Almost 100 residents, teachers and parents in the Olean City School District who met to hear plans for closing one or two of five elementary schools heard a new option Monday night: closing three and building a new central elementary building.
The district is facing declining enrollment, increasing tax rates and lower assessments, along with rising costs to run the schools. A series of forums have been held since September to discuss more efficient scenarios for the elementary schools, which have seen unbalanced enrollments due to 183 children attending schools outside of their neighborhoods, as well as 28 out-of-district students.
Some ideas from those sessions, along with information provided by consultants, were fashioned into a plan, "Vision 200 9/1 0 Road Map to the Future, Elementary Issues and Answers" which was presented Monday by School Superintendent Mark Ward.
He said closing North Hill Elementary in June would save about $300,000 annually and eliminate five teaching positions.
The older students would be moved to Boardmanville and younger ones would attend East View, with some renovations made to Boardmanville for the eventual accommodation of all North Hill neighborhood students.
The remaining schools in a four-building or three-building option would receive some upgrades and the cost savings could help expand programs and facilities. Transportation policies could be extended to bus students more than a mile from several areas of the city.
But Ward said School Board member George Pancio recently suggested building a new school and that should also be considered. If Ivers J. Norton and Boardmanville were also closed, the new school roughly costing $22 million could be built on district property off Wayne and First streets near the new middle school.
Ward said Boardmanville Elementary School could then be sold and put back on the tax rolls. The property is prime real estate because of its location near the Bartlett Country Club and the Olean General Hospital health care complex.
He said a new building would cost $200,000 in local funds at 6 percent interest for the next 15 years.
"A lot of you feel bad because here I am, Dr. Gloom and Doom, wanting to close one school. Well, I'll close three," Ward joked.
While many in the audience seemed interested in exploring the idea, several reacted negatively to the idea of new construction. One parent pointed out that the proposed location is near a dangerous railroad track and is in a neighborhood known for drug and crime activity.
Another cautioned against shuttering older buildings with superior construction.
Ward said a public hearing on the school closure and the prospects to launch a feasibility study will be held at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 15 in the high school.
He will then ask the board to vote Feb. 21 on closing North Hill, to authorize a feasibility study and the formation of a task force to study the question of construction of a new school.
He said a vote could be held on bonding for new construction as early as December.