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Orchard Park High School athletes will get a new batting cage if voters approve a multimillion-dollar bond next week.

New tennis courts will go in, too, and the football field will be resurfaced.

School district officials were on the defensive at a public hearing Tuesday as they acknowledged those items are among dozens that are part of the project that voters will consider next week.

While those things might sound frivolous, officials said, they are not.

Already, two baseball teams use a single field, and three softball teams use two fields, said Athletic Director Jim Trampert.

"It's a safety issue. It's too late to say you're sorry after you get a fly ball to the head," he said.

The tennis courts, which date back to the late 1970s, are too old to be patched together any more, and the football field also needs extensive work, he said. Those facilities are not used only by students, he said, but also by thousands of adults in Orchard Park.

School officials were responding to many specifics of Mike Dillon's public criticism of the bond.

Dillon, a board member, has been careful to identify himself as simply a resident and taxpayer when he offers his opinions outside of board meetings. State law prohibits board members from campaigning for or against a bond in their role as board members.

Dillon, as well as board member James T. Crean, has urged residents to vote against an $11.4 million bond to fix the roofs at the high school and middle school and fix major drainage problems at South Davis Elementary.

That proposition also would install new fire alarms, add lighting and fix decades-old ventilation systems, as well as make the buildings fully handicapped- accessible. It would cost residents 19 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation each year over the life of the bond, estimated at 15 years.

Dillon and Crean, acting as private citizens, also have asked residents in recent weeks to reject a $5.25 million project to fix similar health and safety concerns at the other three elementary schools.

That project is contingent upon the larger one passing. It would cost 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Dillon has suggested the district's priorities are out of whack. He has questioned why the first project addresses problems with some athletic facilities but ignores things like security concerns.

School officials countered many of his criticisms point by point Tuesday. For instance, rather than addressing security issues piecemeal, school by school, a district committee decided it would be better to take time, study security in all the buildings and come up with a comprehensive solution.

That committee spent 18 months crafting the capital project. The group started out with a list of $28 million in work to be done and whittled it to a total of $16.7 million.

A number of committee members were outraged that their work was being second-guessed at the last minute. John Finster, a former board member who worked on the committee, took Dillon to task, saying his opposition to the bonds was "misinformed and reckless."

The public will vote on the projects Tuesday.


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