Remsenburg-Speonk plans to double size of elementary school

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Some taxpayers in the Remsenburg/Speonk School District are questioning the need for a $14.4 million expansion and renovation project, a proposal that would double the size of the district’s elementary school on Mill Road in Remsenburg.

Members of the public attending Monday night’s School Board meeting at the elementary school said they had concerns over the cost of the proposed project and its potential impact on property taxes. Residents of the district will have to approve the expansion, as well as the bond that would fund the project, in a referendum that’s expected to be held sometime in the fall, according to school officials.

School Superintendent Katherine Salomone said that, at this time, she does not know what the impact of the project would be on school taxes, or how long the bond to finance the project would have to be floated.

“We have hired financial advisors who are working on the details of the financing the project,” Ms. Salomone said.

The Babylon-based firm of James and Campbell Architects is working with the district on the proposed multi-phased expansion and renovation project, which would take approximately three or four years to complete. If approved, the building will remain one story, but its square footage will increase from 30,500 to 60,000. The project would add four new general educational classrooms, a new cafeteria, a new library, a language lab and a new music area, among other facilities.

The proposed additions would more than double the school’s capacity for students. Almost 200 students now attend classes at the elementary school.

The increase in the number of classrooms will allow the district to have two classrooms at every grade level. The school teaches kindergarten through sixth grade and is a feeder district for Westhampton Beach and Eastport South Manor school districts.

Marc Garrett, a resident of Remsenburg who was in attendance on Monday night, described the $14 million needed for the expansion as a “big nut.”

Peter Halstead, a full-time resident of Remsenburg for the past eight years, elaborated on Mr. Garrett’s comment, saying that it was going to be difficult to get public approval for the plan.

Mr. Garrett went on to describe the expansion as “the gold standard,” but questioned whether or not taxpayers would benefit more from a “silver standard” expansion, suggesting that a less ambitious project, such as one that proposes the addition of a second story, could potentially save money on construction costs. He also suggested doing only a partial expansion and then expanding the school again once it becomes necessary.

“It’s more cost-effective to do the entire project now,” School Board President Jeremiah Collins responded. “What we need today is much more than what we have.”

School officials explained that student enrollment in the elementary school has increased from 158 students during the 1999-2000 school year to 196 students this year. They expect that number to continue to climb in the future.

School Board member Joel Petersen said that over the next few years, which is the same time frame for the proposed expansion, the district could face a large influx of students due to the proposed Woodfield Gables subdivision on Speonk-Riverhead Road in Speonk. That development, which has not yet been approved by Southampton Town, calls for the construction of 57 new homes. Mr. Petersen said the district already has to accommodate at least 50 students living in the Hickory Bend development, which has 28 single-family homes.

The renovation will allow for a maximum of 420 students to attend the school, if all classes have the maximum 30 students per class. But school officials said that classes rarely have the maximum number of students. They prefer to keep the number between 15 and 25.

Ms. Salomone said that the expansion project will also allow the district to allocate space for a universal pre-K program. The district does not currently have such a program, but its plans for offering one next year include utilizing four local pre-K centers as service providers. The centers, all located in Westhampton Beach, are: Saint Mark’s Bright Beginnings Preschool, Immaculate Conception Preschool, Love of Learning Children’s Center and Westhampton Beach Nursery School. Pre-K students in Remsenburg/Speonk would be able to attend one of those four schools.

Ms. Salomone said the state budget includes enough funds for up to 20 4-year-olds to attend pre-K at one of those four providers without a cost to parents. However, the creation of space for a universal pre-K center in the elementary school will eliminate the need for the district to locate providers to house the program, Ms. Salomone said.

School officials said on Monday night that they envision the expanded building serving as a community center for the Remsenburg and Speonk communities. For example, the plans for the new library would allow for easier public access to the library for community meetings after school hours.

Ms. Salomone said the district plans to hold several meetings over the next few months to present its proposal to the public. Officials also intend to offer tours of the elementary school to show why the expansion is needed.

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