A History of The Homer-Center Recreation and Parks Board February 12, 1980
In the spring of 1974, the Homer-Center School District of Indiana County abandoned its five elementary school buildings and four school sites following completion of the new elementary school complex located just south of Homer City Borough. At that time, the School Board expressed concern over the future of these buildings and sites, and stated that it would be interested in seeing the sites developed for recreational purposes. Structurally speaking, all five buildings were generally run down and deteriorating, with each having its own specific problems. For any of the buildings to be used at all, major rehabilitation costs would have to be incurred. However, a more detailed analysis of both building and sites was still needed. On May 5, 1974, a meeting was held between the Center Township Supervisors, Homer City Borough Council, the Homer-Center School Board, and the Indiana County Planning Commission to discuss the situation. The result was the formation of a nine member study committee, made up of representatives from the Township, Borough, and School District, created to study the problem and make a recommendation to the three governing bodies regarding the future of the abandoned facilities. The Committee immediately agreed to retain the services of a professional planning and recreation consultant to conduct a detailed recreation study of the Homer-Center area and develop an overall recreation plan. On July 16, 1974, Mr. Larry Rideniur, landscape architect for the firm, Beckman, Yoder, & Seay, Inc., Wexford, PA, presented to the study committee a proposal consisting of two parts: I- an immediate evaluation of the surplus school buildings and sties for their potential recreational use, and II- a more detailed parks and recreation study and plan listing suggested facilities and programs, administrative and maintenance guidelines, estimated costs, sources of revenue, and immediate and long range implementation priorities. By August 13, 1974 all three bodies resolved to hire the firm of Beckman, Yoder, & Seay, Inc., to conduct the recreation study. On May 15, 1975, a joint meeting was held between the Study Committee and Recreation and Park Board. The Study Committee, first, accepted a preliminary draft of the "Park and Recreation Plan for the Borough of Homer City and the Township of Center" and then turned its work over to the newly formed Recreation and Park Board. In June of 1975, the Park Board received its first local monies from the Center Township Supervisors and Homer City Borough Council. At its regularly scheduled meeting of the same month, the Board listened to a report from Mr. Larry Ridenour, now of firm Seay & Ridenour Inc., Pittsburgh, stating that funds for recreation were available from the Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR). Such would be administered through the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs (DCA). It was also announced that both Homer City Borough and Center Township were among those municipalities in a position to receive funds. Funding would be done on a matching basis; meaning that a local share would have to be raised to match the total combined amount allotted to the Homer-Center area. At a special meeting held on June 30, 1975, the Recreation and Park Board reviewed and accepted the final draft of the "Park and Recreation Plan" as presented by Mr. Ridenour. On July 30, 1975, the Park Board, with Center Township acting as applicant with Homer City Borough in complete agreement, filed a Letter of Intent with DCA. By September 29, the Recreation and Park Board received word that the Homer-Center Recreation Plan was selected by DCA as one of eight projects to be funded for recreation development by BOR on a 50/50 matching basis. Sites included in the project were Aultman, Coral-Graceton Sportsmen's Area, Homer City, and Risinger. The reason the Lucerne site was omitted was because lease arrangements could not be worked out in time to meet the application deadline. At the same September meeting, the Board announced that funding for the demolition and site development of the Homer City and Risinger proposed sites had been obtained from a portion of a grant made to Indiana County from Community Development Funds advanced through the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In April of 1976, contracts were signed with All States Wrecking Company for the demolition of the two Homer City buildings. Action on the Risinger building was tabled, but work would soon be underway. At this time the Board gave serious consideration to the matter of raising funds to meet the local matching share. A special meeting was held the same month for the purpose of having the leases to the four park sites put in the name of Center Township. This action was necessary to be consistent with DCA requirements, which stated that the property must be in the control of the applicant, the applicant being Center Township. On June 9, 1976 the Board received a donation of $1,000 from the Women's Club of Homer City. This was the first significant donation from the Civic Community, and was greatly appreciated by the Board. Other fundraising activities included a raffle, softball tournament, and door to door fund raising drive. At the January meeting of 1977, the Board discussed how to finance its share of the costs. Although donations were coming in, they were not adequate to cover the estimated construction costs. Also, miscellaneous expenditures required to keep the Board in operation had to be taken care of. At this point, the Board gave its first consideration to securing a loan. In April of 1977, the Board signed a contract with A.F. Moreau & Sons for general construction of the Parks. Also signed were contracts for the electrical work, Ed Tomb Trucking, and architectural services: Seay & Ridenour. With the feeling that this total was over-extending the Boards financial abilities, a series of changes in the project immediately dropped the total cost, with cuts being made in general construction costs. Later that year, with construction well under way, the Board encountered its most serious problem, this being the possibility of strip mining the Center Township Park sire (Coral-Graceton Sportsmen's area). This