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School Plans to Tackle More Than $8 Mil in Renovations

Posted on 26 September 2008

A facilities study of the Sag Harbor School District which began in 2007 has a list of projects totaling nearly $8 million — and this is not including major projects such as a new auditorium for the high school, a new cafeteria at the elementary school and parking. Those projects could more than double the cost, according to school district architect Lawrence Salvesen.

 Last Thursday, September 18, was the first of six meetings for the school district’s newest committee, the long range planning committee, which will make recommendations on the projects to the school board.

With 901 students in the district, the school board announced at its September 8 meeting plans to develop the planning committee to work with the district’s architect to discuss building and grounds, maintenance and other issues that relate to facilities.

At the first planning committee meeting, Salvesen, of BBS Architects and Engineers, P.C., sat at the front of the room with school board president Walter Wilcoxen, high school principal Jeff Nichols, superintendent Dr. John Gratto, athletic director/buildings and grounds head Bill Madsen and Bernard. Wilcoxen noted that the next meeting will be less formal and take place at a round table so that members can converse in a casual setting. The public is invited to sit in on the sessions. The committee, explained Wilcoxen, will reach consensus before approaching the school board with any recommendations.

At the meeting Salvesen handed out a packet of over 50 pages containing the facilities study that he began along with engineer Fred Seeba in January 2007. The booklet contains a laundry list of improvements with each project marked by priority. First priorities deal with safety and mandatory items required to be fixed either according to law, code or regulations. Some of the items have been completed by maintenance personnel at the school during the course of the study.

 “I have surveyed the faculty of both schools,” Gratto said, “and I have a certainty of what we should do.”

Salvesen also presented a proposal for new parking spaces at both schools. He explained that in order to determine the amount of parking spaces needed, they should refer to the amount of faculty at the building. The elementary school requires 95 spots, and currently only has 54. Salvesen provided a drawing, which proposes new spots at both schools. If enacted, it may create more parking along Clinton Street, adding 21 parking spaces there, and new parking spaces at the bottom of the hill at Pierson High School. But a similar proposal was presented at a board of education meeting in February of this year and many at that meeting were not in favor of the new parking lots.

Salvesen also explained the poorly designed parking lots that currently exist can be re-designed to add more spaces along Division Street, Jermain Avenue, Hampton Street and Atlantic Avenue, to bring the total of both schools to 262 parking spaces.

Bernard explains that there are three options to pay for the projects; the first is using money from the operating budget. The second option is taking surplus money and putting it into a capital reserve, and the third option is to borrow the money. Bernard said that this is the most traditional way of obtaining the funds. The elementary school reconstruction in 1997 totaled $3 million and will be paid off in the next fiscal year, but the district also has loans from the middle and high schools that total $15 million and will not be paid back for another 10 to 12 years.

Salvesen explained that there are additional options the district has to pay for projects. One is a program called Excel Aid, in which, according to Salvesen, the school is given $350 per student — which would total approximately $300,000, for the district. Salvesen’s report already allocated this money into specific projects and it has already been deducted from the $8 million projected cost of the minor projects.

Salvesen’s proposal has marked such things as mechanical fresh air introduction for two rooms in the elementary school, where the estimated cost was $40,000, to be taken from Excel Aid.

Salvesen mentioned another option would be energy performance contracts, which would concern heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) of the buildings. According to Salvesen’s report, the HVAC for the high school alone is projected to be over $1 million. The district will have the ability to pay back this outlay with money saved from conserving energy if the projects can pay for themselves within 18 years, according to Salvesen.

“Doing this is educational as well,” Salvesen said. “We can have the students keep track of solar panels and other energy saving devices.”

Gratto stressed that the meeting was more of an introduction to the committee’s mission and therefore, touched on just a few of the projects envisioned to improve both schools.

“It’s roughly a slow process,” Gratto explained on Thursday, “This budget [for the projects on the study] could be in conjunction with a budget vote and it could take most of the summer to design all of those things. Then, in spring of 2010, the State Education Department will have to discuss the issues. Nothing happens quickly.”

Redesign of the auditorium, or a new auditorium altogether, is one of the top priorities and will be discussed in detail at the committee’s next meeting. In his report, Salvesen describes the current auditorium as “non-functional as an educational space due to issues such as: seating capacity, stage system, inadequate lighting and inadequate support facilities.”

Salvesen said on Thursday that the auditorium does not have enough seats for the students. A similar project in Westhampton cost the district $6.5 million, but also included other projects and renovations.

The next long-range planning committee meeting will be on October 16 and will focus on the auditorium, in particular.

“There have been a lot of complaints on this and that it is impacting the education of the building,” said Wilcoxen. 

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