Niagara Gazette

December 6, 2012

Falls schools' capital project moves along

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Two additional contracts for the Niagara Falls City School District's capital improvement project were approved Thursday.

Bolton Land Surveying, of Pulaski, N.Y., and Professional Service Industries Engineering Services, of North Tonawanda, were both hired to do professional work for the district at the recommendation of its architect, Cannon Design.

"We're coming to you now because we need to get this work started (as soon as possible)," Assistant Superintendent Mark Laurrie told the board.

The surveying company will receive up to $46,900, while Professional Service Industries Engineering Services, a soil and land testing company, will receive up to $18,305 to complete their work, according to their contracts.

Professional Service Industries Engineering Services previously worked with the district when it built the current high school in 1999.

The soil testing is required by state law for any new building, Laurrie said, adding the district is building several new athletic fields, an athletic field house and eight additional classrooms at Kalfas Magnet School.

But while approving the contract with the testing company was relatively simple, passing 8-1 with little discussion by board members, the approval of the surveying company wasn't quite as smooth.

Several board members were unimpressed with the district recommending a company from outside the Niagara Falls area, a goal many of them said was part of the original project.

"Part of our goal with this whole project was not only to help the school district, but to help the workers and the professionals in Niagara Falls," Board Member Johnny Destino said. "Right off the bat, we're hiring an out-of-town land surveyor. I just want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Destino was one of three board members who voted against hiring Bolton in a 6-3 vote. And at least one of the yes votes was cast simply because time is of the essence.

Nick Vilardo, who sits on the district's oversight committee for the project, said timing is the only reason he agreed with Cannon Design's recommendation.

"I agree, we should be looking for local people whenever possible," he said. "But I didn't want any delays."

In other board news, a discussion continued about the possibility of reducing the number of polling locations the district will offer for budget votes and special elections.

Though no decision was made Thursday, many on the board clearly stated no fewer than 12 polling places would suffice.

"I know we're gonna have to make a decision eventually, but I want as many polling sites as we can get," Kevin Dobbs said. "Twelve to me would bye my minimum. I'm looking past machines, this is more than that or more than money. This is about giving people the opportunity to vote."

The district has been considering reducing its polling places since the beginning of 2012 after Niagara County Board of Elections representatives informed them of a lack of voting machines due to election law.

Currently, the district has 24 polling places within the city for each budget vote in May, and chose to keep those places open for September's capital project referendum. But timing of state and federal primary elections caused the district to use the old pull lever machines instead of computerized scan sheets.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed a law allowing those machines to be used through 2014. But if they were to be eliminated, the district wouldn't be guaranteed more than seven computerized voting machines, district Clerk Ruthel Dumas said.

Still, the general consensus focused on higher numbers of polling places because, to them, voting is important.

"Money is always going to be an issue," Russell Petrozzi said. "But people died for the right to vote. I'd like to see all 24, but I've reached a point (of reduction)."