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KENSINGTON HEIGHTS PLAN GETS CITY BACKING

A $150 million redevelopment proposal for the vacant Kensington Heights housing development that would be anchored by a new vocational high school was endorsed by city officials and neighborhood representatives Tuesday.

"This plan rose to the top because of its quality," Mayor Masiello said.

Kensington Heights Center would convert six abandoned apartment buildings east of the Kensington Expressway at Fillmore Avenue into a major complex of educational and vocational institutions over the next five years.

It would transform what had been a lingering eyesore and symbol of official neglect for the surrounding inner-city neighborhoods and create in its place a campus where people of all ages and abilities could be educated and trained for new occupations.

"We think the plan is better for the future of our community than any other plan," said Alonzo Barnes, vice president of the Delavan-Grider Block Council.

Its major elements include:

Building a state-of-the-art public vocational high school that would cost an estimated $60 million to $80 million. Local businesses will be asked for recommendations on the types of programs that would be needed there to train workers.

Relocating the St. Mary's School for the Deaf campus from its 100-year-old home on Main Street and building a gymnasium that would be shared with other educational facilities at the site.

Relocating the United Cerebral Palsy Association children's center, currently in leased space at the Maryvale School in Cheektowaga.

Relocating the St. Augustine's Community Center from 1600 Fillmore Ave. and offering expanded day-care and other programs.

Building a satellite adult education program through the University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center.

Building a generating plant powered by natural gas that would supply electricity and steam to the new tenants at rates far below those currently charged. The plant also could supply energy to surrounding businesses and institutions such as Erie County Medical Center.

Council President James W. Pitts, who along with Masten Council Member Byron W. Brown, helped champion the Kensington Heights Center proposal, said the reduced electrical rates could encourage private business to reuse empty buildings in the area.

"If they see the co-generating plant, companies will have one-upmanship to locate in one of those empty buildings," Pitts said.

The proposed project represents a major concentration of public and non-profit institutions. It was one of three concepts submitted to the Kensington Heights Redevelopment Committee, a group of government officials and neighborhood residents that reviewed the proposals earlier this summer. Among the ideas pitched were a housing development for the elderly and a medical campus emphasizing research and development.

The proposal won the praise of Pitts' Council colleagues Monday.

Pitts said the committee chose the redevelopment plan submitted by Ross Wilson & Associates, a Buffalo professional construction services company, because there was "uncertainty" about the plans offered by the other groups.

Ross Wilson, on the other hand, had lined up letters of commitment from the various agencies and institutions proposed for Kensington Heights.

Most importantly, the school district also has received permission from the state to move ahead with plans for the vocational high school at the site. The school is the critical catalyst required for the entire development to move forward.

The earliest construction on the high school could begin is in 12 to 18 months because of the planning involved, said Valerie C. Nolan, an associate with the Education Transformation Group, a consultant being used by the school district.

Craig Marlatt, executive vice president of Ross Wilson, estimated the development would bring 500 jobs to the neighborhood, about half of them existing positions. It also would create 350 temporary construction jobs.

The old '50s-style public housing buildings, which were closed 20 years ago, would be gutted to their frames and rebuilt. Some form of reuse is required, Marlatt said, if the developers hope to have the state forgive $2 million in debt remaining on the housing development.

Other participants in the development team are: H.J. Russell and Co. of Atlanta, the nation's leading minority-owned developer; Foit-Albert Associates, architects; Powersite/Harza, the generating plant developer.

Don Todd Associates, a minority-owned construction management firm; Erdman Anthony Consulting Engineers; URS Greiner; and Edward O. Watts P.E.P.C., an environmental review firm.

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