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THREE STUDIES TO PREPARE WAY FOR NEW SCHOOL

The Orchard Park School Board voted Tuesday night to fund three studies necessary before it can move toward building a new high school on Murphy Road.

The board voted to hire FRA Engineering to do studies for $12,060 and $49,500 on traffic impact and preliminary engineering, and voted to pay Environmental Design & Research $49,500 to conduct an environmental impact study.

The district has proposed building a new high school to reduce crowding, and converting the current high school to a second middle school.

No price tag has been set yet, and board members have said early estimates of $76 million for the entire project were much higher than what the real cost will be, and it didn't include state aid.

The board tentatively scheduled a referendum on building a new school for spring, but that is now expected to be pushed back.

The board delayed hiring a construction management firm because project members Richard Jablonski and Dennis O'Keefe were out of town.

Of the remaining five members, only John Clark opposed the studies. He said he voted against it because only single bids were received for the studies.

"If the vote goes down for the new school, how long is the study good for, 10 years, 20 years?" Clark asked. "I can't vote for anything tonight."

Board President M. Donald Pritchard, who chided Clark for missing a previous board executive session to study the bids, said the project architect had difficulty finding even a single bidder for one contract.

Superintendent Charles L. Stoddart said the studies could be reimbursed at an undetermined rate through state aid.

Stoddart also suggested that any required reconstruction of Murphy Road might be better accomplished as part of a school bond, since the district would then receive aid for it.

If it isn't part of the bond, he said, the Town of Orchard Park -- which comprises only part of the district -- would end up paying for the entire project, with no state help to defray costs.

The board also received the results of a survey that assessed community reaction to the possibility of building a new high school. Surveys were mailed to every seventh voter in the most recent school elections, and about 41 percent responded.

Among 213 respondents, 42 percent said they supported the plan to build a new school, 38 percent opposed it, and 20 percent were unsure. Just under 50 percent (102) of the respondents said they had children in the district.

Board member Vicki Jefferis said the survey showed that if the board is going to persuade the public to support building a new school, it needs to communicate its message.

"If we held informational forums, 27 percent percent of the respondees said they probably wouldn't come," she said. "So we're looking for ways we can get information to people."

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