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North Hill Elementary will close in June

The Olean School Board voted 6-3 Tuesday night to close one of its five neighborhood elementary schools because of declining enrollment and rising taxes.

The decision means North Hill Elementary will close in June and about 150 pupils will be sent next school year to Boardmanville and East View schools.

The vote ended eight months of committee meetings and followed more than two hours of comments from parents and residents who opposed the closing.

Most pointed to the school's importance to the North End neighborhood and its property values, and also expressed concerns over children's safety when walking or meeting a shuttle bus at a local community center.

Comments ranged from a simple request from three elementary-aged boys to keep the school open to the remarks of Ralph Anastasia, 80, who began his education at North Hill 75 years ago.

"There is nothing wrong with [North Hill]. . . . All are very solid buildings" he said. "We should save money on the middle school instead of the elementary schools."

Most requested a delay in the closing plans and creation of a task force for further closings.

Several board members -- Ira Katzenstein, George Pancio and Gerry Zimmerman -- who voted against the closing, agreed that a comprehensive plan should be finalized before a decision is made to close a school or build a new one.

Board President Michiko McElfresh asked everyone to remain positive and realistic about the board's choice to "look a problem square in the eye while saving money."

"Many of our factories are gone or not operating at full capacity. Our main street is vacant. Our town is emptying out and our municipal government indicates that it is essentially bankrupt," McElfresh said.

The board later voted to set up a task force to work on a feasibility study for recommendations by the June board meeting to reduce the district elementary buildings to three or four.

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