By Tessa Raebeck
Four years after the community voted down its capital projects bond proposition, the Sag Harbor School District will again ask village residents to approve funding for projects at the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) and Pierson Middle/High School aimed at improving student safety, reinforcing facilities and cutting down annual maintenance costs.
“We’re talking about planning not only for today but planning for tomorrow,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said at the board of education (BOE) meeting Monday night.
The bond is divided into two separate capital improvement propositions, with Proposition 1 holding the bulk of the recommended work. Although versions of many of the intended projects were on the proposed bond in 2009, the Educational Facilities Planning Committee (EFPC) has revised the projects substantially. The 21-member group is comprised of board members, district administrators, parents, teachers and members of the community.
According to the district, due to the state-imposed property tax cap, it is no longer viable to fund these repairs and renovations through the annual budget. The district will receive approximately 10-percent in state aid.
“Even if you were just worried about money, it would be more costly not to do anything than to take what we think is a very thoughtful financial pathway to realizing these improvements,” said Dr. Bonuso, who leads the committee.
With several members of the committee in attendance, Salvesen explained the propositions to the small crowd at the BOE meeting.
The primary project, Proposition 1, would cost $7,357,132. To a homeowner in Southampton with an average home market value of $500,000, the proposition would cost $50 per year, or $4.17 per month. A homeowner in East Hampton with the same market value would pay $51.56 per year, or $4.30 per month.
“It’s more economical for the district to do it this way, interest rates are good right now,” maintained Salvesen.
According to the committee, Proposition 1 addresses a variety of projects necessary to improve safety and functionality at the elementary school and Pierson Middle/High School, which were originally constructed in 1946 and 1907, respectively. It is delineated into five categories: architectural, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and site. The suggested work will address building code compliance and ADA compliance, energy conservation improvements and efficiencies, facilities preservation and renovations and health and safety issues, as well as support the district’s curriculum.
Capital projects include the renovation of the Pierson auditorium and the construction of support facilities for the space. The proposed project increases seating capacity to 353, improves exit areas for safer egress, improves the lighting and sound systems, renovates the bathrooms and creates storage space.
“The seats are failing, the floor materials are failing,” said Salvesen. “There were other concepts about a big, new auditorium but the decision was out of sight and cost and this is a more realistic proposition.”
Proposition 1 would also renovate Pierson’s shop/technology education space to improve exiting and building access and use the space more efficiently, expand the Pierson kitchen to comply with Health Department codes, improve the facilities and add a storage room to the elementary school gymnasium.
“If you’re in there for the morning program or any other program, as you know, this corner right here,” said Salvesen, referring to a picture of the corner in between the gymnasium’s outdoor exit and the stage at the elementary school. “The mats are stood up to protect the children from all the things that are stored in the corner cause there’s no place to put them.”
“We’re not doing any of these things to make a room or a field or a facility prettier,” continued Dr. Bonuso. “We’re talking about safety here, we’re talking about maximizing instructional space, we’re talking about very fundamental changes.”
Also included in the larger proposition is the restoration and reconfiguration of the parking lots at both schools. The proposed changes at Pierson would eliminate the backup of traffic onto Jermain Avenue, said the administration.
“You would never build a parking lot today the way it was built,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board. “On a daily basis, I was told, the police are just waiting for that call because it’s so hazardous to back up into oncoming traffic.”
At both schools, if Proposition 1 is passed, the parking lots will be reconditioned with new pavement and curbing, deteriorated materials will be removed and replaced and the access for bus and emergency vehicles will be improved.
Proposition 2 will be voted on separately from what the committee deemed the essential safety improvements of Proposition 1. At the cost of $1,620,000, it would install a synthetic turf field and a two-lane walking track at Pierson.
According to the district, the turf saves the district money in the long run by reducing annual maintenance costs. The new field would also provide “a safer playing surface, extended utilization, immediate recovery after rain and reduced water use,” according to the bond newsletter issued by the district.
“You’re not watering it, you’re not fertilizing it, you’re not cutting the grass,” said Salvesen.
“This could almost be a break even proposition because of the cost savings over the years,” continued Tice.
According to the district, Proposition 2 would cost $10 per year or $0.83 per month for a Southampton resident with an average home market value of $500,000. It would cost $11.32 annually or $0.94 a year for an East Hampton resident with the same home value.
“The life of the bond would be 15 years,” according to John O’Keefe, the district business administrator, so new homeowners moving into Sag Harbor would be responsible for their fair share of the cost.
Resident Elena Loreto asked the board what the projected break-even point is for the cost of the turf field.
District Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Montgomery “Monty” Granger said about 12 years, although depending on weather conditions it could range from 10 to 15 years.
Pierson is the only high school on the South Fork without a turf facility, according to Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio.
Former board member and member of the EFPC Edward Drohan complimented Dr. Bonuso for his leadership on the committee and emphasized the unity of the EFPC.
“Carl worked hard to arrive at the conclusions, all voices were heard,” he said.
All members of the school board congratulated the committee and voiced their support for the propositions.
“Having been part of the 2009 referendum,” recalled Daniel Hartnett, a board trustee. “Just to see how the cost has increased and that’s the cost of doing nothing. I think you’re right, the time is absolutely now to do this.”
The next presentation on the bond proposition will be during the October 15 BOE meeting in the Pierson Library. The capital projects bond vote is November 13.