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Building Update: West Buffalo Charter School expanding

Building Update is a regular feature highlighting progress on development projects throughout the region.

Project name: West Buffalo Charter School

Address: 113 Lafayette Ave.

Developer: West Buffalo Charter School

Cost: $6.3 million

Description: Building two additions to the charter school’s existing building to house an expansion up to 8th grade

Completion date: December 2016 for first stage, August 2018 for second

Lowdown: Four years after opening its doors to students, the success of West Buffalo Charter School is prompting both an educational and physical expansion, as the institution puts on a pair of additions to its West Side building to accommodate four additional grades.

With parent support, and state approval now in hand to add grades 5 through 8, the school will add its first two fifth-grade classes in August, moving its current fourth-graders up without bringing in any new students, said School Leader Andrea Todoro. It will continue adding the next three grades in the same manner over the coming three years.

To house them, plans call for an initial two-story addition, with a basement, totaling 12,600 square feet in all, to hold eight more classrooms at the school’s current site at 113 Lafayette Ave. That will include three classrooms for the current fourth-graders – who are now in basement classrooms in the existing building that were built for them last year – as well as two fifth-grade classrooms and two sixth-grade classrooms. Officials hope to move the fourth-graders to a ground-level floor, and then use that basement area to enlarge the school cafeteria and other common space, Todoro said.

The school is seeking Buffalo Planning Board approval for the $1.8 million project on April 18. Officials want to begin construction July 1, with the addition completed by yearend. In the meantime, the school has developed plans to house the fifth graders temporarily in the main building, without using a trailer or leasing space elsewhere. “It’ll be tight, but we can do it,” said Elizabeth Sterns, the school’s finance and operations officer.

Meanwhile, planning has already begun for the second phase, to provide permanent 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classrooms, as well as a gymnasium. Construction on that second, $4.5 million project would begin in March 2017, with completion anticipated by August 2018.

The school, which currently has 300 students and a waiting list at each grade level, will grow to 350 students next year, and then add 50 students per year before reaching 500. Classes for kindergarten through fourth grade are capped at 20 students per class, with 60 students per grade, while the middle school grades will each have two classes of 25 students, for a total of 50 students per grade. Most students come from the city’s northwest and Black Rock neighborhoods, but the school also provides busing from the rest of the city.

“Last year was the first year we were faced with a graduation,” Sterns said. “We saw the difference we were making, but had to let them go. Now we get to retain them a little longer, and make a bigger impact.”