A $24 million East Aurora school capital project got the green light Tuesday, with voters embracing the plan, 812-590.
What was a hard-driving push in recent weeks by school officials to pitch the project, which addresses overcrowding and classroom-size deficiencies, paid off in the end. The project is the first major one in the district since 1996, when voters approved a $14.5 million plan that reconfigured the high school.
If all goes as planned, ground could be broken as early as this fall for the most sizable improvements -- a 62,352-square-foot, two-story addition at Parkdale Elementary to add 28 classrooms, special-education classrooms, a new library center, and a one-story addition for a larger gym. Safety improvements, including an overhaul for the busing and drop-off areas, also are part of the plan.
"We thought it was going to be close," Superintendent James Bodziak said after the votes were tallied Tuesday night. "We knew that eminent domain was the wild card that we just couldn't call."
But Bodziak said the vote outcome showed that residents believed in the project's merits.
"The community saw the very positive merits of the entire project," he said. "It also addresses safety issues and congestion at Parkdale and Main Street schools."
The vote also means the district will employ eminent domain to obtain 5.2 acres of vacant land from Fisher-Price, needed to expand Parkdale by two grades to include third and fourth grades and become a kindergarten through fourth-grade school. The purchase has been the subject of contentious negotiations between the district and the toymaker. Talks have deadlocked, with Fisher-Price unwilling to break up the 42-acre tract that it owns on both sides of Girard Avenue to sell a portion of it.
Bodziak said the district could hold title to the land within a few weeks.
A court would determine the value of the land, although an independent appraisal done for the district pegged $310,000 as a fair market value for the property. That amount was earmarked in the project for the five acres.
"Perhaps this [vote] may open up negotiations between the district and Fisher-Price in a more serious mode," Bodziak said. Administrators still haven't ruled out obtaining the entire 42 acres, though they'd have to go back to voters if a deal were made with Fisher-Price.
The project is expected to relieve overcrowding and end instruction for some students in windowless basement areas and storage closets -- for long, the case in Parkdale and Main Street School. Main Street School will become solely a middle school for fifth to eighth grades after transferring third and fourth grades to Parkdale.
Parkdale improvements total $15.1 million, while Main Street is slated for $6.8 million, and the high school another $2.1 million.
Taxpayers would face a 3 percent annual tax increase for a home assessed at $83,000 -- or $85.49 more a year. State aid would cover 71 percent, leaving about $7 million (or 29.4 percent) to be paid by taxpayers.
The district also plans to tap $2.5 million of a capital reserve fund to help offset the local share, with taxpayers absorbing $4.5 million.