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Big Money Slated for Bigger Plans at Sag Harbor Schools

Posted on 19 July 2009

By Andrew Rudansky

The Sag Harbor School Board appears poised to let the public vote on a $6 million dollar plan that they say would solve many of the district’s most pernicious problems including bringing the two buildings up to state code and other safety issues.

A Long Range Planning Committee report by Larry Salvesen and Fred Seeba, of BSS Architects and Engineers compiled the combined cost of many construction and maintenance projects that have been discussed in previous years. Some of these projects are required to bring the building up to state and federal code, while others are simply beautification projects.

The first number that Salvesen and Seeba presented to the board was $5,781,670, a figure they say could be brought to a referendum vote as early as December. This number was broken up into three sections; the bulk of the money — $4,311,229 — would go to the “projects list” – filled with the construction projects to improve and bring the building up to code, such as ventilation improvements in the elementary school, roof replacement on the high school gym, and replacement of all door knobs with levers — a provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Another  $434,441 would go directly to what Salvesen and Seeba call the maintenance list, projects in both the elementary and middle/high schools which require urgent attention or create a hazardous situation. The final $1,035,000 would be relegated to the creation of additional parking. The report points out that currently the Sag Harbor School District is 39 spaces short of what is required by state code.

“You can see there is a shortage of parking,” said Salvesen.

The report recommends expansion of the elementary school Hampton Street “U-lot” by 25 stalls, and expansion of the Atlantic Street lot at the elementary school by 26 stalls. The report also recommends expansion of the middle/high school Jermain Avenue lot  — which Salvesen says is currently “a bit of a free for all” — by 17 spaces.

The creation of these parking spaces would bring the total on school grounds to 231, well over the state’s required number.

“I am very optimistic about this [proposed referendum] because this project will address many long standing problems in the school for about $50 a year for the average homeowner,” said Dr. Gratto citing the committee report saying a home valued at $1,000,000 in Southampton would see an impact of about $50 a year ($48 for a similar home on the East Hampton side of the district).

The long range planning committee also came up with a $12,131,263 proposed auditorium plan to create a modern 415-seat auditorium for the Pierson middle/high school in the school’s current courtyard. The new auditorium would meet code requirements and include cat walks, a 27-foot deep stage, downstairs storage space and a lobby. The current facility is not handicap accessible nor does it have proper egress routes.

“Passing the $6 million dollar plan is feasible now, the auditorium plan is not feasible,” said Wilcoxen who believes it is, nonetheless, good to have plans on hand that could be used in the future.

In addition to these two proposals, an Energy Performance Contract was submitted to the board by Seeba containing recommendations for energy conservation measures totaling $1,866,005 such as installation of energy-saving windows, use of energy efficient light bulbs and the addition of solar panels. If included in the proposed December 1 referendum vote, Seeba and Salvesen estimate that EPC construction could be completed as early as October 2010.

In total the Long Range Planning Committee Report includes $19,778,938 in proposed spending.

“Having this number is quite helpful, because we need to budget these things over time,” said Wilcoxen.

Some people in attendance voiced concern over the recent salary increase of Dr. Gratto. His 13.5 percent raise increases his salary by $25,000, to $210,000. Wilcoxen repeated what he has said earlier about the increase, noting that Dr. Gratto performed admirably in his evaluation and that “we started him at below market salary…even with the raise we are getting a little bit of a discount here.” The evaluation has not been made public, but Wilcoxen maintained that Dr. Gratto, “met or exceeded our expectations.”

Still, several community members took the opportunity to express their anger over the raise during what some called “this tough economic time.”

“Why did the board go about the salary increase of superintendent Gratto in a way that kept it secret from the public?” asked former board of education president Walter Tice. He went on to say that he learned about the raise not from the board but from an article in The Sag Harbor Express.

“You owe the community an apology on how it was handled,” Tice added.

“It was a consensus decision,” responded Wilcoxen. I am not going to apologize for it. It wasn’t a secret.”

The board also introduced Montgomery Granger, the new director of physical education, health and athletics/ supervisor of building and grounds. Granger replaces Bill Madsen, who recently resigned, and will serve a three-year probationary term beginning in August at an annual salary of $125,000. Granger was the athletic director at Comsewogue School District from 2000 to 2004.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the team,” said Granger.

The board also addressed several administrative chores and returning board member Walter Wilcoxen, newly elected board member Gregg Schiavoni, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto and district clerk Mary Adamczyk were each administered an oath of office in turn. Wilcoxen and board member Theresa Samot were unanimously reelected board president and vice president respectively

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One Response to “Big Money Slated for Bigger Plans at Sag Harbor Schools”

  1. Chris says:

    Transparency? Yeah right. There’s nothing transparent about the current state of affairs in Sag Harbor Schools. Stop toting this transparency banner, and get something done already, it’s just political lip service when it comes down to it, and Wilcoxen and his board should start to follow through with a contract for our teachers, instead of funneling all the public’s money into private companies to repair a school that just went through a multi-million dollar renovation. Wilcoxen did not explain anything about the budget, and left me with more questions about it than actual answers. Stop playing politics with our schools, and GET THE JOB DONE. The students more so than the taxpayer need teachers, and well paid ones at that, so that the quality of education doesn’t take a nosedive during tough economic times. If teachers need good parking, they will find a way to do so, but if they don’t have job security or financial sustainability, then you won’t have a parking lot to fill, and students will suffer most from mismanagement of your budget and directing funds to heavily on construction. Stop feeding the money whore, better known as construction contractors!

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