Binghamton City Council tables youth center, but other options remain in sight

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St. Mary of the Assumption is open to selling or sharing its recreation center with another entity, Reverend Jon Werner said. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The City of Binghamton has tabled its plan to build a multi-million dollar youth and community center for Columbus Park.

Initial plans put the construction costs at around $7 million, but Mayor Jared Kraham said updated blueprints raised that figure to $10 million. It could increase again as construction and gas costs continue to skyrocket.

“Since the bids came in at the end of last year, prices on all materials have gone up even more,” Kraham continued.

To Councilwoman Aviva Friedman, when considering the additional funds needed for youth center staff and programs, $10 million solely for construction was too costly.

“They didn’t want to charge money for any of the programs, as, in my opinion, we shouldn’t,” Friedman said. “So then, it came into question, well how was this going to be a revenue-generating project?”

Friedman’s district includes Columbus Park, located on Carroll Street. Around the corner, along the edge of the park, sits St. Mary of the Assumption Recreation Center.

Reverend Jon Werner, pastor at St. Mary, said the recreation facility had been underutilized by the church for several years. It hosts a weekly community meal and an annual festival there, but few other programs are held there regularly.

Inside, there is a gym with basketball courts and a full kitchen.

“With the size of the space and things, it certainly is a nice location for those activities, but we don’t really have the people power to support programs,” Werner explained.

Werner said the church is open to selling or sharing the facility with another entity. He has talked with both Kraham and his predecessor, Rich David, about using the facility, as well as college basketball coach and Binghamton native King Rice.

Rice was a basketball star while a student at Binghamton High School and now serves as the men’s basketball coach at Monmouth University.

Kraham told WSKG the opportunity to use St. Mary’s recreation center for a community and youth center is “very much on the table,” but added that the city would be supportive if Rice was interested in the building as well.

Council members appeared excited about the idea of utilizing the facility.

“A building is just a building,” Friedman said. “A building is only as good as what goes on inside of it.”

Doing so could also free-up federal COVID relief money for other uses. City officials had planned to use $3 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act allotment to build the youth center.

Council members voted Wednesday to unallocate those funds so they could be used elsewhere.

“COVID has and is continuing to devastate our communities, and communities across the nation,” Friedman added. “We need to really deeply canvas our neighborhoods and deeply engage with our constituents.”

Several million of the city’s $46 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation have been committed to housing initiatives throughout the city.

Binghamton officials will continue to monitor less-costly options for a youth center.