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Buffalo Board of Education backs plan for second Emerson school at former Trico building

Buffalo students may soon be able to attend school near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and learn skills that they could use working in the hospitality industry, if the developer proves it is making progress on the project.

The Buffalo School Board on Wednesday signed off on a plan to designate Krog Corp. as developer for a second Emerson School of Hospitality in the former Trico Products Corp. building at 817 Washington St.

But the designation comes with one condition – Krog. must make substantial progress on the project in the next five months so the school is on track to open in September.

The school district selected the site from 11 proposals submitted by developers in response to a request for plans to develop a second location for Emerson, which is among the most popular schools in the district. The original location, on Chippewa Street, can handle only about 485 students.

At Emerson, students learn culinary skills along with traditional academics. Students also operate a walk-in restaurant open to the public.

School officials recommended the Trico site because of its proximity to not only the Medical Campus, but downtown, Allentown and the Fruit Belt. The site also has easy access to public transportation, with the redeveloped Metro Rail stop at Allen Street three to four blocks north.

Some board members expressed concerns about whether the project could be done in time, since there has been little progress on the Trico project, which also includes a hotel.

The school is one of the district’s budget priorities for the coming school year, and the board got an update Wednesday on its $847 million general fund.

The district faces a $25.3 million deficit in that area, part of which is driven by reoccurring expenses, such as health care costs, that the district has typically relied on reserves to cover.

“The increases in state aid don’t even begin to cover those increases,” said Geoff Pritchard, the district’s interim chief financial officer.

The district also needs to figure out how to pay for Superintendent Kriner Cash’s ambitious school reform plan, which officials estimate will cost $22.4 million. That includes money for lowering class sizes, implementing community schools and putting more resources into literacy in the early grade levels.

“That plan costs money,” Cash said.

District officials are looking at a number of possibilities to close the budget gap, including efficiencies in scheduling and incentives for retirees to sign up for less expensive insurance plans.

“People are going to have to understand here that we’re paying an extraordinary amount of money to people who are retired and don’t have children,” said board member Larry Quinn.

The district also may consider cutting physical education teachers that it hired at the start of the school year.

“Something’s going to have to give,” Cash said.

The board will resume its conversation about the budget at its committee meeting next week. It is scheduled to vote on the budget in May.