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$42M in capital projects only tip of iceberg for Buffalo Public Schools

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Buffalo Public Schools are looking at spending $42 million on major projects over the next four years, with the first three years paid for by refinancing loans used for the $1.5 billion school rehab plan. At the same time, the district is not certain the schools being worked on today are the schools of the future.

Capital projects take time. As an example, the school district expects to spend a half-million dollars this year re-purposing North Park Academy and planning a major addition that will be built next year for around $4.5 million.

The projects are also expensive, with pool renovations at West Hertel Academy, Waterfront Elementary and Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts running well over $2.5 million and this year's installation of carbon monoxide detectors and hand dryers in all schools for $2.5 million. Even a new public address system for Riverside Academy is expected to cost $100,000.

There are also projects that will not go forward, like $5 million to air condition Bennett, considered too much. Board Member Sharon Belton Cottman said high schools have to be air-conditioned.   

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Pool renovations are planned at West Hertel Academy.

"I do think there needs to be another mechanism in place," Belton Cottman said. "I do agree with what you are talking about, this new policy, because it appears that we put three schools in one building. We've got those kids roasting in the summer and no one sees the importance of making sure that that building is comfortable for students and we have a problem of students coming to summer school."

Belton Cottman suggested much cheaper individual A/C units in each classroom. Facilities, Planning and Construction Director Paul McDonnell said Bennett's wiring might not handle the massive increase in electrical demand needed to handle those units.

"One thing we have to start thinking about is painting our buildings. Unfortunately, that is not a capital project. It's a maintenance project that we will not get aid on," said McDonnell. "So we are hoping and we are going to be starting asking for money in the budget to paint approximately six schools a year. It is a relatively major hit, about $2 million, but that will put us on a 10-year rotation."

McDonnell said our weather makes things worse.

"As an architect, we have an extremely harsh climate in Buffalo," McDonnell said. "In some ways, I wish it was 10 degrees always here. The worst is when it's 10 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next, because that freeze-thaw really wreaks havoc on our buildings. So we have masonry, we have another air conditioning project as you can see there, a new roof on Grover Cleveland over the gymnasium and even things like de-commissioning oil tanks."

The district wants to hire a firm to prepare a strategic plan.

School Superintendent Kriner Cash said it is not clear the classrooms or school buildings of today are the paths of tomorrow. Board Member Larry Quinn was very vocal that old ways will not work, citing Google's efforts to create a new educational environment, like the Manhattan complex toured by district administrators last year.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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