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School's out forever, but former Buffalo PS 78 is slated to be reborn as affordable housing

Buffalo School 78 apartment ground
Michael Mroziak
Governor Kathy Hochul, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, State Senator Tim Kennedy and numerous dignitaries and guests toss dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for a project that will convert former Buffalo Public School 78 into affordable housing units.

What once served as a school will begin its transformation this spring into affordable housing units. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday afternoon outside the former Buffalo Public School 78 on Olympic Avenue, getting the $19 million project underway.

The plan calls for the creation of 46 apartments, a combination of one- and two-bedroom units.

“All of our units are going to be fully handicap accessible. We're going to have all the amenities that somebody with disabilities needs,” said Andrew Sewnauth, president and chief operating officer of CDS Life Transitions, one of the partners behind the development. “They are going to be able to come into their own apartment. They’re not going to have to worry about the rooms being too close. And then you're going to have a great public elevator that's going to be able to get people where they need to go.”

Elected officials including Governor Kathy Hochul, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and numerous state and local representatives were present. Hochul used the occasion to speak of a new multi-year plan to develop more affordable housing complexes statewide.

“This is all focused on our messaging that this is a new era for New York. I announced this in my State of the State and in my budget address. And part of creating a whole new era for New York is recognizing the areas where we have shortcomings, where there's still high need,” Hochul said. “And that is absolutely why I am proposing $25 billion for 100,000 affordable housing units in my budget, which we're negotiating over the next couple of weeks with the Legislature.”

Mayor Brown offered praise to numerous other elected officials for their roles in securing funding to reconstruct what he says has been an eyesore in the neighborhood for many years. He, like Hochul, also suggested there will be more affordable housing projects to come.

“Often times we hear people talking, and it almost is like they are saying there hasn't been any affordable housing done. But the governor just ticked off over 3,500 units of affordable housing that has been done by the State of New York, in the City of Buffalo,” Brown said. “And as mayor, I've been very glad to be a partner in that and to work closely with the state on that. I also want to mention that we have an additional 860 affordable housing units in the planning stage right now, as we speak, with the expectation of announcing several hundred more in this year.”

The auditorium where the ceremony began will also be brought to new life, converted to a community space available to local interests. And Sewnauth says they’ll preserve as much of the old school building’s looks as best as possible.

“We want to keep the spirit that's here, the Buffalo community, the Buffalo culture. So we're going to keep as much as we can,” he said. “We're going to update some things, some new windows, better insulation. When you drive by, you're going to know that this is a Buffalo based project.”

The goal is to complete construction and open the apartments by spring 2023.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.