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Plans for North Huntingdon recreation center 'still alive'

| Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012

Though voters in November rejected a proposal for a new community recreation center in North Huntingdon, the idea might still become a reality if the YMCA adopts it.

The YMCA, Excela Health and the Norwin Area Community Recreation Commission will meet on Feb. 23 to discuss the feasibility of a scaled-down project.

Gary Nowading, district vice president for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, said the meeting will be "exploratory."

"The YMCA's interested," he said. "We're not in the position right now to build a YMCA in North Huntingdon. ... The thing we would have to look at is how we would get the dollars to build the facility."

There's still a strong public interest in the project, but the community doesn't want to back the building with tax money, said Roy Lenhardt, interim chairman of the Norwin Area Community Recreation Commission, a volunteer group.

"The project is still alive," Lenhardt said. "And we look forward to working in collaboration with Excela and the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh to hopefully make this community-requested recreation center a reality."

Nowading said the YMCA would want the community to raise half of the money for the project so that the YMCA wouldn't have to bear a debt service on the entire building.

A scaled-down version of the initial $16 million to $18 million proposal would leave the facility at a cost of about $12 million or $14 million, he said.

The question would be whether the community, through corporate and foundation donations, can raise about $6 million to help fund the building, Nowading said.

Excela's offer to donate a 10-acre parcel of land for the proposed center is still on the table, said Jennifer Miele, vice president of marketing and communications at Excela Health. The property is on Barnes Lake Road near the new Wal-Mart.

Excela is interested in the project because "it's a matter of community health," Miele said, citing obesity, heart disease and diabetes statistics. In addition, the site is near Excela's under-construction medical facility.

Excela has not discussed whether it would donate money to the project, she said.

If the YMCA takes on the project, the volunteer recreation commission won't control the building's design. Lenhardt said he hopes the facility would turn out similar to what the commission originally considered.

Traditionally, he said, YMCAs include a basketball court, a swimming pool and exercise rooms.

In addition, the commission wants the building to include community meeting rooms providing space for events like Scout meetings and baby showers.

If the YMCA wants to get involved, they'll build their own center with no tax money, unless tax money is needed to fund community-run activity space, Lenhardt said.

Some YMCAs do have community rooms, Nowading said, but it's too early to talk about how they could be funded.

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