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School officials tout capital project to ease crowding

East Aurora School officials are going all out to trumpet the benefits of a $24 million capital project proposal prior to a Jan. 30 referendum.

The School Board this week held a public hearing on the project -- attracting comments from three residents -- which has been in the making for four years.

Meanwhile, district officials are meeting with parent groups, offering school tours to show overcrowded conditions, providing project information on DVDs, as well as meeting with community groups and speaking with residents in their homes.

"This is the least expensive of the options," Board President Daniel Brunson said. "It is a lot of money -- $24 million. I don't sugarcoat that."

Board members and Superintendent James Bodziak emphasized the need to relieve overcrowding and to accommodate changing needs of education -- particularly at the elementary and middle school levels. A major component of the project calls for $15.1 million to be spent on a two-story addition to Parkdale Elementary, which would be expanded to include third and fourth grades.

The Main Street School would become a middle school for fifth through eighth grades, in part to solve a space crunch. The high school would gain space for art and technology departments, an additional science lab, two tennis courts and a baseball diamond.

"It would be more of a family atmosphere," Bodziak said of the Main Street School changes.

The project largely hinges on the district's ability to acquire 5.2 acres of land from a 42-acre tract that Fisher-Price has long been trying to sell. The project price tag includes $310,000 for the five acres, which the district feels is fair market value for the land.

District officials, however, have said they may be forced to pursue eminent domain because the toymaker wants to sell the entire tract. Negotiations continue.

The project would represent a 3 percent annual tax increase for a home assessed at $83,000 -- or about $85 more per year. State aid and a state EXCEL grant would cover a combined 71 percent of the project's $24 million cost, leaving about $7 million, or about 29 percent, to be paid by taxpayers. The district plans to use $2.5 million of a capital reserve fund to help offset the local share, leaving $4.5 million to be absorbed by taxpayers.

Resident Bernie Lewis urged the board to be careful when it comes to Fisher-Price, noting that the company pays a substantial amount in school taxes.

"I'm still very concerned about using a trump card to get land from Fisher-Price," he said. "Fisher-Price contributes a lot to this community. . . . If we alienate Fisher-Price, that could come back to bite us and it could cost more."

Brunson said the district is mindful of Fisher-Price's contributions to the community.

Two parents praised the project.

"I think its merits speak for themselves and are due the support of the community," Margaret Potter said.

Barbara Lowe said she was pleased that the board came back to one of the first options considered by the district -- to turn Parkdale into a kindergarten through fourth-grade school -- and one that's more affordable for the community.

Lewis pressed the board to consider further paring of the project by only transferring one grade level from the Main Street School to Parkdale. Bodziak insisted that would not free up enough space in the Main Street building.

"Even so, there's not a whole lot of extra classrooms," Bodziak said.
Voting on the project will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Main Street School cafeteria.

A project overview and school tour is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Parkdale; another will be offered at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Main Street School.


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