by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — The Lewiston-Porter School District thinks the price is right at $5,000 per acre.
Superintendent Christopher Roser presented the district school board with preliminary information about selling some of its property in front of the district's high school to the Town of Lewiston for the purpose of building a multimillion-dollar athletic complex and senior center.
Included is a price he said the district feels should best serve the taxpayers of Lewiston-Porter.
"We looked at some of the properties in the area," he said. "Some were going for $10,000 per acre, some for much less than that. So we decided to go about half way."
The town is proposing the project and originally sought bids from area landowners capable of hosting the multi-acre building, which would provide indoor fields for baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer and other athletic activities while also including a designated space – with its own entrance — for a senior citizens center. They received three offers, including the school district's.
Originally, the district intended for the building to be located behind the high school, off Creek Road. But in its preliminary investigation, the district found out the proposed land is protected wetlands and can't be developed. So interest quickly flipped to the front of the district's property along the main road.
It's believed the town is looking for eight to 10 acres, though the request could be smaller, Roser said.
Discussions about the property are still in the beginning stages, though. Roser's presentation also included a rough timeline for the process to complete the land sale, should the town accept the price.
He said a pre-contract or letter of intent must be completed, the actual contract needs to be negotiated, a environmental review and other state-required actions must be completed and a closing period would also be required. He said the district could sell the property to the town by the end of january if all steps are completed quickly.
Roser put heavy emphasis on the letter of intent, which the district would complete to ensure the project happened as laid out. He said the district will want to be able to control what happens on the property.
"We don't want a dealership out front or a storage facility there if this doesn't work out," he said. "If this project doesn't take place, we want to make sure the property goes back to the school district."
Roser also said the district should pursue exclusive use rights as part of the deal. He said the district's sports teams have heavily compressed practice schedules in its current facilities and could see a massive athletic complex on its campus as a way of alleviating some of its struggles.
Winter and spring sports seasons, in particular, Roser said, pose great challenges, with some sports teams not practicing until 6 p.m. and games, he said, push these issues further back.
Some of the district's sports can't practice at the school at all. Soccer, for instance, rents space at Sahlen's Sports Complex in Elma for some of its practices, an hour drive each way. Football travels just as far to Orchard Park to practice at the Buffalo Bills field house.
"We want to reap some benefits from this," he said. "We're not going to sell this to some developer who's going to make money off it. We could have a much better facility to offer our students for some of our practices."
The board itself, responsible for the decision to pursue the sale of land, seems on board with investigating the option. Board President Jodee Riordan said the board will continue to do its due diligence but feels the project is great for the community if it works out.
"We think this is a great project for the community," she said. "Our part in it is to sell the property. Some of this is a bit premature because we don't have all of the information. We have a lot to negotiate and discuss."