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Emerson project will be bigger, cost school district more

Eight months after the Buffalo Public Schools agreed on a developer and downtown location for a new culinary high school, the two sides are finally wrapping up lease negotiations on a project that will be bigger and more costly than originally anticipated.

But the school still won't open for almost two years.

McGuire Development Co. and Mark Croce’s Buffalo Development Co. plan to convert the former C.W. Miller Livery Stable at 73 W. Huron St. into a second Emerson School of Hospitality, a project that has grown in size by 26 percent and will cost several million dollars more to rent over 15 years, according to details of the lease agreement provided to the School Board last week.

“We started negotiations almost a year ago now. It’s hard to believe it took this long, but it was certainly a very diligent and hard-fought battle,” said Joe Giusiana, executive director of plant services for the Buffalo Public Schools. “We worked diligently to try to get the best deal we could from a financial standpoint.”

The original proposal was to lease roughly 80,200 square feet of space in the building at a cost of $30.86 per square foot. That works out to more than $37 million over the course of a 15-year lease.

Now, the district will pay less per square foot – $29.70 – for nearly 102,000 square feet of space. That works out to about $46 million over a 15-year lease. Building aid from the state will cover more than $30 million, up from roughly $24 million previously.

Based on the increase in state aid, the district would only be on the hook for an extra $2 million.

“That takes us out through Year 11 that the state will be aiding our lease, so that certainly is significant,” Giusiana told members of the School Board. “More than two-thirds of the lease is paid for by the state.”

Nonetheless, the increased cost of the lease is raising concerns from at least one School Board member.

Central District Member Paulette Woods, whose district includes Emerson on West Chippewa Street as well as the proposed second location on West Huron, thought one of the reasons the board selected this proposal over four others was because the cost was most reasonable. Now, she’s not sure that’s the case.

“Changing the scope of the project seems to be an attempt to mask that the project is millions of dollars higher,” Woods said.

The total cost of the lease may be more, but the district is paying less per square foot and getting more space that it will use to expand the district’s Occupational Training Center program, Giusiana explained. The center on Main Street provides schooling and life skills training for students with developmental disabilities.

Negotiations with the developer are complete, and the lease and necessary paperwork have been sent to the State Education Department for approval.

The hope is that the state expedites the approval of the lease so the School Board can vote on it as soon as this week and construction can begin.

McGuire and Croce – selected by the School Board in July as the preferred development team –  will redevelop the historic six-story former horse stable into a culinary school that will complement the existing Emerson to create a city campus within downtown's hospitality district.

The building will include a public restaurant space, a private dining room, banquet and special-event space, kitchens, a bakery, food preparation and serving space, freight elevators, and distribution space for supplies, as well as standard classrooms, lockers and a gymnasium.

The district started a second Emerson in the fall of 2015 and placed students in an old elementary school in South Buffalo, expecting the new building would open in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Now, construction is expected to be completed by October 2019 with occupancy slated for January of 2020.

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