By Tessa Raebeck
Four years after the failure of their original capital projects proposition, the Sag Harbor School District’s Educational Facilities Planning Committee returned to the Pierson Library Monday night to present a new and improved Facilities Bond to the Board of Education (BOE).
The meeting marked the continuance of over seven years of debating the safety and educational needs of the district’s facilities. The current committee, which met six times beginning in February 2013, is comprised of a variety of board members, teachers, parents, administrators and members of the community.
The proposition focuses on safety, educational programs and protecting the district’s current facilities and intends to actually save taxpayers money in the long run.
The cost of the proposed project is $7,559,876. With the inclusion of a separate proposition for a $1,620,000 synthetic turf at Pierson Middle-High School, the total cost of all the projects suggested by the committee would cost the district $9,179,876.
The total cost includes a 5-percent contingency for protection against unforeseen cost increases. According to district architect Larry Salvesen, of BSS Architecture in Patchogue, the contingency fees are rarely required in the end.
The community voted down an original draft of the plan in December 2009. Several items from that draft, such as the Pierson gym bleacher repair and the Sag Harbor Elementary School roof replacement project, were moved to the general maintenance list that is included in the annual budget.
“We make sure that we year in and year out do things as part of the budget,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso. “As a result, we were able to take out many elements that were in the original bond because they were done along the way.”
Without these maintenance items, the standard capital project adjusted cost is $4,786,876. This includes general maintenance like building integrity, code compliance, health and safety and energy conservation improvements as well as projects including but not limited to: window and flooring replacements, ventilation improvements, installing carbon dioxide sensors and upgrading the intercom/telephone system.
“We’re creating a balance there of taking things out, yet adding to keep us current,” said Salvesen. Although costs have been updated to reflect current market conditions, these basic projects still cost $1,937,211 less than was proposed in 2009, he said.
In addition to the standard improvements, the committee has proposed several larger facilities projects. Upgrades to the Pierson auditorium have been modified since 2009 “to adjust things that have been done over time,” said Salvesen.
There are two components of the plan to improve the auditorium. The first part would essentially gut the inside of the existing area by improving the entryway, resurfacing the stage, replacing the sound system, improving the theatrical lighting and dimming system and renovating the bathrooms.
“We just want to underscore that this is far more than a cosmetic change – those are safety concerns,” said Dr. Bonuso.
Without ample storage space, the hallways are often used as storage and therefore block safe egress from the auditorium, Dr. Bonuso said. The quality of the seating is likewise shaky.
“The last performance, we had two people who sat in the chairs and fell back,” said Chris Tice, BOE vice president, who added she carried a broken chair out of the room.
These structural improvements to the auditorium would cost $1,755,000.
An additional $920,000 is proposed, “to improve the overall functionality of the auditorium,” according to the presentation. It would add a one-story mezzanine section of seating overlooking the stage, resulting in 351 total seats in the auditorium and enabling the entire student body of either the high school or the middle school (not both) to fit inside at one time.
As the auditorium currently stands, there is a back courtyard and a hallway that are not being utilized. Without ample storage, items are usually left in the hallway, creating a safety hazard. Under the committee’s plans, these areas would be converted to four storage rooms that can also be used as classrooms. The addition would provide dressing room space, additional storage for tools and other components of set building and additional storage for music programs. All of these storage rooms can also function as instructional classrooms.
“When this music room was designed, it was designed with practice spaces and storage spaces but those have become inadequate over time,” said Salvesen.
The third and final recommended large-scale facilities project is the incorporation of a parking lot and fenced enclosure to house the district’s school buses. The buses are currently parked in an overrun lot on the corner of Division Street and Grand Street, behind Pierson. The existing space is muddy, rocky and overrun with brush, according to Peter Solow, a teacher at Pierson and member of the committee. The plan proposes to improve the function of this area by clearing it, paving a tangible parking lot, enclosing it with a fence and buying a gate, at the cost of $98,000.
The parking lot renovation and auditorium upgrades increase the capital project proposal by a total of $2,773,000.
In a unanimous vote, the BOE decided to move forward on drafting a resolution in support of bringing these recommendations to voters. An additional proposal to install a synthetic turf field and two lane track behind Pierson will be included on a separate resolution, due to concerns that the turf improvements are less popular than those in the general project.
The turf, which costs $1,620,000, would be installed on the existing field that borders Division Street, Grand Street and Montauk Avenue. The predicted annual maintenance savings with a turf are $57,000, according to Salvesen.
The goal of the turf is to decrease maintenance costs while increasing safety and utility.
“It’s a subgrade, they have gravel and several layers of material that foster the drainage – which is really one of the most important features of this – that you can play on questionable weather days and be just as safe as if it were dry,” said Montgomery Granger, the district’s director of facilities. “As far as the materials, everything is 100 percent recyclable.”
“In general, you’ll get your money back in10 to 12 years,” he added. “You save quite a bit. We just spent $9,000 on having top dressing and some other things done to this field in the back. So you would save on all of that – the organic fertilizers, the lime, the grass seed, etc. and then all the fuels that you use on your machines, the maintenance time, etc.”
With the labor required to maintain the natural field used elsewhere, “it would give us the opportunity to enhance clean and green and curb appeal,” said Granger.
“We would be able to maintain our building a little bit better – actually a lot better,” added BOE Trustee Sandi Kruel.
A two-lane track would encircle the turf field. It would not be used for competitive meets, but “to provide an additional feature that could be used by the school and the community to give something back,” said Salvesen.
“Right now, our teams do jog around the perimeter and there’s gullies and there’s rocks and there’s tall grass that they run through, so we would provide a safer way for them to run,” said Tice.
The committee did not recommend a previously discussed lighting component for the turf field at this time. While they noted that Southampton High School’s field does have lighting, the committee “talked about the historic district, the nature of the community here” and decided to leave it out, according to Salvesen.
The BOE will draft separate resolutions for the turf project and the remaining facilities proposals, so that the community can vote for either or both.
In addition to the safety components, the district emphasized the financial advantages of accepting the bond proposal.
“This is not only important because of safety and instruction and because of our responsibility to maintain facilities,” said Dr. Bonuso. “But actually even in terms of a financial plan, what we’re saying is there’s an advantage of funding this kind of work in this way. That actually we come out ahead financially, as opposed to trying to do it within the budget.”
“The effect of the bond is that people today aren’t going to be the only ones who bear the cost,” said new BOE member Daniel Hartnett. “People in ten years who have not even thought yet of moving into Sag Harbor will be bearing a fair share of the cost. We are making a decision here to fund it in a way that people today are not going to bear the full burden.”
“God forbid, things that happen as a result of having this poor roof, this rocky field, or whatever,” added Dr. Bonuso. “It’s the best financial plan in terms of how you go about this.”
The BOE will plan the resolutions over the summer, “so when people come back in September, we’re in a great position with a positive attitude to have that campaign,” said Salvesen. A resolution for the base capital project and a separate resolution for the field improvements will be adopted at least 30 days before the vote, which will occur sometime in early November. The committee hopes to provide the community with concrete information on all costs and components on the district website shortly.