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The Orchard Park School Board on Tuesday night authorized spending an estimated $1.6 million on a construction-management firm for a new high school -- if voters approve.

Turner Construction Co. was chosen over Ciminelli-Cowper for the job, submitting a bid that was about $253,000 lower.

Board members stressed that Turner would not receive any money unless district voters approve construction of a new school. A vote is to be scheduled later this year.

They were also wary of the $65 million price tag being used to calculate the construction firm's fees.

"That's a fictitious price, for calculating the price (of the construction-management firm)," said board President M. Donald Pritchard. "It was just used for comparison purposes."

Pritchard and Vice President Leona Backus voted against giving the contract to Turner, but the measure passed 4-2. After the meeting, both said they had preferred Ciminelli-Cowper.

"My feeling was that Ciminelli was local, more so than Turner," Pritchard said, "although I believe they both would do an excellent job."

Turner is owned by Hochtief AG, a German company, and has its American headquarters in New York City. It has Buffalo offices and has worked on a variety of public construction projects.

"After sitting through two long nights of presentations, I felt that Ciminelli would do the better job for us," Backus said.

Richard Jablonski said he based his vote for Turner primarily on the cost difference.

"I think they're a very reputable concern, and they've been connected with the school system for many, many years," Jablonski said, suggesting that the amount of the difference between the two bids might be enough to pay for the project's environmental costs.

Board Member Vicki Jefferis, who has spearheaded the board's facilities initiative, said the split vote did not signal a lack of consensus on the board regarding the project, just a difference on which company would better serve the district.

"It came down with trying to decipher who had the best match for our district," she said. "It was a very hard call, and I think that was reflected in the closeness of the vote."

Orchard Park resident Chris Pawenski attended the meeting as an interested taxpayer and as a former Turner employee. He said he had worked for Turner on the Alden school addition projects.

"I'm an O.P. resident, and my interest was making sure the district hired the best-qualified firm," he said.

"Obviously I'm a little biased, but I think the public will be happy when the school is done. If the public is to be educated correctly, the bond amount is to be set correctly. That's why you need a construction-management firm up early."

The board also received the results of a staff survey on the proposed construction project, which would add a new high school and convert the current high school into a second middle school.

The proposal received a 69 percent "satisfied" response from the 39 percent of district employees who responded to the survey. Seventy-six percent said they thought that there were space shortages in their own buildings, while 74 percent perceived shortages in other buildings.

A survey of district voters showed 42 percent supporting the plan to build a new school, 38 percent opposed and 20 percent unsure.

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