The Common Council has become a battleground for the future of King Center Charter School, which is seeking to leave its current home at the former St. Mary of Sorrows Church and relocate to accommodate a larger student population.
Opponents of the move, most vocally the board of the King Urban Life Center, which hosts the school, say the school is abandoning the neighborhood and the former church at 938 Genesee St., which has been restored with the infusion of millions in public money.
Proponents of the move, which include the school’s principal, parents and teachers, say the school has outgrown the space there and any proposal to make capital investments there would be too expensive, a position shared by the State University of New York, which issues the school’s charter.
The landlord-tenant dispute has landed in the Council’s lap because the charter school wants to move to a city-owned building, former School 71 at 104 Lang Ave. If the Council approves the sale, the charter school will be able to move.
The city has not sent lawmakers a purchase agreement for the site, but Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana said he expects to receive it in time for the next Council meeting.
Fontana, whose district includes the former School 71, is in favor of the move.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, whose district includes the King Urban Life Center, spoke passionately against the move Tuesday, saying that it would be devastating to the surrounding neighborhood.
“You don’t rebuild neighborhoods by leaving one neighborhood ... for another neighborhood,” Franczyk said.
The principal of the school, however, has said it needs a gym, auditorium and more classroom space, and that it shouldn’t have to operate out of two buildings, as it does now.
“Our students sit on the floor every day because we don’t have an auditorium,” said Principal Antoinette Rhodes.
“We are out of time, and we are out of space,” said Rod McCallum, director of advancement at the school.
McCallum said the school has studied the possibility of staying in its current space and said it is not economically feasible.
The school pays the King Urban Life Center $167,000 in rent annually but would like to purchase School 71 from the city for $330,000.
The purchase price will be covered by $130,000 from the school and a $200,000 grant from SUNY.
The King Urban Life Center board notes that taxpayers have invested more than $20 million in the current facility and that the center has made more than $5.6 million in capital improvements since 1997.
The center would like to upgrade the current facility at a cost of between $3.5 million and $7 million, but the school has said that its chartering authority, SUNY, has said that is too expensive.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr., a director of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Urban Studies and a King Urban Life Center board member, spoke against the move, saying that the school is part of a broader strategy to revitalize the neighborhood.
“At the end of the day, to save the children we’ve got to save the neighborhood,” Taylor said. “To change the educational realities of our children, we not only need good buildings, but we need good neighborhoods as well.”