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Board seems resigned to public vote on new fields

Worried the cost is at least $1 million more than first estimated, Clarence school officials Monday appeared poised to seek a scaled-back version of a plan by sports boosters to replace the high school's playing fields with artificial turf and to add night lights.

Clarence School Board members seemed resigned to the likelihood that the matter would come to a public vote one way or another -- and said, that being the case, they'd rather see a smaller, less expensive proposal.

"I do think it's going to end up [as a public referendum] one way or the other," said School Board President Michael Lex. But, he said, he hoped it would do so as "a more realistic proposal."

No action was taken. No supporters of the project spoke at the meeting. In any case, the board will take up the issue again at its December meeting and hopes to meet with boosters before then to carve out a compromise.

Monday's debate came as the board considered a report showing the project would cost at least $4.1 million, or $1 million more than boosters first estimated when they came to the district with the idea in September.

The report by Superintendent Thomas Coseo also found that the plan would cost an extra $60 a year in school taxes on a home valued at $200,000 -- not an unusual home price in Clarence.

Boosters are asking the district to put their proposal to a referendum as soon as possible. However, supporters don't need the board's approval to do so. Under state law, Coseo said, supporters can go out and get signatures demanding the issue be put on the ballot for a vote.

Coseo said only about 100 valid signatures would be needed.

Several board members said they supported the concept -- and some felt the community should have a vote -- but they were clearly worried about the cost, especially since the district has not yet paid off a massive building project approved several years ago and is expecting a tight budget for next year.

Coseo suggested several compromises, including scaling back the proposal to artificial turf for just one field, as well as lights -- the idea's original form, he said.

He said it was also possible, for instance, to combine the project with one to replace roofing that the district is already considering. If the project was put on the ballot in that form, it would be eligible for state aid -- and much less of a drain on local property taxes, he said.

Coseo also told of artificial turf projects in two Syracuse-area school districts. One for a $2.5 million project in the Vernon-Verona-Sherill School District was rejected by voters overwhelmingly.

The other, for Fayetteville-Manlius High School, was scheduled for a Dec. 13 vote, but whether that would happen is unclear. The board there began talking about postponing the vote after learning state lawmakers were considering imposing a six-month moratorium on such projects because of worries that artificial turf may emit toxic chemicals.

Not all board members were sold on the need for the project to begin with.

"This is a nice-to-have project," said board member John Semler, "but I haven't heard anything compelling enough to make it a have-to-have project."

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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