Gym owner plans direct mail effort to win approval for school purchase - The Buffalo News

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Gym owner plans direct mail effort to win approval for school purchase

LOCKPORT – The owner of Ultimate Physique, the Lockport health club seeking to buy a closed elementary school, said Friday he plans a direct-mail campaign to try to convince voters to approve the sale. If Robert Muscarella’s effort succeeds, he will be able to buy Washington Hunt Elementary School on Rogers Avenue for $65,000.

Muscarella was the only bidder in a sealed-bid process in March. District voters rejected the deal May 20 by a vote of 805 to 767. The Lockport Board of Education also will be sending out a mailing to remind voters of the special referendum July 29.

Muscarella said he’s making an effort to target likely voters with his message in favor of the sale. He has obtained three years of school voting records and said he intends to mail notices to everyone who voted in the May 20 referendum, as well as school budget votes for the past two years.

“We’ll also target the districts we got beat in,” Muscarella said.

That would be primarily the Town of Lockport, since most city voters, including those living right around the school, voted for the sale. The literature is expected to be mailed about a week before the referendum. Muscarella said it will cost him “a few thousand dollars.”

Muscarella admitted that a revote is a risk. A few years ago, Lockport voters shot down a plan for a new sports complex, and when the School Board put the proposal up for a second vote, it was beaten by a bigger margin than the first time.

At Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Deborah A. Coder, assistant superintendent for finance, gave a presentation that she said was largely for the benefit of viewers of Lockport Community Television, the local cable channel that shows a videotape of each board meeting several times a month. She said the 33,200-square-foot school, shutdown last year because of the district’s falling enrollment, cost $19,414 in utility expenses for the past 11 months; the June bills hadn’t arrived yet. Also, maintenance and insurance cost another $7,000 to $10,000. Those costs could be avoided by selling the school to Muscarella. He intends to spend about $1 million on renovating the two-story, 85-year-old brick building to his purposes. He said about half of that expense will cover bringing it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Coder said the building received a formal appraisal of $195,000, but there also was a “market appraisal” for $13,150. She said the district won’t be able to pocket Muscarella’s purchase price, because it still faces debt service on the school, but the $65,000 will be deducted from the state’s building aid to the district.

The revote is costing the district about $10,000, plus mailing expenses. It would have cost about $3,500 to mail a postcard to the roughly 20,000 registered voters in the district, but the board decided it needed a bigger piece to include more information, so the price will rise. Coder didn’t know how much, but she said, “I can’t imagine it would be exorbitant.”

The only trustee against the mailing was Diane Phelps, who said, “I would think there are ways we can publicize it without spending money.”

Polling hours will be noon to 9 p.m. at the usual school district polling sites, although Coder said because of various construction projects, several of the sites will require voters to use different entrances than usual. Signs will be posted.


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