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In the early 1800s, the hill that overlooks much of Buffalo was a “potter’s field,” a burial ground for the poor and forgotten.

The land would become the site of Masten Park High School in 1897, then Fosdick-Masten Park High School in 1927, and eventually City Honors School.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the front of the school building looked out onto a large, rolling lawn called Fosdick Field. For almost 100 years, it was an athletic field for students.

But in 1977, the school’s campus was cut in half by a public housing project built on the site between Michigan Avenue and Fosdick Street, across the street from what is now University at Buffalo’s new downtown medical campus.

Now that the Woodson Gardens housing complex has been demolished and the land is ready for development, City Honors wants it back.

School officials have started the Fosdick Field Restoration Project, which includes an online petition aimed at building support for restoring the athletic field that was once a part of the school campus.

The parcel the school wants is bordered by Best, Fosdick and East North streets and Michigan Avenue. The proposed project – which will cost at least $3.5 million – includes removing Fosdick Street, which essentially broke up the campus, and creating a pastoral setting for UB’s medical campus adjacent to the property and green space for families and children in the surrounding neighborhoods.

So far, the online petition has 750 signatures.

“We know this is the right thing for the city. We know this is a great thing for our kids,” said City Honors Principal William A. Kresse.

Officials at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority said the site is ready for development and that they are “open-minded” about sale options. Many people and entities are interested in the land, but there is no “firm plan” yet for the site, said Housing Authority Commissioner Joseph Mascia.

But the prime location of the site is not lost on Housing Authority officials.

“We know it’s a very attractive piece of property,” said authority Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett, adding that the authority has had discussions with City Honors about its interest in the parcel.

All purchase proposals would need to start at $500,000, which is the amount the Housing Authority needs to recoup for the demolition that started last December and was completed earlier this year, officials said.

“We’re not giving it away,” Mascia said. “There’s a cost involved for our demolition and site management that we need to recoup before we can turn any land over.”

In addition, the Housing Authority would need federal Department of Housing and Urban Development approval to sell the land and would have to replace the Woodson Gardens units, which were torn down as leases expired and people moved out. Housing Authority officials are working with City Hall to identify space to put those four-, five- and six-bedroom units.

“Woodson Gardens had 30 units, and we have to place them somewhere nearby,” Sanders-Garrett said.

School officials began discussions with the Housing Authority about purchasing the property in the spring of 2006.

The envisioned all-weather athletic field won’t come cheap, and Kresse said he hopes to acquire the $3.5 million it will cost through “a lot of public and private funds and fundraising.”

It could cost another $93,000 to $197,000 for additional archeological work that has to be done on the site.

The Housing Authority began demolishing Woodson Gardens late last year following a 2011 environmental survey that confirmed the land contained extensive remains from when it was a cemetery. More than 10,000 people were buried there, and it took the Housing Authority more than a year to clean up the property because of it, Sanders-Garrett said.

But school officials recently learned that remains are still on the site and must be cleared before construction of an athletic field can happen, Kresse said.

Still, school officials want to restore the field and the school’s entire campus.

“We’re patient ... but also persistent,” Kresse said. “It would be a good and healthy thing to have this back.”

To view the online petition, go to www.cityhonors.org and click on “Sign the Fosdick Field Petition.”

News Staff Reporter Dan Herbeck contributed to this report. email: dswilliams@buffnews.com