SCHOOL'S $90 MILLION COST SHOCKS SOME ON BOARD - The Buffalo News
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SCHOOL'S $90 MILLION COST SHOCKS SOME ON BOARD

If the $90 million price tag on a new high school for Orchard Park has gotten the public's attention, it has also left some School Board members with a case of sticker shock.

Though none of the members backed away from supporting the plan to build a new high school and convert the current high school into a second middle school, several said they were stunned that the total cost of construction could top $90 million.

Leona Backus, an outgoing board member, questioned what the total tax impact would be if voters approve a new school in a referendum in the fall.

A recent school flier estimated the increase at $1.85 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the Town of Orchard Park portion of the district, or about $278 for a house assessed at $150,000.

But it also suggested there could be more costs involved with a new school for increased staffing, maintenance and transportation.

"Additional staffing won't be put in that bond," Backus said. "And you won't have to vote for the maintenance of that building until it happens. And we might be talking millions of dollars on an annual basis."

"The people on my street -- I went door to door -- and I can't find a person who believes they can afford that," said board member Dennnis O'Keefe, referring to a potential $1.85-per-$1,000 tax increase.

Board member Vicki Jefferis, who has been chairwoman of several of the district's facilities groups, said that while costs such as staffing and maintenance won't be included in the bond, the district will provide estimates as they become available.

"We will have all the information that Mrs. Backus requested," Jefferis said after the meeting. "We wouldn't dare go to a vote until we had it very clear to the public what they are voting on."

And, Jefferis said, the board is still collecting input on the school plan, so any numbers being bandied about now are mainly to provide grist for discussion.

"This is a starting point," she said. "And before you can have discussions with the community, you have to put things out there for people to discuss. That's what we've tried to do."

Meanwhile, the board took its first actions on the Murphy Road property it bought from the Sisters of Mercy earlier this year.

A deal was approved to rent about 50 acres of the property to Joseph McNamara to grow soybeans this summer.

A second arrangement was approvedthat will allow local fire departments to burn down a dilapidated barn on the property as a "controlled burn" practice session.

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