—let’s do this!

A few weeks ago I mentioned the idea of a community center in one of my letters. My whisper of enthusiasm for this project has been responded to with a sonic boom-like scream of support. Young and old, new comers and life-long Islanders, and even some of my colleagues on the Town Board have grabbed me and said, “Nate, let’s do it!” 

Yes, it’s been tried before—decades ago a referendum  to build a large scale center failed by just a few votes—but I sense it’s about time to try again. 

We can do this. 

There are many issues to overcome and many things to consider, including how we are going to pay for it and where it should go. I think a public-private partnership—or at least seeking feedback and proposals from those tradesman and subject matter experts who have interest in the project—may be the right way to proceed. And we should dig out the old plans and take a second look. But no matter what path we choose, one thing I am certain of is that our Island can do this. 

We now just have a rough sketch in our minds (all different) of what the community center will look like and function as. But to inspire community input, interest and support for this project, please allow me to share some thoughts of my own. 

Sports are important

I know the importance of sports. I love sports. Despite my bad habit of constantly nibbling on sweets and my seemingly endless hankering for pizza, I would consider myself somewhat of a fitness enthusiast. 

I was, however, never an all-star athlete. I played a little organized ball (never well) but some of my fondest memories from my youth are of those days of endless basketball games at the local park, or of “turkey bowl” games with my friends and family. Researchers are finding that sandlot ball is proving to be just as, if not more, beneficial to kids (both socially and physically) than organized team ball.  Indeed, the pressure being put on kids in organized sports around the nation is troubling. 

Thus, I would like the Center to be MORE than a temple to highly organized/specialized travel leagues. I think it should also be a place for casual sport where kids and adults can “play” in the most joyous sense of the word.  

But there is more to life than sport

Embracing art and culture is often the characteristic that defines great communities with thriving economies. I am reminded of Austin Texas, which is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. Although it’s pretty, it’s not known for its natural beauty. I would argue that Buffalo—with Niagara and our Great Lakes—is far superior to Austin in that regard. 

But Austin is overflowing with tech companies, start-ups, and growth. I truly believe it is a city that embraces new ideas, new trends, and art in all of its varied forms. In fact, its city motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” But given the money generated from its “weird” culture and the types of talent, companies, and investment it attracts, its motto might as well be “Keep Austin Rich.” Thus, I would hope that our center would also contribute to fostering art and creative-expression with amenities such as a stage for Community Theater. We need a dab of Athens to temper our Sparta.  

We need a place where ALL kids feel they belong

I love the Robert Frost poem “Acquainted with the Night.” The poem is so moving. It’s about (or in my opinion is about) a person disconnected from his or her community.  They feel lost, both when deep within it and when at its further most edges. The poem, in part, reads “I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain—and back in rain. I have out walked the furthest city light.” 

Some of the final words of the poem are most ominous and further reflect the sense of disenfranchisement some feel. It says, “I have looked down the saddest city lane. I have passed by the watchman on his beat. And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain. I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet. When far away an interrupted cry. Came over houses from another street. But not to call me back or say good-bye.”

One of the main reasons I want to build a Community Center is to have a place that ensures fewer among us are “acquainted with the night.” Specifically, I want a place where our youth can come to hang out and feel included.  I hope to help create a  safe haven where they can  get out of the cold to do some homework, find a nook to read, or even just watch some television  away from what far too many kids may be dealing with at home—fighting parents, drug abuse, and even child abuse. 

This center should not be just for kids

But this Community Center should not just be for kids. It should be also for our “Golden Agers.” For those who have not been to the Golden Age Center at the old Nike Base I strongly encourage you to go. There is so much activity in that place, e.g., people playing pool, knitting sweaters for charity, and even fervently discussing politics and community issues. When we build a new Community Center it should become the new home of our Golden Age Center.

Please consider this. The Nike base facilities will need considerable reinvestment over the years to come. Does it make much more sense to continue to pour money into old army bunkers at a location that isn’t all that convenient for most of our residents anyway? 

It may seem like a distant idea, but we can get there

Almost everything starts from nothing. Disney once commented that his great works, like Dumbo and Pinocchio, emerged from blank pieces of paper. I understand that there is much more to consider. But to get our vision from rough sketches to brilliant, bursting technicolor, I implore you to get behind it and lend your support. 

Grand Island, let’s invest in our town and help build our people. Let’s give the young and old a safe place to connect where they can find ways to embrace life rather than escape from it or live on its edges. Please remember that far lesser communities already have or are renovating their own Community Centers. It should be noted that when that old referendum nearly passed, our Town was almost half as large as it is now. 

We can’t continue to place the burden of mental and physical health entirely upon our schools and communities of faith. Together, let's offer a facility that is meeting place. A place to celebrate our traditions and achievements and bring more of those wandering alone on the fringes, “acquainted with the night”, into a place where (for at least a few hours a day) they can be acquainted with the “light.”

But I am getting ahead of myself. There is much more to consider, much more to balance and weigh before we get into the nitty gritty of the design. Still, I am writing this letter to stir your creativity and encourage community involvement in this process. We have collective visions of what our Community Center can and will be; now it is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Best regards,