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Decaying North Buffalo school at center of raucous board meeting

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Buffalo School Board meetings are often raucous struggles over how to run the school system. Wednesday night's work session was louder than normal, in a fight over adult education programs in a decaying North Buffalo school.

School administrators want to move the programs out of School 86 on St. Lawrence Avenue before the building becomes unuseable. Last year's plan to move the programs to Riverside stalled because of concerns about East Side gang members at School 86 colliding with Riverside gangs, if that shift went through.

District Plant Services Executive Director Joseph Giusiana listed expensive repairs.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"$5.2 million and that's everything from replacing the roof, replacing the windows, putting in a new HVAC system, which would be heating and air conditioning, new electrical, new clocks and PA, pretty much starting over, which you can imagine, not much more than the bare bones of the building being the structural frame, Giusiana said. "It would also include refurbishing the parking lot, addressing drainage issues."

Board Member Sharon Belton Cottman and Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash squared off.

"I'm not against it," Cash said. "We just have to be made sure that we do it the right way. You can't just go to it. We have to do the analysis."

"We know that by dragging your feet, by dragging your feet, you're making sure it won't happen by September," Belton Cottman responded. "See, this is the pushback you get when you start dealing with people who are just used to doing things their way."

Belton Cottman was among several board members who favor the former American Axle plant at 1001 East Delavan Ave. because it is relatively near the Northland Workforce Training Center, which could work with the overage and under-credited students in School 86. However,that building also needs millions of dollars in renovation.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"I want the children to have as much opportunity as possible," she said. "I'm sorry, but most of the middle class and upper class don't have these problems. The kids that I'm looking for are the least of these that have these problems. They happen to live on the East Side of Buffalo and the West Side of Buffalo, that are dropping out of school. So if you can get an opportunity to give these kids every lift up we can, we ought to be talking about it."

"Absolutely," Cash agreed. "That's right."

However, administrators lean toward moving the programs to the Tri-Main Center, where another program is slated to move out and the district is locked in for seven years beyond that for a $500,000 a year in rent. There was no decision.

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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