LEWISBURG — Plans for a health and recreation complex in PennHouse Commons and supported by the Miller family, patriarchs of Playworld Systems, are apparently alive again with some changes.
Jim Mathias, chairman of the Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority (BVRA) board cited a donation from the Degenstein Foundation as the catalyst needed to reintroduce the vision, which when added to a $2.5 million Miller family commitment, a state grant and other funds will provide about $6 million in financing.
“This project is also the recipient of a $2 million dollar RACP (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program) grant,” he added, noting the return of money put back on the shelf when the plan was seemingly scuttled late in 2014 for lack of outside support.
An application for the RACP funds needs to be submitted, Mathias said, as well as permits issued by East Buffalo Township for the project to begin construction this year.
Geisinger Health Systems is also back in as a partner, according to Mathias, who said their original $250,000 for use of the center for wellness research has been reaffirmed.
“That’s great that they are still involved as a partner,” he noted.
The center as envisioned will also be a home for existing and expanded BVRA programming, including use as a gymnastics center.
“There will be hardcourt space for athletics, recreation and events, and that will probably be pretty considerable,” Mathias added, detailing use of the structure on the four-acre lot.
“There is going to be a...healthy concession stand and cafe, and nutrition education programming,” he noted. “We are going to have multi-purpose rooms for education, for fitness, for gatherings, for youth with our summer camps and...after-school programs. Maybe drop-in care for families while families are there.”
Mathias did not reveal names of additional organizations who may be using the facility and providing additional programs, but discussions are apparently ongoing and the public will be notified once agreements have been reached.
“We are reaching out actively to include other community services and organizations in this effort,” Mathias said. “However, we need to move forward with planing for the building, so we have a limited time window understanding what needs to be built.”
Mathias did not indicate if the additional partners will all be recreation oriented.
However, the plan is revised from previous plans withdrawn for lack of support in that it will not use the site of a warehouse on the PennHouse Commons property. The designated tract abuts North 15th Street and is between St. Mary Street and the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail.
The revival was a prominent topic at the first East Buffalo Township regularly scheduled work session of the year. Township supervisors have not yet seen a recommendation for the revised plan from their Planning Commission.
The tracts viewed as the site of the new center were originally designated for residential use. Planning Director Ralph Hess envisioned a court challenge if a township ordinance was tailored for specific needs.
A revision of a 20,000-square-foot structural limit as per ordinance, a sticking point in the original plan, may also continue to be thorny.
Mathias acknowledged the office of the governor as well as the support of Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), Rep. Fred Keller (R-85), and Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108) in helping to secure funds.
The Miller family was also instrumental in reviving the plan, Mathias said. A New Jersey-based public relations firm that often issues statements regarding Playworld and Miller family business was contacted for comment, but did not reply before press time.
Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.