By Claire Walla
The Sag Harbor School Board is moving forward with plans to bring a $4.9 million bond measure to the public. The four base components of the seven-part capital project were unanimously approved by school board members — with the exception of Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent — at a regular school board meeting held Monday, November 14. They include: 122 health and safety provisions (many of them mandated by the state), expanding the Pierson kitchen, restructuring two parking lots and constructing a storage room in the elementary school gym.
In total, these measures represent nearly a $1.8 million cost reduction from an almost identical bond measure that was put up for public vote in 2009. That bond was defeated.
In an attempt to keep the cost of the project as low as possible, the district’s Long Range Planning Committee decided to take plans to restore the Pierson auditorium completely off the table. It is now recommended that the project, at an estimated cost of $12 million, be funded privately.
However, plans to replace the Pierson field with a synthetic turf ($1.6 million) and install stadium-style lighting ($675,000) are still on the table, though they would most likely be brought to the public in an additional bond referendum, separate from the $4.9 million bond outlined above. Board members are still discussing the plans for the field and lighting installation as they are currently laid out.
Board members have also floated the idea of putting the turf field and the stadium lighting up to a community vote as separate projects because the lighting issue seems to be more controversial.
“For me and for some of the neighbors, the lights represent a game-changer,” said community member Steven Reiner who lives directly adjacent to the Pierson field.
He said he had relatively no problem with the synthetic turf, but the lights he said would create increased usage of the field, bringing more people to the area; potentially cause light pollution; and might even lower real estate values for homes in the immediate area.
“What I’m struck by is the specificity and the detail that accompanied the cafeteria and other issues,” Reiner said of the elements entailed in the base bond measure. “When you vote for large-scale change, that’s going to affect traffic and egress and lights [among other issues]. But we don’t have any proposal of what this [change] is going to look like.”
While the district does have a graphic of the turf field, the projected impact of the proposed stadium lighting still needs to be determined.
On another note, parent Laura Matthers commented that the turf field, which includes a two-lane track around its circumference, “might actually be a draw for people in the community,” which would be a good thing.
As proposed, Athletic Director Montgomery “Monty” Granger added that the field could be used by the school’s middle school baseball team (the size is not within regulation for varsity or JV baseball), by varsity soccer teams and all field hockey teams. All other outdoor sports would continue to use the fields at Mashashimuet Park. This would not only allow teams to have practice later at night, but it would allow games to be scheduled later in the day.
According to Dr. Gratto, this would be a great advantage “because parents [who work during the day would finally get to see their kids play.”
The projects already recommended for the $4.9 million bond proposal were very quickly approved by the board. As for the health and safety improvements—including architectural, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and site-plan upgrades — it took board members mere seconds to determine there was no penny-pinching possible in this realm. The $3.85 million plan marks a $1 million reduction from the bond proposed back in 2009, $500,000 of which was already built into this year’s 2012-13 budget.
“If it’s really about health and safety, there’s got to be a point when it’s got to be done,” Board Member Gregg Schiavoni said. “I think not doing it is going to cost us more down the line.”
Similarly, plans to extend storage space in the elementary school ($210,319) and re-do the parking lots on Jermain Avenue at the high school and on Hampton Street at the elementary school were very quickly approved. Though the parking lot project generated some dissent back in 2009, board members recommended the improvements with emphatic support. While the lots would increase in size — jumping from 26 to 51 spaces at the elementary school, and 38 to 46 at the high school — Dr. Gratto said the main impetus for the remodeling has to do with health and safety.
The parking lot at the entrance to the elementary school would push forward, further toward Hampton Street, which would add parking spaces and widen driving lanes for emergency vehicles. The parking lot on Jermain Avenue, next to the high school gym, would extend north into Pierson hill and would include a curb along Jermain to prevent cars from backing up into the street.
“The Jermain Avenue parking lot is a disaster waiting to happen,” said board member Chris Tice. “It’s not safe at all.”
While the kitchen had previously been an issue of contention, as board members debated whether or not expanding the room would actually improve the quality of the food, it was generally decided last Monday that room for more storage space would indeed improve food options.
Though there wouldn’t be a difference in the type of cooking equipment used, School Board President Mary Anne Miller stressed that additional storage space would allow the school to add more refrigeration, which would “definitely improve purchasing and food selection.”
While the board has decided to go forward with the $4.9 million dollar bond measure, it is yet to be determined when the vote will take place.