An East Aurora District 131 magnet program supporters lauded Tuesday for challenging gifted students will soon have space to expand in what is now the Fred Rodgers Community Center.
Aurora City Council voted 10-1 Tuesday night to sell the building to the district for $3 million to become the Fred Rodgers magnet school, continuing to honor the legacy of the former youth services director for which it is named but serving a different purpose.
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Buying the building and spending a total of $8 million to renovate it will allow the district to expand the magnet program and relieve overcrowding without paying $32 million to build a new school, Superintendent Jerome Roberts said.
"We think, at a $24 million savings to the taxpayers, that's a good use of taxpayers' money," Roberts said.
The price drew criticism and a no vote from Alderman Rick Lawrence, who said requiring the district to pay for the Fred Rodgers center takes money away from education.
"When I vote no on this -- it's not against the magnet school," Lawrence said. "I want to see that magnet school happen, but I cannot in good conscience take the money from the education fund and give it to this man (Mayor Tom Weisner) and how he spends money in this city."
The district will use its general education fund to finance the purchase, but Alderman Richard Irvin and others said the money will be well spent.
"It sounds like East Aurora is spending this money on education. When you reduce class sizes, when you build a new school and provide for the best and brightest, that's education," Irvin said. "So this $3 million that we're talking about is absolutely going to education; its not misspent at all."
Students who attend the magnet program, which launched in 2007, said the money will help expand learning opportunities to more promising minds.
"Once I got into the magnet program, I valued school much more," said Luis Cepeda, who just finished his sophomore year at East Aurora High School.
Irvin and Weisner said Lawrence's idea of giving the building to the school district does not match reality. The $3 million price was negotiated between both parties and confirmed by an appraisal commissioned by the district, which found the building's value is equal to or exceeds $3 million.
Selling the Fred Rodgers center recoups some of the $7 million Aurora spent on rehabbing the former Aurora Central Catholic High School property since buying it in 1996.
Weisner said it also provides funds to buy the former Waubonsee Community College building downtown for use as a collaborative workforce development center involving four school districts.
The sale of the Fred Rodgers center will displace social service agencies renting space in the building, including the Aurora YWCA and Communities in Schools. Leaders of both agencies said they support the decision to once again use the building as a school.
"It makes total sense for this to go back to being a school," said Theresa Shoemaker, executive director of Communities in Schools. "East Aurora needs more space, so I think it works out perfectly."