Officials holding shovels in dirt pile

Shovels have officially been put in the ground for the Tonawanda City School District’s TONA2020 Elementary School Improvement & Consolidation Project.

With construction vehicles revving in the distance, district officials and capital project architects gathered with local and state representatives to hold a groundbreaking ceremony in front of Fletcher Elementary School. Now that construction has started, work has kicked into high gear to renovate and improve the existing Fletcher facility so it can house all Tonawanda elementary students (pre-kindergarten through grade 5) under one roof.

“Our district has a rich history and a great story to be told. However, the ability to balance our responsibilities of being accountable to taxpayers, investing in student learning and paving the way for future sustainability in a conservative manner is becoming harder each year,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Timothy Oldenburg said. “This project addresses critical facilities needs in our three elementary schools, instructional programming space and current emerging school safety protocols.”

The TONA2020 initiative has been studied, surveyed and considered for around 15 years, with the goal of realizing a new vision for the district and its community. Previous phases supported by voters have included a new stadium and sports complex, performing arts instructional space and central offices attached to the high school.

The final phase of the initiative currently under way was approved by the community in 2019, with 65 percent of voters in favor of it.

“Our community believes that capital projects like this one help our facilities continue to serve as an outstanding resource and improve the conditions under which our children work, learn and grow,” Oldenburg stated.

Board of Education President Heather Sternin thanked the TONA2020 committee for its work and the community for its support of this project through the years.

“This groundbreaking event is symbolic of our city’s commitment to educational excellence,” Sternin said. “This is the place where our children will have the tools to realize their dreams and potential. Preparing our students for the rest of their lives has never been more exciting than right now.”

Construction will include two-story expansions on two sides of the existing Fletcher building, creating additional wings. Other additions include an expanded bus loop and parking, a new play field outdoors and new playgrounds. Much of the original structure will be kept intact after remediation and renovations.

While this project will cost roughly $53.4 million, Oldenburg emphasized multiple facility studies have concluded that maintaining the three aging elementary schools would be significantly more expensive.

“Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on these facilities that all require significant improvements to remain usable, the TONA2020 committee unanimously recommended an elementary school consolidation plan,” Oldenburg added. “This plan addresses our increasing facilities needs and allows our district to improve and advance our educational programs, provide necessary services and meet the needs of all students.”

The project will be paid for by a combination of New York State Building Aid and available district funds (72 percent total), with the remaining local share (28 percent) to be financed through the tax levy.

Construction will continue through the summer of 2023, with students and staff returning to Fletcher for the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. For the duration of construction, fifth-grade students will be housed in a separate wing in the middle school, while fourth-grade students will be housed in temporary classrooms installed at Mullen and Riverview elementary schools.

For more information and updates on the project, visit the TONA2020 section on the district website.