Hidden away on a short street in North Buffalo is a school, housing a successful adult education program. The school system says the building is old and tired and might be dangerous, so the program has to move - and that has precipitated a fight.
While the old St. Lawrence Academy is actually one of the newer buildings in Buffalo's fleet, with a 1960 construction date, the New York State Education Department did not want it included in the Joint Schools Construction Board renovation plan, ruling the building was shot after only four decades.
The Buffalo Public Schools proposal is to completely close it and move the adult education program to Riverside, an idea attacked by Ferry District School Board Member Sharon Belton Cottman as dangerous because of the gangs in Riverside.
Chief Operations Officer Kevin Eberle said he knows gang problems from his own experience.
"You're talking to the principal at Grover for nine years," Eberle said. "Kensington closed down in 2000-2001, I got every gang in the entire city there that came to the West Side. I lived it for the first three years. The idea of changing that is what we did when we changed the whole idea of Grover and going into International Prep and Phase Five came in. Through the entire Joint Schools, that actually was the change of culture that actually changed the mindset."
Plant Services Executive Director Joe Giusiana said St. Lawrence is leaking steam and needs major work. He suggested possibilities.
"To abandon that whole network and put a new system, an up-on-the-roof system, introducing you've seen all these different split systems now they use as retrofits," said Giusiana. "That would require reinforcing the roof. That sort of begs the question, if you're going to spend in the order of magnitude of $700,000 for a heating system and put that on top of a bad roof which is 30+ years old, and now do we replace the roof for another 500?"
Then there are the bad windows and the deteriorating brick work. Delaware District Common Councilmember Joel Feroleto is asking neighbors what they want done.
Belton Cottman said there has to be a better solution because of the gangs in Riverside. Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash said he will come back to the board after the holidays with another plan.
"What amazes me is that security does not understand that there is a problem moving children across certain borders and that that would be done and these children, a lot of them, are gang members," Cash said. "Let's just lay it on the line. Every day, kids are dealing with that. Every day, all across the city walking to elementary school."
Meanwhile, there will be asbestos testing in the building because of the damaged insulation on the damaged steam pipes.