By Tessa Raebeck
“We’re just trying to get facilities that are as good as the children we serve,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said of the district’s proposed capital improvements bond at Monday’s board of education meeting.
In anticipation of the November 13 vote on the bond, district representatives addressed concerns and opinions voiced by community members in recent weeks — particularly in regards to the proposed parking lot renovations — and clarified the design process that would take place should the bond pass, as well as details of the current diagrams. With the help of district architect Larry Salvesen, Dr. Bonuso emphasized all plans are conceptual schematics that could undergo continual revisions that would not change the face of the projects, but could alter their scope.
The bond is separated into two distinct propositions. Proposition 1, with a projected cost of $7,357,132, covers the majority of the proposed capital work. Through five categories (architectural, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and site), it addresses facilities preservation and renovations, building code compliance and ADA compliance, health and safety issues, energy conservation improvements and efficiencies and supports the district’s curriculum.
In addition to capital improvement work like installing CO2 sensors and re-piping the domestic hot water heater, Proposition 1 includes: the renovation of the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, as well as construction of support facilities; renovations to the Pierson shop/technology classroom space; expansion of the Pierson kitchen; the addition of a storage room in the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) gymnasium; and the restoration and reconfiguration of the Jermain Avenue parking lot at Pierson and the Hampton Street lot at SHES.
At the estimated cost of $1,620,000, Proposition 2 will be voted on separately and provides for the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field, a two-lane walking track and other site improvements, such as a scoreboard.
At Monday’s meeting, Dr. Bonuso and other administrators emphasized the timing is as good as any to execute the bond, as bond rates have lowered and the district will receive approximately 10 percent in state aid.
“Most of these things we would go ahead and we’d do it anyway [through annual budgets], the problem is we would pay more money and we would have to wait a whole lot longer to reap the benefits,” explained Dr. Bonuso.
Due to the state-imposed property tax cap, completing such projects through the annual budget would negatively impact the funds allotted for school programs, the district said in a newsletter on the bond.
“We know what the worst choice is,” said Dr. Bonuso. “The worst choice — forget all the options, everyone has their opinion on what to do — but I think everyone pretty much agreed on what is the worst thing to do — the worst thing to do is to do nothing.”
In addition to failing pavement and crumbling curbs, the district said the parking lots’ designs are unsafe for both children and the community at large and maintained that the parking lots absolutely need to be reconfigured and restored, but the district remains open to suggestions as to the best ways to do that for Pierson’s neighbors, passing pedestrians, school children, cars and emergency vehicles.
“We look at it in a schematic fashion,” explained Salvesen. “We get a general understanding of the approach to the project and create a diagram that represents what is proposed and then we use that to create a cost estimate.”
That process was completed before the bond was presented to the community. If the bond is passed, the next step toward enacting the proposed projects is the design/development stage, during which the scope is reviewed and the design is refined. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.
If the bond is passed, the Educational Planning Facilities Committee, a group of 21 teachers, parents, administrators, board members and members of the community who met at least six times over the past year in preparation of the bond, would be reformed to invite continued conversation and review possible changes. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.
Following the recent dialogue between members of the EPFC and the community, Salvesen has drawn in several amendments to the parking lot plans. The original diagram for the lot at Jermain Avenue, for example, did not have an explicit sidewalk drawn in until this week.
“That’s something that would come with the evolution of the design,” Salvesen explained. “There is money to put a sidewalk along there; it is a desired element.”
According to the district, some residents were concerned the Jermain Avenue lot changes would infringe on Pierson Hill or the property’s trees.
“We are not going to negatively impact Pierson Hill,” clarified Dr. Bonuso. “We love Pierson Hill, we love the tradition. We’re going to be very respectful of it.”
“We’re going to be very respectful of the trees,” he continued. “In one or two instances, we’ve already picked out which trees we will purposely transplant just to make sure that we save them.”
Salvesen said after reviewing the plans with the district’s traffic engineer consultant, they found moving the parking lot’s entry point further away from the bend at the northwest side of Jermain Avenue would also increase safety. The district also chose not to pursue the expansion of the elementary school’s secondary Atlantic Avenue lot that was part of a proposed bond that failed to garner community support in 2009.
“That has been completely removed from the project in an attempt to address overall cost concerns,” said the architect.
Since its construction in 1946, the Hampton Street parking lot at SHES has stayed in the same configuration, according to Salvesen. After reviewing the plans for that lot with the traffic engineer, the district is considering altering the project to include one entry point, rather than two. Instead of the 25 additional parking spots in the original diagram, the revised plan would add 17 stalls.
“It’s not about the numbers here, safety is the point,” said Salvesen.
Members of the board were grateful community members had come forward with their concerns and hopeful the bond would ultimately pass.
“These are schematics,” reiterated Daniel Hartnett, a school board member. “We had to put something up to present to be able to move this forward…There is the opportunity — should the bond pass — as we move forward for people to come in and express their views and for us to tweak what we end up doing.”
Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said such collaboration is “great because they’re voicing a variety of different perspectives and the more perspectives the committee and the board and the administration hear, the better solution we’ll have.”
If Sag Harbor voters pass the propositions, the estimated costs are the cap. Salvesen has built in contingencies so that the projected costs represent a high estimate, he said. By law, the district cannot spend more than is approved by voters. If the projects cost less than estimated, the district will return the money to the taxpayers.
Salvesen held that his firm, BSS Architecture in Patchogue, has a proven record in bonds staying well within their budget.
“Since the early 90’s,” he said, “we’ve done $1.7 billion in school improvement bonds and we have not gone over.”
“Well,” said Mary Anne Miller, a member of the board, “That’s why we hired you.”