action would delay completion of the site for two years and put the Boards DCA Grant in serious jeopardy. There was a possibility of losing thousands of state money if construction were halted. The Sportsmen Club was opposed to the stripping, but it was felt there was not much they could do about it. The question of whether there were clear rights to the coal would remain unanswered for over a year and as a result, brought about termination of construction at the site. This action reduced the total cost of the project. With this problem in the hands of lawyers, the Board dealt with other matters. Donations continued to be accepted, with some of the major contributors being National Bank of the Commonwealth, R & P Coal Company, and Penelec. Other good news came in the form of a HUD Grant which would be administered through the Indiana County Planning Commission. This grant would provide for further improvements of the Aultman and Center Twp. sites, and development of a site in the Lucerne area. This made it necessary for the Board to secure a piece of land in Lucerne. In August of 1977, the Board borrowed enough money to pay for the mounting construction costs. In December of 1977, the Board received a check and with it (along with some of the Board's money) was used to retire the loan plus interest. Payments were still due to general construction, electrician, and architect, so the Board took out another loan. At the May 1978 meeting, the Board was told that DCA would fund only a four park project. This meant that the Board had to have a park in the Boral-Graceton area, whether it be the original site or an alternate one. The Board resolved at this meeting that there would definitely be a park in the Coral-Graceton neighborhood. In August of 1978, the Board heard a report that negotiations were taking place with R & P Coal Company for a possible site in the Lucerne area They were also told that the Federal Bureau of Mines might be interested in using the Lucerne site as a possible Mine Reclamation Project. This could cover much of the cost of landscape and planting work at the site. It was also decided at this meeting to pay off the remainder of the fees. Then, the Board's only indebtedness would be the loan balance. In October of the same year, the Board received a letter from DCA stating that it w3as their understanding that the Department of Environmental Resources would not issue a strip mining permit and the Board should proceed with plans for the Center Township Park as it was originally designed. The Board was also told that it would have to spend additional monies at the site to meet its matching share. In an effort to reduce costs the Board decided to employ a CETA work crew. This would eliminate the need for contract work, and reduce costs substantially. In March of 1979, Ed Anderson was hired as Recreation Director with the use of CETA funds. It would be his duty to insure that the Center Township Park was completed according to DCA regulations, and to initiate winter recreation programs for residents of the community. At the June, 1979 meeting, the Board received the deed to approximately 5.2 acres of land in the Lucerne area from the R & P Coal Company. This enabled the Board to commence with plans for the site, using half of the money received from the HUD Grant. Once again, the Board retained the services of Seay & Ridenour Inc., and work on design got underway immediately. The Board was grateful to R & P Coal for its generous donation of land. Through the summer months, the Board continued to reduce its indebtedness. Donations from the Borough and the Township were used to reduce the loan. The Board held various fundraisers and collected enough money to pay for what it needed to complete its half of the matching grant. A big boost came from the people of Lucerne, who collected over $1,000 to insure development of a park in their neighborhood. By the end of the year, work at the Center Township Park was completed to the point where a final inspection by the DCA was necessary. Approval was given to them to begin close-out procedures. Upon completion of these procedures, the Board will be eligible to receive the balance of the state grant. In January of 1980, Ed Anderson reported to the Board that current recreation programs underway included a Men's Basketball League, a Men's Volleyball League, and a Women's Physical Fitness Class.. Total participation in the three programs is approximately 250 people, with an especially strong interest being shown in the Women's program. On February 11, 1980, the Board met to assess its current status and to develop its priorities for the immediate future. Following is a brief synopsis of that meeting. As of February 11, 1980, three of the five parks, Aultman, Risinger, and Homer City, are complete in accordance with Phase I construction plans. The Center Township Park is 99 per cent complete, and in use, with completion scheduled y the end of the summer. Construction has begun on the Lucerne Park, with completion scheduled before the end of the year. Incoming donations for the year will permit the Board to retire its loan balance and be debt free for the first time since 1977. With the completion of the parks, a continuing program of supervision and maintenance will be provided to protect the communities investment, and to keep the grounds suitable for use by the residents. The Recreation Board will continue those programs currently in progress and establish them on a yearly basis. The Board will also increase the number of programs for the benefit of area residents. With the completion of Phase I Construction, including the payment of all debts, the Board will under-take Phase II Construction, or possibly other areas of development. It is now necessary for the Homer-Center School District to include the salary for the position of Recreation Director in their budget, in accordance with previous agreements, to insure that the Recreation Program continues to move forward, providing recreational opportunities for every member of the community.
The future effectiveness of the Homer-Center Recreation and Parks Board, and the development of its facilities and programs, depends upon the continued support of the three governing bodies who were responsible for its inception five years ago.