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Six city schools targeted for closure Plan to streamline and transform the system includes eight renovations

Buffalo plans to close six more schools over the next two years and renovate eight others as part of its transformation to a smaller but newer school system.

School officials, as part of a series of changes unveiled Wednesday, also plan to alter the mission of three existing schools by adding, among other things, a new Alternative School.

The recommendations, which still face approval by the Board of Education, are part of a strategic plan to both downsize and modernize Buffalo's school system.

"We're looking at ways of improving classroom environment and academic programming through a more effective use of our buildings and at the same time introducing our literacy-based academic achievement plan," said Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the district.

The plan calls for closing four schools -- School 71 on Newburgh Street, School 77 on Normal Avenue, School 36 on Days Park and School 142 on Fulton Street -- at the end of this school year.

On top of that, school officials are proposing the closing of School 40 on Clare Street and School 63 on Minnesota Avenue at the end of the 2006-2007 school year.

School officials, as part of the same strategy, hope to modernize eight other schools -- five elementary and three high schools -- during the next phase of its billion-dollar school construction program.

The district also wants to change how three other school buildings -- School 171 on East Delavan Avenue, School 38 on Lowell Street and Seneca High School -- are used. One of those buildings would house a new Alternative School.

While School Board members seem to agree on what schools should close, they disagree on what schools to modernize and keep open.

Donald Van Every, chairman of the board's Finance and Operations Committee, acknowledged as much Wednesday when he asked School Superintendent James A. Williams to move on the closings but wait for public meetings to be held on the schools to be reconstructed.

Some board members are upset because the list of schools targeted for renovation didn't include a high school in their district. The list of schools targeted for improvement in Phase 3 of the construction program include:

*School 27 -- Hillery Park Academy (Pawnee Parkway in South Buffalo), where an addition would boost its 500-pupil enrollment to 634.

*School 32 -- Bennett Park Montessori (Clinton Street), which will be doubled in size and would double its 490-pupil population as a full prekindergarten through eighth grade school.

*School 43 -- (Benzinger Street), one of the city's oldest and most neglected schools, would be expanded to raise its population from 366 to 848.

*School 45 -- International School (Hoyt Street), with 881 pupils, would receive a modest addition to provide better nonclassroom spaces. Enrollment would drop below 800.

*School 76 -- Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy (South Elmwood Avenue) would have new classrooms to boost its enrollment from 494 to nearly 728.

The list of schools targeted for improvement also includes three high schools.

South Park High School, the only high school in South Buffalo, would have its athletic facilities upgraded and drop from 1,032 students to 830.

City Honors School, centrally located at Masten Avenue and Best Street, would undergo academic and athletic additions. Now with 883 students in grades 5 through 12, it would expand to take in 964 students.

McKinley High School, built in 1965 and the city's newest high school, would see its population of 1,152 drop to 854 students for its popular vocational education program.

Ralph R. Hernandez, the School Board's West Side representative, said the "three most affluent high schools" were recommended and asked why Grover Cleveland, Lafayette and Riverside high schools weren't recommended for the next round of renovations.

"How do I respond to those folks?" Hernandez said.

"Those three schools are having the greatest problems right now," Hernandez said. "It would be good for them if at least one of them could say we're renovating their school because we want those students to feel proud of their school."

"Grover Cleveland is in bad shape," the superintendent agreed. "It's the worst school I've ever seen. Somewhere down the line we must close a couple more high schools. I believe it's cheaper to build a new Grover Cleveland than to renovate it."

"Grover has so many safety problems," said board President Florence D. Johnson. "The building is not conducive to learning. When you go in there it's gloomy. I see the same thing in Burgard [Vocational High School]. We need to look at those buildings."

Van Every said Burgard and Seneca high schools are also "just begging for renovations because of the conditions of the sites."

Williams said the district invested in equipment at Burgard, whose machine shops are training students for jobs of the future.

The recommendations to close or suspend several schools will be presented from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 13 in William J. Grabiarz School 79 at 225 Lawn Ave. and Feb. 16 in Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center (School 99) at Jefferson Avenue and Best Street.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com and pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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