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Sale of Lowry School still pending; School Board meeting tonight canceled

NORTH TONAWANDA The North Tonawanda School Board has canceled a meeting that had been scheduled tonight to put an end to the contract that entitles a Long Island educator to purchase the former Lowry Middle School and open a college for special-needs students.

The meeting was canceled because Kevin Gersh, an administrator of Montessori schools downstate, has received a stay preventing the board from ending the contract without a court hearing, School Board President Scott Schultz said Monday.

For the last five months, Gersh has been expected to pay the school district $700,000 for the Lowry building and open the Gersh Academy for students with challenges that include attention deficit, obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders.

He has yet to close on the sale. As a result, the School Board planned to declare Gersh in default on the agreement and to put the building back up for sale.

Schultz said the stay requires Gersh and district representatives to appear Feb. 1 in State Supreme Court in Niagara Falls.

"Both sides will be heard and the judge will make a decision" on whether the contract remains intact or the board can declare the contract in default, Schultz said.

Gersh could not be reached for comment, but it appears his academy will soon open for business on a small scale at Daemen College in Amherst.

While she was unable to speak about the court case, Mary Lawler, whom Gersh hired to direct the academy, said Monday, "We're starting our program on Saturday. I have five students that come from the four corners of New York State who will arrive Saturday in North Tonawanda and begin a three-day orientation program."

The program currently is being called the Gersh Experience at Daemen College, said Lawler, adding that it will grow into a much larger operation at Lowry.

Meanwhile, she said, students will stay in the residence that Gersh Academy purchased at 465 Payne Ave., about two blocks from the Lowry building.

After undergoing orientation, she said, the students will take a tour of North Tonawanda on Jan. 23 to get to know the community and find out more about "pizza shops, grocery stores, game parlors and other places they might be interested in."

Lawler quit her job last June as director of special education for the North Tonawanda School District to run Gersh Academy. She said Catholic Charities operates out of the Payne Avenue building's first-floor storefront, and the Gersh residence will take up the second floor.

"It's a seven-bedroom facility . . .," Lawler said. "[Gersh] sent up a truckload of furniture for the residence last week.

"This school is going ahead," she said. "I expect more students will be coming to the school this year. I already have a half-dozen applications for September."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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