When you’re $3 million in debt, every saved dollar helps.

Niagara Falls school officials announced plans Thursdays to begin charging outside groups and agencies to use its facilities during downtimes, a financial shift that could save close to $20,000 in costs annually. Primarily, the district plans on recouping energy and maintenance costs when other sports teams play games at Sal Maglie Stadium or on Nicoletti Field near Packard Court.

Organizations would also be charged a minimum of $50 per hour to use Niagara Falls High School on Sundays and holidays or outside the regular staffing hours the rest of the week. Among those affected would be Niagara Power Baseball, Niagara University, Cataract Little Loop Football, the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara Catholic, the Police Athletic League, Arts in Education and several summer dance groups that utilize the high school.

Acting Deputy Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he’s met with most of the organizations already and they understand the district needs to recoup some of the costs associated with hosting indoor and outdoor events.

“We’re not looking to make money off of them, but we can’t lose money either,” Laurrie said. “Everyone we have talked to so far has been very supportive. They are willing, ready and able to pay.”

The most significant changes apply to night football and baseball games held at Sal Maglie. The district’s electricity bill at the stadium last year was $27,000. However, the Niagara Falls City Council voted earlier this week to start covering the costs to run the stadium from June to August, during which the field is mostly used by the Niagara Power baseball team.

Laurrie said that change alone will save about $9,000. He estimated another $3,000 could be saved by recouping electricity costs when non-district sports teams have night games. In addition, the district will be making changes to its own baseball and football schedules to avoid as many night games as possible.

Besides billing for electricity use, the district will begin charging overtime costs for groundskeepers needed at the fields during sporting events on Sundays and holidays and after 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. That charge will range from $50 to $60 an hour per worker, with the district to determine the number of workers needed. The change will have the biggest impact on the Niagara Power baseball team, which plays 21 home games at Sal Maglie.

Some events at the high school will also be billed between $50 and $60 per hour for any additional maintenance and staff needed. Laurrie said the district is not charging for events happening during normal staffing hours.

“If it’s not costing us anything extra to be there, we’re not charging them,” he said.

Between the electricity charges and maintenance fees, the district could recoup close to $20,000 a year, Laurrie said. That’s an easy way to help reduce the multi-million-dollar budget deficit, he added.

“We’re looking at every way we can to save money,” Laurrie said. “It may not sound like a lot, but it’s a way to save a teacher’s job.”

In other news Thursday, Acting Superintendent Cynthia Bianco reported that two schools, Abate Elementary and Kalfas Magnet, lost power from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. due to the wind storm. Bianco said emergency generators kicked in immediately and the outage didn’t impact classes or lunch periods.

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