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School renovation program worked exactly as planned

One of the most lasting contributions my administration made to the City of Buffalo was upgrading Buffalo’s public school buildings. Today, our schools are wired to accommodate state-of-the-art technology and our classrooms have the capacity to provide city kids with the same learning environments and amenities found in suburban schools.

I truly believe that our investment in Buffalo’s school buildings paved the way for the Say Yes to Education Foundation’s $15 million investment in the Buffalo School District, which provides coordinated, comprehensive support services that will enable students to be prepared to succeed in college and in life. This investment, coupled with the promise of tuition-free college made possible by donors who have contributed over $23 million to support this dream for every graduate of our city schools, is a real game-changer for our city and a model for the nation.

The Say Yes program could have chosen any district in the United States, but it chose Buffalo because we’d already strengthened the bones of our educational infrastructure – our school buildings.

The Joint Schools Construction Project, which directed the renovation of city schools, is likewise a model of innovation for education. Aside from state aid, there was no new money to fix our crumbling classrooms, which couldn’t support SmartBoards or other cutting-edge technology, making it even harder for students who were already disadvantaged. The need was undeniable and the costs were far more than we could afford – so we had to develop a new way to pay for it.

As chairman of the Joint Schools Construction Board (JSCB), I was charged with overseeing this huge construction project. I’m proud that together with key elected officials and community leaders, we created a new model of financing this major undertaking, which shifted the risk associated with this work, including financial risk, to the project manager.

The new model we created ensured that the project manager would deliver a particular scope of work for a guaranteed price. The district and the State Education Department were involved in developing the scope of work. The JSCB’s responsibility was to make sure all schools were delivered to agreed-upon specifications and price. If the project manager made money, so be it.

It worked perfectly. An independent selection committee ran an extensive qualification process for a project manager. Based on its recommendation, the JSCB hired LPCiminelli, and over the course of the next decade-plus, our schools were transformed.

This new model drew a lot of interest and scrutiny. The state comptroller reviewed the program twice. The city comptroller sat on the JSCB, as did two members of the Buffalo Board of Education. The governor and both houses of the State Legislature passed legislation five times – once for each phase of the program – over the course of a decade. Every aspect was thoroughly vetted.

That’s why I’m puzzled as to why some current JSCB members refuse to pay its bills, leading to what undoubtedly will be an expensive and unnecessary court fight. Yes, LPCiminelli found a way to make money on this project. That just proves that the model worked! I call it a win-win for Western New York.

The current battle casts a pall over the Joint Schools Construction Project – a groundbreaking model that received numerous honors, provided new opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and, most importantly, created tremendous opportunities for our kids. It was then and remains still a great deal for Buffalo.

Anthony M. Masiello was mayor of Buffalo from 1994 to 2005.