By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff
High demand for the former Clara S. Bacon Elementary School has lead to complications as multiple organizations, including Wishful Thinking and the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, vie for space.
The Amsterdam Recreation Basketball League kicked off this week at the Bacon school gym, but initially there was uncertainty whether it would be held at that location after a district administrator contacted the city about space not being available, according to city officials.
While Bacon is owned by the school district, the city Recreation Department manages the scheduling of the gym. The city also has the liability insurance for the usage of the space, according to Amsterdam Recreation Department Director Robert Spagnola.
Spagnola said the city tries to give organizations as much time as it can to use the gym, but the school is in high demand.
“Obviously once winter hits everybody is inside, so it just makes it really hard,” Spagnola said, “and with our rec program having grown so much over the last few years since being in Bacon, we have that gym in use constantly, so it’s hard to get free time for everybody that would like it.”
Spagnola said there are approximately 400 children participating in the basketball program.
He said that city officials met with Superintendent of Schools Vicma Ramos to discuss the program and to make sure it would work out for the city.
Junior ROTC Marine Instructor Sgt. Major Rod Wilday said the gym at Bacon was initially offered to host the program’s marksmanship team, which has students training with air rifles and shooting at targets. The team had been housed in the Creative Connects Arts Center before it was renovated to become the Creative Connections Clubhouse.
“I was offered that originally and I said I would do it down there, and then it interfered with the city leagues so now I can’t use that,” Wilday said.
Junior ROTC Senior Marine Instructor Captain Carolyn Nelson said Monday afternoon there is a space at the Sanford Clock Tower being considered as a location to house the marksmanship team, but a final decision has not been made yet.
Wilday started the marksmanship program eight years ago, but after holding the program for the first year in the cafeteria at the high school he said it has operated off campus.
“Someone in the community, I was told, complained and the next thing you know at the beginning of the next year they said, ‘Well, you can’t do it. You can’t shoot in the building,'” Wilday said. “I found a place outside of the building, but now I can’t even find a place outside of the building nor should I in my opinion.”
He said the Marine Corps provides $20,000 worth of equipment to operate the program, including target boxes and a plastic curtain to stop any stray shots. The air rifles fire lead pellets.
For a few years, Wilday said the high school team was allowed to shoot at the American Legion Post 701 in Amsterdam, with the organization co-sponsoring the team alongside the Marine Corps. The team utilized the upstairs hall the legion rents out, so he said eventually there were complications over using the space.
For the last three years, the team had been shooting in the upstairs of the former Creative Connections Arts Center, which is a city-owned building. The facility has been renovated to serve as the Creative Connections Clubhouse and the team is unable to use the space anymore because the clubhouse programming operates at the same time, according to Wilday.
“It was just a matter of the timeframe,” Wilday said. “I shoot after school for three hours and that’s when they have their programs.”
Wilday said the marksmanship program is designed to be held on campus and is “totally safe.” He said the high school team follows the same procedures as a college level air rifle shooting team. Wilday said there are 33 students signed up to participate in the marksmanship team this year.
“It’s an olympic sport, it’s an NCAA sport, yet it’s not allowed to be done here on campus, because of someone’s prejudice or phobia,” Wilday said. “It’s one of the safest activities that someone can do. It’s very controlled.”
Ramos said the team could potentially be housed in a school, but the team would be required to take down and store equipment after its activities conclude for the day. She said the district has been working with the Junior ROTC to secure a space for the marksmanship team.
Matt Moller, chief financial officer for the Wishful Thinking Foundation, also talked about the challenges of securing space at the Bacon school gym during the recent GASD Board of Education. He spoke on behalf of Wishful Thinking and the city youth travel basketball players, who use the gym as practice space.
“There has been some issues and concerns about the availability of Bacon gym,” Moller said. “The issue is that the city manages the schedule and as more and more organizations and different groups want to get in there, we kind of get bumped. What I’m really coming to ask for is an additional place for us to practice at on weeknights.”
Moller said he believed the youth travel teams helps build a foundation for children who may be interested in playing on high school sport teams.
“I have about 50 kids who rely on me to teach them the game of basketball and bring them together as a group,” Moller said. “I hope there is something that can be figured out from this, because I really don’t know what may happen with Bacon.”
Stephanie Dillon, communications specialist for GASD, said the school leaders would work to try and accommodate Wishful Thinking and other community organizations.
“We understand that public schools are owned and operated by and for its community members and that the district is an integral part of the community,” Dillon said. “We recognize that our buildings are an asset to the community and we would love to accommodate everybody, but it’s just a matter of scheduling and making sure we have adequate space and time for everyone who needs it.”