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The cost of refurbishing and adding to the former Sidway Elementary School to return it to classroom use would be about $5.5 million, Grand Island School Superintendent Lee J. Cravotta said Tuesday.

But he said that once the cost of constructing a new administrative building and removing asbestos from Sidway are factored into the equation, the final price tag would be about $7.5 million.

That would be $1.2 million cheaper than the $8.7 million total cost for a project initially proposed by the School Board -- $8.1 million to build a new elementary school and an estimated $635,000 for renovating Sidway into offices.

"All along, we have been saying that the costs are comparable," Cravotta said. "Some people think that all we would have to do to reopen Sidway is throw some paint on the walls and let the kids back in there. But that's not the way it works."

The estimate was based on updated figures on the proposed Sidway reconstruction that were presented to the School Board Monday by architect Charles Moore of Scaffidi & Moore.

In addition to the $5.5 million for Sidway, those figures project the following:

About $302,000 to remove asbestos.

$1.2 million for an administration building.

An additional 10 percent of the total reconstruction costs at Sidway, or about $550,000, for contingency and attorneys' fees.

The district closed Sidway in the mid-1980s because of decreasing elementary enrollment and began leasing out office space there. School officials now say they need a new school to ease overcrowding at the two remaining elementary schools.

Opponents of the plan to build a new school have questioned why the district could not reopen Sidway. They have argued that the nearly 50-year-old building still is sound, requiring little more than an expansion. They also expressed skepticism over Cravotta's previous projections that it would cost about $7.1 million to reopen it.

The district plans to move its administrative offices from the senior high school to Sidway if residents agree to build a new school.

However, if Sidway is reopened for elementary pupils, a new building for administrative offices would be required, Cravotta said.

He said district offices occupy about 8,000 square feet now, and the district would like 10,000 square feet. Sidway would provide about 13,000, which is more than needed.

Moving the district offices would allow the Home and Careers Department, now at the middle school, to use that space, creating room for an expansion of the cafeteria and the addition of two foreign language classrooms at the middle school, he said.

Moore said an addition at Sidway would almost double its size ,to 83,900 square feet. That would be larger than Kaegebein Elementary, which is 69,872 square feet, and Huth Road Elementary, 73,698 square feet. However, all of the elementary schools would have roughly the same number of classrooms and facilities.

Moore also noted that asbestos removal costs at Sidway could vary greatly. He has consulted with other asbestos-removal consulting firms to pin down the best action to pursue and an accurate cost estimate.

The School Board still is attempting to determine a final figure for a proposed multimillion-dollar capital improvements bond issue that will include either a new elementary school or reconstructing Sidway.

Cravotta said the state education commissioner has to approve the board's plan before a vote is scheduled. Because of fiscal problems in Albany, Cravotta said, there could be a 10- to 14-week delay in the commissioner's response.

The board is scheduled to meet again at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Middle School Little Theater, 1100 Ransom Road, to continue work on the proposed bond issue.

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