A group seeking to save the old Niagara Falls High School from demolition has about two weeks to either buy the building or come up with a convincing plan to take it off the school district's hands.
Save Our Sites was hoping for at least a three-month reprieve. However, a lengthy presentation before the School Board on Thursday failed to convince the board to relax its March 1 deadline. That's when the school district will begin seeking bids to raze the Pine Avenue institution.
"I'm tired of talking about the old high school," said board member Mark Zito. "I's time to move on to something else."
Talk of sparing the building dominated the board's work session and a good portion of the regular meeting. Harold Faba, president of Save Our Sites, said the group, over a relatively short period, had been working diligently to develop "a good, viable business plan" for converting the former high school into a cultural arts center.
"But it's not as fleshed out as we'd like," he admitted.
Clinton E. Brown, an architect hired by the group, said the concept would provide "the maximum civic benefit for the least cost in the shortest time frame for the most people." Brown's Buffalo-based company specializes in coming up with adaptive reuses for old buildings. He estimated the cost of converting the old school at about $1.3 million, a figure some school officials found incredible. Brown said the group was not seeking funding from the school district for the conversion.
"In my personal view, and not SOS' view, it would be a gesture of great civic leadership if you were to turn over the building with a new roof. . . . But that's your decision as civic leaders," Brown said.
That suggestion drew derisive laughter from some on the board.
Brown said a survey of local real estate and banking officials revealed razing the old school would not increase the value of the site because there are already far too many vacant lots in the city.
Save Our Sites officials further hoped to sway the School Board by presenting it with a letter from State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle, administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial District, who proposed leasing space in old high school for a community court center.
Meanwhile, Ronald D. Anton, the city's corporation counsel, in a Feb. 22 letter to the board, reiterated the city's stance against taking over ownership of the building from the school district. Though Mayor Irene J. Elia endorses efforts by Save Our Sites, he said, the city could not accept responsibility for demolishing the building if the group's plans fell through.
In the interest of sparing the school district the up to $2 million in demolition costs the School Board has agreed to borrow, board member Christopher Brown introduced a resolution to delay demolition plans until June 1. It was defeated, 6-2, with only Brown and board member Robert Kazeangin in support.