The recent tension between the center that rescued an iconic church on Buffalo’s East Side and the charter school it created is unfortunate. The stakeholders should have been able to work together to find a more harmonious path for the growth that deserves celebration.
The King Urban Life Center, in the former St. Mary of Sorrows Church, is home to the King Center Charter School, a separate legal entity. Now the school is growing and wants to relocate a little more than two miles away. The center wants the school to remain where it is, in the majestic renovated church building at 938 Genesee St.
Community leaders and local preservationists saved the church from the bulldozer in the 1980s. In turn, the presence of the center and school helped save a blighted neighborhood.
Now the center-school disagreement has landed at the doorstep of City Hall in the form of a request by the school to purchase the former School 71. If the request is granted by the Common Council, then the charter school will be able to move, much to the dismay of those being left behind.
There are many reasons the charter school born out of this magnificent effort should remain as the anchor in a neighborhood that is showing signs of progress. Instead, the school is determined to pull up stakes and deprive the center of its major tenant.
Despite the center’s offer to renovate space on Rich Street behind the church and its pledge to bring to bear all the vast resources of the center to satisfy the school’s needs now and into the future, charter school officials have not been persuaded to stay. They intend to grow the school from 312 to 432 students by 2017 and add an eighth grade to its current structure of kindergarten through seventh grade.
School officials say the center space is not suitable for the expansion. They plan to buy the former School 71 building on Lang Street for $330,000 and make approximately $1 million in renovations.
The school now leases its space in the King Urban Life Center for $167,000 a year. Officials estimate the new space will cost no more than $110,000 a year to operate.
The school could have made a better attempt to stay in the center, or at least provided more notice of the move. But in the end, the school needs to do what it thinks is best for its students.
It is a painful call for the neighborhood, given the devastating effect the move could have on the center. The only solace is that what the center’s founders created has matured into an educational institution with the determination and ability to grow. Losing the school will be difficult, but we hope that the center’s deep disappointment will grow into a renewed spirit for fulfilling its mission.