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Members of the Amherst School Board were taken aback Tuesday when asked for more than $826,000 in support of a capital project proposed by the Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The amount would be the district's share of a $20 million construction project to upgrade three BOCES-owned facilities -- the Potter Road, Ken-Ton and Harkness centers -- according to Mark Whyle, the school district's director of administrative services. Whyle said BOCES needs the money by July, and the organization's 19 component boards have been asked to approve the project by February.

According to Whyle, if even one district vetoes the plan, then no district can borrow its share of the funding. He said BOCES cannot borrow money on its own. "It sounds like we don't have very much say in this," said trustee Robert C. Wetter, and Superintendent Dennis D. Ford remarked, "My understanding is we really don't have any say."

Whyle said the district would likely borrow the $826,000 over a period of 10 to 20 years, and he plans to prepare cost impact studies for the board. He later estimated that a 20-year bond could cost the district about $40,000 per year, half of which would be state reimbursable.

School Board President Paul V. Batt Jr., said he had not been aware of the project, and he asked Whyle if the district had any input on its size. Whyle responded that the district's only input would be the February vote.

Trustees also wondered if the project means an expansion in BOCES services, but Whyle said the proposal doesn't call for additional space. "It's basically maintenance -- roofing and brick work," said Whyle, noting that the buildings hadn't received any attention in years.

"I have no doubt there is a need -- from having been in these buildings," Ford said. "But it's difficult for a district facing a declining valuation of property to place a greater burden on the taxpayers."

Administrators indicated they won't wait until next year to deal with the impact of the BOCES project. Ford said, "We have to talk about areas of our current budget to freeze right now." And Whyle noted, "We need to get out of this year's budget an amount that would make the first payment."

Board Vice President David J. Dengler asked Whyle if such a BOCES project has occurred before, adding, "Will they come back and ask for more in two years?" Whyle responded that such projects are rare. "I believe the last one happened in the seventies."

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