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PLAN TO CONSTRUCT TWO SCHOOLS IN CITY INVOLVES PURCHASING SITE FROM DIOCESE

Buffalo school administrators plan to build two schools by first seeking $1 million to buy the Diocesan Educational Campus on Dodge Street and vacant land in Riverside or Black Rock.

Interim Schools Superintendent Albert Thompson and his key aides will ask the Board of Education to start the process of land acquisition in his soon-to-be-released capital projects budget.

An early childhood center featuring the new "pod" concept would be built on the site at 564 Dodge, and an upper-grades academy would be constructed in Riverside or Black Rock, Thompson said.

"Size has yet to be determined," he said.

In response to an inquiry, Thompson confirmed that the request will be part of the 1990-91 capital budget proposal and, if successful, would be financed with bonds.

It took 15 years to fund and build the new Science Magnet School, which will open in September near the Dodge Street site. But Thompson said he hopes that the two proposed schools will be planned and constructed in four years.

In November, the superintendent's committee on building conditions recommended that the board seek $10 million to $20 million a year for the next 15 years for new construction and improvements.

At that time, architect Peter Flynn, committee chairman, recommended that the board become "a little more aggressive in asking for money."

Thompson said school officials have not had formal talks with the Diocese of Buffalo about buying the Dodge Street campus.

"I have an idea we might be able to acquire it for some dollar amount, but we haven't been able to pursue it," he said. "I don't have any money to talk to the diocese. I don't have a deal with the diocese."

Donald E. Gorey, associate superintendent for plant services and school planning, said the 7.7-acre site has excellent access from the Kensington Expressway in both directions.

"The geographical location of that site is almost in the center of the city," Gorey said. "In the city, it is hard to find a site like that."

If the new schools eventually are approved, the city Real Estate Division -- rather than the School Board -- would buy the sites.

"The comptroller would buy it," Gorey said. "They get appraisals, so there are a lot of checks and balances."

The Dodge Street early childhood center would consist of a central core for basic services such as a library, gymnasium and office and counseling services, surrounded by wings.

Present Black Rock and Riverside schools are overcrowded, and much space is leased in those neighborhoods, Thompson said.

"Leasing is cheaper than building, but leasing is not a permanent solution to our problem," he said.

Joseph T. Murray, associate superintendent for instructional services, said the schools are renting space for 189 classrooms this year and will add another 25 in the fall at a cost of $1 million.

"There is no question that we have to build new schools," he said. "We have to have either new additions to existing schools or new buildings, and it's probably both."

Births remain high, and increases in enrollment are projected for the next four years, school administrators say. Half of the children in the city now go to schools that are 60 years old or more.

Gorey said that at the request of former Superintendent Eugene T. Reville he inspected the Diocesan Educational Campus to determine the feasibility of buying and occupying the buildings. He recommended against using the structures, but he liked the site.

"I felt if we added them to our building stock, it would increase the average age by 10 years," he said.

While Thompson's proposal is the first official step, the diocesan site has been discussed at School Board meetings.

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