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Big Fix at School Would Cost Millions

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Sag Harbor school district taxpayers may be looking at spending over $16 million to tackle a number of items in and around the district’s buildings, based on recommendations settled on this week.

As the district’s Long Range Planning Committee met for the last time on Thursday evening, members were finally able to reach consensus on a variety of items, including health and safety issues, storage, maintenance concerns and other upgrades to both the elementary and high schools. The committee members also looked at other big ticket items like changes to the parking lots and a new or improved auditorium.

The committee, which will now bring those recommendations to the board of education, is made up of members of the community, faculty, school board, and the district’s superintendent, and was charged with establishing project priorities. The study was conducted by the district’s architect, Larry Salvesen and his firm BBS Architects and Engineer, P.C.

“I don’t think we should have fear to present this to the community,” said committee member Peter Solow, a Pierson teacher. “It is not a need, but a want. And let the community decide if this is something they want to invest in.”

On Thursday, the committee, which has been meeting monthly since September, agreed that revamping parking at both schools was indeed necessary and the committee will be suggesting the board of education okay $1.3 million for improvements to three lots on Jermain Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and Hampton Street. The Jermain Avenue lot would be redesigned to create an additional 17 spaces, at a cost of $375,000. The lot at Atlantic Avenue would add another 26 spaces and would cost $340,000. The lot at Hampton Street would cost $320,000 and add an additional 25 spaces.

Members of the committee also agreed the district should spend $3 million on a list of maintenance items marked as top priorities for both the elementary and high schools. The items include replacing door hardware, guard rails at the elementary school’s main entrance, and heating and ventilation equipment — things that need to be on par with current health and safety requirements. However, Salvesen is working on Energy Performance Contracts for certain projects included in the maintenance portion, which may be taken out of the total.

For example, he said the boiler that the district is now considering purchasing, which costs $300,000, could be paid for by an Energy Performance Contract (EPC), in which 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.

Perhaps the biggest ticket would be for a rehab of the aging auditorium at Pierson. Members of the committee, however, could not agree on the creation of a new auditorium or improvements to the current one, even after the district’s architect came back with three different plans.

One of those plans — a complete redesign of the facility using the courtyard — came with a $12 million price tag, while the lowest alternative, which would be an upgrade of the auditorium, was $1 million. Members of the committee suggested that perhaps some improvements can be made to the auditorium for less than the $1 million plan — items that would alleviate some of the problems including heating and ventilation and the ripped curtains.

Most likely, said Salvesen, the district would only ask for an additional $60,000 from taxpayers for buildings and grounds use in this May’s school budget. This money could be used for improvements in the auditorium.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, building and grounds supervisor/athletic director Bill Madsen told the board it would cost $45,000 to replace the curtains and rigging in the auditorium, which members agreed was a health and safety issue.

In order to finance the other projects the committee is recommending, Superintendent John Gratto suggested committee members ask the board of education to add a proposition onto the John Jermain Library vote, which will take place in September 2009.

Gratto suggested that the district could present four different proposals for the auditorium on the ballot and let voters decide.

Although district business manager Len Bernard did not attend the meeting, he sent a memo suggesting ways that the district may be able to fund the projects.

“Based on current town assessments and anticipated non-tax revenues, $300,000 of new debt service [which is the cost to fund $3 million in borrowing per year over 15 years], would cost the owner of a $1 million market value house approximately $53 per year in additional school property tax right now,” Bernard said in the memo, adding that this would be for both Southampton and East Hampton residents.

“It’s the cost of a cup of coffee [per week during one year’s time],” Gratto said.

Bernard, also explained in his memo that there is a $3 million bond being paid off in the 2009-2010 school year, and suggests that the district could borrow another $3 million in 2009-2010 with “no real impact on tax bills.”

Bernard also said that there is a bond from 1997 improvements, which will be paid off by 2009-2010.

Bernard explained that $3 million can be paid for with the money from the 1997 bond, and a new $3.3 million bond for 2009-2010 would only cost taxpayers an additional $53 per year. This would equal $6.3 million, which would be used for the big ticket items like parking and improvements to the auditorium, and $300,000 for the remainder of the maintenance projects.

In previous meetings, the committee members focused on ways to fund the projects, but at last week’s meeting, Gratto quickly reminded committee members that they were not responsible for finding ways to pay for the projects, but simply to make suggestions to the board of education. 

“I think we need to prioritize, but it is up to the board to say what is palatable,” Gratto said.

 “If we educate them, [the board of education and the public] they will be convinced by all the facts,” said Gratto.

Illustration above shows proposed parking lot configurations, including 25 new stalls in front of Sag Harbor Elementary School; 26 new stalls at the rear of the elementary school; and 17 new stalls at the front left of Pierson Middle/High School. Parking at lots on Montauk Avenue and on the Division Street side of Pierson would remain unchanged.