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Lancaster, West Seneca propose capital projects each over $75 million

Two of Erie County's larger school districts are asking residents next month to approve capital improvement projects that each cost more than $75 million.

And officials in each district, Lancaster and West Seneca, say that can be achieved without raising taxes.

That's because each district has existing debt, and as it is about to be paid off, the new bond notes would be added.

"It's very common, especially with the tax cap," said James Fregelette, executive director of administration and operations for Erie 1 BOCES. "Districts try to balance out their debt service."

Fregelette is not familiar with either project, but he said districts do that so budgets are "not hit at any one time with great ups or downs."

West Seneca's capital project is $75.5 million, and the current budget allocates nearly $2 million to debt payments. Because some debt will be paid off soon, the share for local taxpayers would not go higher than that through the 2039-40 school year, according to the district.

State aid would fund 76.5 percent of the West Seneca project, according to the district, and the district is authorized to spend $870,000 in district funds.

The project includes improvements and renovations to all of the district's five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools as well as the Potters Road administration building.

The project includes $29.5 million, or 39 percent of the total, for facilities infrastructure; $25.61 million or 34 percent, for educational space and program improvements; $8.71 million or 12 percent, for site improvements; $6.25 million or 8 percent, for building utilities, and $5.45 million or 7 percent, for health, safety and welfare.

Work includes renovations of music spaces and auditoriums, tracks, new turf fields, bleachers and press boxes at the high schools, replacing or refinishing gym floors, upgrading high school science rooms, work on roofs and entrances, secure building entrances and new interior door hardware to impede intruders.

Projects were selected based on the building conditions survey of December 2015 and do not include any plans for consolidation of schools, according to the district. But the initial scope included an estimated $150 million worth of projects. The current project is to be the beginning of a long-term "continual capital improvement plan," according to the district.

General presentations on the project will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 29 at Allendale Elementary at from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 13 at East Senior High.

Improvements at West Elementary will be discussed at that school beginning at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and work at West Middle will be discussed at 6 p.m. Thursday at that school.

The West Seneca vote will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 4 in the East Senior High School gym, 4760 Seneca St.

In Lancaster, voters will be asked to approve $77.1 million in improvements to the district's five elementary schools, middle school and high school and the Pleasant View Drive transportation building. The district will use $5 million from its capital reserve fund, and up to $500,000 to be donated by the Lancaster Educational Alumni Foundation.

Lancaster did not have specifics about the work to be done available, but Superintendent Michael Vallely said in a letter to the community on the district website that the district's Middle School will turn 100 in 2022, while its newest school, William Street School, has hit the 20-year mark and is eligible for building aid on improvements.

"The time has come to fix up and improve many of the systems that make our facilities run, with the largest portion of the project going to our stately oldest building and our 20-year-old “new” building," Vallely wrote.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 11 at New Java Gym at Lancaster High School, 1 Forton Drive. In case of a snow or other emergency, voting will take place Dec. 13.

A public hearing will be conducted at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 in the John A. Sciole Elementary School cafetorium, 86 Alys Drive, Depew.

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