Last summer, Brandon L. Pafk had a fleeting thought: Wow, there’s a historic building with a great tradition. It’d be phenomenal to take on that real estate.
Little did he know that a year later, his school would be moving into the former Holy Angels Academy on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo. Pafk will be the principal of the Charter School for Applied Technologies middle school opening in the building in mid-August.
Pafk says the school isn’t looking to bully its way into its new home.
“We want to graciously be woven into the fabric,” said Pafk, currently vice principal of CSAT.
That’s why CSAT, University District Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt and officials of McGuire Development Co. held a community forum Thursday evening at St. Rose of Lima Elementary School. Eight community members were on hand, and several expressed concerns.
Tony Diina’s wife and four daughters attended Holy Angels, and he was curious who would be responsible for physical changes to the property. Danielle E. Shainbrown, vice president and chief legal officer for McGuire, said her company and CSAT are dually responsible.
“I own property. If my tenant is responsible for cutting the grass and they don’t cut it, I get the call. I want to know who to call,” Diina said. “They’re two very good companies, a good developer and good school, so I’m confident it will be OK. But they said they don’t plan to make any changes, and a plan is not a commitment.”
Shainbrown told The Buffalo News that her company is making only minor changes: adding a second elevator to the property in addition to painting, installing new flooring in some places, updating the electrical system and putting in a cooling system that is economical and efficient.
Other than that, Pafk said, the school has no other plans to make modifications. “It’s a beautiful facility, and why mess with beauty?” he said.
Candy Amoia owns a house behind the school. As she puts it, the gym is in her backyard.
Amoia expressed concern about maintenance of the greenery along the school, which she said has been ignored since Holy Angels vacated. Shainbrown said because McGuire acquired its stake in December, the company so far has only cleaned off the front of the building, and landscaping for all of McGuire’s properties was hindered by rain this spring.
Amoia said she has been the only one tending the grounds on the building’s sides.
“I can assure you that I’ll have our team out there in the next 24 hours,” Shainbrown responded.
The moderators also discussed busing, a topic of contention for some in the audience. Pafk said the school, which serves 19 districts, will have 11 to 13 buses. Holy Angels did not provide busing. He assured the residents, however, that the buses will not be idling because they will be on a tight schedule to serve the Buffalo Public Schools.
“This is a great opportunity for us to go and address those things,” Wyatt said after the residents had voiced their concerns.
All-girls Catholic school Holy Angels closed in June 2013 after 152 years because of declining enrollment and dwindling finances. Carl P. Paladino, a real estate developer and Buffalo School Board member, purchased the building in August of that year, and rumors began circling that Paladino – who has extensive history leasing to charter schools – had a school in mind for the building.
CSAT, which is located on Kenmore Avenue in Buffalo, is expanding over the next six years and increasing its enrollment by 41 percent by adding 690 students. It is currently the largest New York State charter school, with 1,675 students enrolled.
The middle school’s new home – a 75,000 square-foot, 30-classroom property – contains an auditorium (which seats more than 800) and a two-court gymnasium (renovated and updated in 2007), as well as a library. CSAT is installing 94 security cameras.