Carl Paladino, the real estate developer who sits on the Buffalo School Board, has purchased the former Holy Angels Academy on Hertel Avenue, raising speculation that the building may continue as an educational facility.
Paladino won the building and its surrounding 5.37 acres at auction Saturday morning with a high bid of $2.9 million.
Paladino wouldn’t say what his plans are for the former Catholic girls school, except to say that he has a tenant and a plan that he believes will be acceptable to the community and the North Buffalo neighbors.
“We have a user for the entire facility, and we will put it good use,” Paladino said.
Paladino did say he expects to have the facility functioning in its new role soon and that it will not undergo any major construction.
“Just some paint,” he said.
He also bought the school’s major gymnasium equipment – its mats, bleachers, basketball backboards and hoops – but did not bid on the school’s inventory of desks, chairs and library furniture.
Paladino’s purchase and comments about leaving the school largely intact apparently put to rest speculation that the school would be adapted for residential use.
Another bidder, David Pawlik’s C.S.S. Construction, had plans to purchase Holy Angels and turn it into 45 apartments. But he bowed out of the bidding at $2.8 million.
Now speculation turns to continuing to use the building for educational purposes, possibly as a charter school.
“Knowing Carl’s activities in the community, I’m confident Holy Angels will have a happy ending,” said Maureen Maguire, a member of the Holy Angels board of trustees.
Paladino would not confirm or deny plans for a charter school, but he has been a strong supporter and deeply involved in charter school development in the past.
His Ellicott Development Co. and affiliates have renovated and leased space to four other schools, including Health Sciences Charter School on Ellicott Street, Tapestry Charter School on Great Arrow Avenue, West Buffalo Charter School on Lafayette Avenue and Middle Early College, a district public school at 290 Main St.
Charter school leaders have expressed support for Paladino’s role in charter schools and his work with them.
“We could not have done anything if he hadn’t stepped in,” said Joy Pepper, executive director and co-founder of Tapestry Charter School. “He said he liked the project. He invested his own money, and he took his collateral and went to the bank.”
And in an opinion piece for The Buffalo News, C. Teo Balbach, chairman of the board for trustees for Tapestry, said Paladino invested $1 million of his own money in the school while also guaranteeing a $12 million loan.
Paladino holds the mortgage on the school, which he leases to Tapestry with the option to buy, similar to a rent-to-own arrangement. Ellicott Development renovated one existing building for the school and built a second adjoining building from the ground up.
“We saw that it was a school of excellence. It was doing a great job and had great credibility,” Paladino said. “We told them we would work with them to keep them open as an alternative for kids in the city.”
Charter schools have a notoriously hard time securing funding, since they are only sanctioned to operate for five years at a time and are considered by banks to be a risky investment.
While public schools use city-owned buildings at no cost and conduct renovations with tax dollars, charter schools must pay for their facilities out of their per-pupil funding.
“There is no facility funding for charter schools. Everyone has to go out and get their own money,” Pepper said. “We wouldn’t be able to do the amazing work we do without our building.”
Holy Angels Academy closed in the spring because of declining enrollment, which was down to 240 students. It is not among the schools run by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. It was founded 152 years ago by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart and operated independently with its own board of trustees.