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Board moves forward on reduced borrowing

Stung by the defeat last year of a proposal to borrow up to $130 million for improvements to city school buildings and grounds, the School Board moved ahead Thursday on a scaled-down measure to borrow about $55 million for capital construction.

Board members adopted a resolution authorizing School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco to negotiate a contract with LPCiminelli to act as construction manager for the proposition to be submitted to voters in a referendum Sept. 25.

The board retained Cannon Design last month as architect for the project.

So far, the resolutions have not mentioned specific costs for the construction management or architecture or for the work itself, and school officials have not said exactly what work is to be done.

Bianco recommended that the project consist "of new construction, renovation work and site work for all [of the district's] facilities and properties, to be known as 'The IT Project: Inventing Tomorrow Capital Project.' "

The eight board members attending Thursday's meeting voted unanimously to authorize Bianco to negotiate with Ciminelli for management of the project, subject to final approval by the board. Board member Robert M. Restaino was excused from the meeting because of the death Sunday of his father, Antonio S. Restaino Jr.

If negotiations with Ciminelli are successful, the company will help prepare documents required for the bond referendum and for construction afterward, should the sale of bonds be approved by the voters.

Board members spent considerable time Thursday discussing the mechanics of the bond referendum. Records specialist John L. Owens suggested that the board consider reducing the number of polling places in order to cut costs.

In addition, he said, the Niagara County Board of Elections would be unable to provide enough of the new electronic voting machines to maintain all 24 voting sites that have been used in the past.

"The projected cost range to hold the referendum vote in September using the current number of polling sites, using lever machines, would be $25,000 to $30,000," Owens said.

One option would be to use old lever-operated voting machines that are being phased out.

"If computer voting is mandated by the state in 2013," he said, "we will have to reduce our number of polling places or purchase our own machines" at a cost of up to $12,000 apiece, including delivery. Owens said that such a decision "would increase the election budget tremendously."

He suggested alternatives, which would include having:

*One voting site, probably in Niagara Falls High School, as do many suburban school districts.

*Four voting sites, with one of them in each of the city's four county legislative districts.

*Six sites, all of them in city school buildings.

*13 sites in various schools and public buildings throughout the city.

No official action was taken on the number or location of polling places, but the tone of the discussion suggested that a majority of the board members favor keeping all 24 voting sites open for the bond referendum and then discussing whether to reduce the number of polling places for next year's regular School Board election and budget referendum.

Residents turned down last year's $130 million capital-improvement proposition by a vote of 1,274 opposed and 1,197 in favor.