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Councilman: Common Council support for King Center Charter School seems likely

A charter school’s plan to move from the King Urban Life Center on Buffalo’s East Side and into a vacant school two and a half miles away appears headed for a Common Council vote, and it seems likely to be approved.

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana said Tuesday that a majority of the Council’s nine members have told him they understand King Center Charter School’s need for more space.

“Hopefully this Council can make that happen,” Fontana said.

The school’s board of trustees recently authorized the purchase of the former School 71 on Lang Avenue, in the Bailey-Delavan area, which is in Fontana’s district.

The Council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether the city should sell the former school to King Center Charter School for $330,000.

Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk opposes the sale. Franczyk’s district includes the current home of the charter school, housed in what was once St. Mary of Sorrows Church on Genesee Street.

The church community and local preservationists saved the former church from demolition in the late 1980s. Ultimately, it became the site of the King Urban Life Center, and the charter school is the biggest program to operate there.

“We have to look at what’s good for the city,” Franczyk said. “It’s a net loss for the entire city.”

Both the vacant school at 104 Lang Ave. and the former St. Mary of Sorrows Church at 945 Genesee St. are owned by the city.

The proposed move has drawn passionate responses from both sides of the debate, and advocates have pleaded their case to city lawmakers for the last month.

Opponents of the move contend the school contributes to the vitality of the surrounding community, which includes the Martin Luther King Jr. Park neighborhood.

But school officials say the school needs an auditorium, a gymnasium and larger classroom space, which former School 71 provides at a cost the school can afford.

Board members of the King Center Urban Life Center, which operates the church building, and board members of the charter school disagree over how much collaboration went in to expanding the current space to meet the school’s needs.

On Tuesday, the Council’s Community Development Committee again heard from supporters of the charter school and the King Center. Two preservation advocates said the former church is a historic building and the school should stay because of the school’s positive impact on the neighborhood and its example as a successful re-use of a historic building.

“It would be a shame if the city once again, perhaps unintentionally, made a decision to undermine this church and this neighborhood,” said Tim Tielman, director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History Architecture and Culture.