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Most parents would not choose to send their children to a school where the walls are crumbling, that has no cafeteria or locker room, and only one shower, and with a music room with barely enough space for a piano.

But the parents of nearly 200 pupils at the Board of Cooperative Education Services' emotionally handicapped facility have no choice.

The Orleans-Niagara BOCES Niagara East facility at 2292 Saunders Settlement Road educates 192 emotionally disturbed children in kindergarten to 12th grade from 12 school districts in the two counties.

BOCES Superintendent Peter T. Kachris says the facility "is inappropriate for kids and is a disgrace beyond repair. Why then does the state allow us to operate at all?

"Because it is a successful center-based program, but the kids can't stay there. These are students with exceptional needs who need a special program and need more understanding and support than most."

Kachris has been visiting component districts to discuss the upcoming referendum on spending $4.75 million to build a new facility on BOCES-owned land behind the Niagara West Vocational Center, about a mile west on Saunders Settlement Road from the Niagara East site.

"I'm not particularly optimistic on a successful vote," Kachris said. "I know there is typically resistance when folks feel forced to pay for expensive services to the handicapped."

But Kachris has told school boards that authorizing BOCES to build and own the facility is the cheapest option.

If voters turn down the proposition, the new facility would be built but under a third-party arrangement and be leased to BOCES.

The cost would be more than $6 million, according to Kachris.

"It is cheaper to support the referendum and more costly to choose a leasing arrangement," Kachris said.

A third, more drastic option would involve closing the center and returning the students to their home districts.

Such mainstreaming, he said, is good for many but not the children at the BOCES facility.

"These are kids who in most cases would not finish school at all without specialized education," Kachris said.

The current building was intended as a temporary facility when it was built in 1967.

It is rusted on the outside with insulation falling through the holes.

The building has no basement for storage, just a slab foundation that is separating from the walls.

The cost would be shared by the 12 districts and amortized over 40 or 50 years, he said.

Voting will be from noon to 9 p.m. March 7 at the Orleans Educational Center, 4232 Shelby Basin Road, Medina, for voters in the Albion, Lyndonville, Medina, or new facility
Lockport, Barker and Royalton-Hartland school districts.

For residents in the Newfane, Starpoint, Wilson, North Tonawanda, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara Wheatfield districts, balloting will be at the Niagara West Educational Center, 3181 Saunders Settlement Road.

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