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Acquisition of land key to E. Aurora school plans

A critical issue in the East Aurora School District's $24 million capital project proposal is acquiring 5.2 acres of vacant land owned by Fisher-Price that the district insists it must have to expand Parkdale Elementary School.

Without that land, the project would not work as currently proposed -- moving third and fourth grades to Parkdale to enlarge it to become a kindergarten through fourth-grade building, district officials said last week.

"We cannot transfer grades 3 and 4 to Parkdale without the additional acreage. There would not be sufficient space, and the state would not approve it," School Board President Daniel Brunson said.

Parkdale would get $15.1 million worth of improvements -- chief among them a two-story addition with 28 classrooms for first through fourth grades, renovated kindergarten rooms, special-education classrooms, a new library/media center and a reconfigured and expanded bus pickup and drop-off area. A one-story addition would be built for a larger gymnasium; art and music rooms also would be expanded.

However, the districtwide project, which goes before voters in a Jan. 30 referendum, largely hinges on how the district acquires the land -- whether it can reach an agreement with Fisher-Price or whether it has to pursue the land through eminent domain.

The Fisher-Price land issue dominated board discussion last week during a special meeting. Even so, administrators and the board said they would prefer to avoid eminent domain and strike a deal with the toymaker outside of court.

If that is not possible, though, the district is not backing down and said it will push ahead with eminent domain. Under state law, the district cannot acquire land without the approval of voters. Preliminary steps for eminent domain through the courts would kick in with voter approval of the project if the company and district are unable to reach agreement.

Included in the project's price tag is $310,000 to pay for what the district feels represents fair market value for the five acres. If the land acquisition exceeds that amount, the district would have to find another way to pay for the cost difference because it could not come from the bond, said Anthony DiFilippo, the district's attorney.

"The district wants to pay a good, fair price for the property for the future generations of children," said Steven Dechert, a board member.

Fisher-Price has long been unwilling to break up the land and sell just a portion of it to the district -- instead, preferring to sell the entire parcel. However, School Superintendent James Bodziak again stressed that the district is prepared to buy the entire 42 acres if that is necessary, but he said it would have to be equitable to taxpayers.

If it ended up buying the full acreage, Bodziak said, the district could then consider selling some of the land -- to the Fire Department, as an example, which has expressed interest in expanding its facilities.

The district and Fisher-Price last met about a week ago.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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