By December, Williamsville School District officials should know whether they will need to start shopping for property for a new bus garage.
A transportation study earlier this year concluded that the current garage, at 505 Mill St. in Amherst, is too small and interferes with the neighboring Mill Middle School.
The School Board has hired Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers to figure out whether building on one of three district-owned sites under consideration would be feasible. A report is expected by December.
The vacant parcels lie within two miles of each other in northern Amherst: 15 acres at 520 Campbell Blvd., just south of North French Road; 27 acres at 1665 Campbell Blvd., about half a mile south of Tonawanda Creek; and 59 acres at 355 Schoelles Road, which runs off Campbell, about midway between the other two sites.
Three years ago, a study by Trautman Associates, an architectural firm, focused on 520 Campbell because it is more centrally located than the others, according to Thomas Maturski, assistant superintendent for business.
The property seems to be big enough to accommodate the building and the 72-bus fleet, the study noted.
But the study also pointed out that the parcel has "high potential" for being considered a federal wetland. If it fits the wetland definition, obtaining all the necessary permits could take years, the study found, and mitigation efforts could add $1.75 million to the project cost.
Maturski said the Trautman study was not a full-blown feasibility study, which is what the district needs. The board has agreed to pay Wendel Duchscherer $47,600 to evaluate the three properties and look into renovating the current bus garage.
When the Trautman study was conducted, then-assistant Superintendent Richard Hitzges suggested that the board set up a reserve fund to buy land for the bus garage, which requires voter approval.
The board eventually decided not to put it on the ballot, saying residents might be inclined to reject it in what was considered a difficult budget year.
That leaves the district with no money earmarked to purchase property if the parcels it already owns are ruled out.
Three years ago, Trautman Associates estimated building a bus garage at 520 Campbell would cost $4.2 million, including site preparation. The district updated those estimates this year, but Superintendent Howard S. Smith refused to release new figures to The Buffalo News, saying that would impair awarding contracts.
The Trautman study also estimated converting the current bus garage into a buildings and grounds facility would cost another $2 million. The board, which now leases space for buildings and grounds operations, remains interested in that prospect.
Purchasing property or building a bus garage require voter approval.