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Updated: 11/11/08 10:46 AM


Sale of nature center land questioned

By Kevin Purdy

Residents living near the Eco Island Nature Center expressed concerns Monday about the Grand Island School District’s potential sale of nine of the center’s 53 acres to a local biotechnology manufacturing plant.

Members of Grand Island Central School Board said that no action has been taken, but further discussion and a potential vote on selling the acreage to nearby Invitrogen are scheduled for the board’s Dec. 8 meeting.

Eugene L. Tonello Jr., who lives across Staley Road from the former missile base donated by the federal government to the school district, said the nine acres are an important “buffer zone” that has kept industry from encroaching on a residential neighborhood. Others said that selling any part of the property is uncalled for.

“Why is the board even thinking of selling part of Eco Island?” asked Rebecca A. Reger, another Staley Road resident. “What is there to gain from handing that over?”

Board President Richard J. Little Jr. said the nine acres was a portion of Eco Island that is not used by teachers or for field trips. The reserve, its nature trail and indoor center are “extremely difficult to fund,” Little said, and selling a portion of it would make it more viable.

“We could take some funding, build a reserve and utilize it over a longer period of time, rather than have the center suffer there and not be utilized,” Little said.

School Superintendent Robert W. Christmann said that he could not discuss details of the potential sale but that it involves “more than just two parties.”

Bill Jenkins, who lives near the center on the West end of Staley Road, told the board that it should not sell the property on the basis of job creation if Invitrogen plans to use the land for parking or warehouse space.

“From experience, warehouses don’t create a whole lot of jobs, and can sometimes be run unmanned,” Jenkins said.

In other business, the board unanimously approved a measure to request an emergency capital project declaration from the state Department of Education to fund repairs on sewer pipes under Veronica E. Connor Middle School. The pipes have leaked or

clogged at least three times in the last two years, even causing closure of the school’s cafeteria. Christmann said that if another problem arises in the cafeteria, the district has planned to temporarily move middle school food service into the adjoining high school gymnasium space until the problem is fixed.