Board Advances Pierson High School Auditorium Plans

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Taxpayers in the Sag Harbor School District will get the chance to decide the fate of a long-debated auditorium upgrade after the Board of Education unanimously agreed to adopt the capital projects bond on Monday, paving the way for a public referendum this fall.

The bond for the projects, which will also pay for a new paved parking area for buses, a renovated main entry plaza and an upgraded intercom system, will amount to $7.6 million. Of that amount, an estimated $2.7 million will go toward the renovation of the auditorium itself.

School Business Administrator John O’Keefe said it is too early to tell how dramatically the renovations will affect tax rates, because the bond’s length and interest rate will not be set until the bond is drawn up by the school’s bond counsel and financial advisors. More information will be available at the August 5 board meeting.

Lawrence Salvesen, an architect for BBS Architects and Engineers, a Patchogue firm that has drawn up the designs for the auditorium, on Monday presented a proposal to the board that significantly differed from a previous version. Saying the previous idea of gutting the old auditorium in lieu of building a new one in the Pierson courtyard “wasn’t realistic or efficient at a price tag of $13 million,” Mr. Salvesen presented the previously discussed “Option B,” with some updates, for reconsideration.

The revised proposal, he said, would add 68 seats to the space, including some balcony seating, bringing the total number of seats available to 351.

The plan also seeks to replace the entire floor system and all the seats, adding a gradual incline in a more modern fashion than what the current auditorium now features.

“This upgrade truly is necessary,” said Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice. “Two seats actually snapped off last time we held something in the auditorium. I know, because I had to carry the seats out.”

Mr. Salvesen’s plan will also improve the narrow entrance to the auditorium for spectators, resurface the stage, replace the sound system, improve the theatrical lighting, renovate the hallway bathrooms, supplement a fairly new but incomplete heating and cooling system, and open up the proscenium area.

In addition, four new rooms are to be constructed on a portion of the courtyard space and connected to the music room. Plans also call for construction of a 400-square-foot storage room for theatrical supplies and set design, a 240-square-foot space for instrument storage, and two 220-square-foot dressing rooms.

“This is far more than a cosmetic change we’re talking about,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso. “We’re pretty excited about this plan to upgrade our school and we’re pretty excited about doing it in a fiscally responsible fashion.”

He noted that the revised plan will preserve a section of the historic building that was constructed in 1907 and originally served as a gymnasium.

Dr. Bonuso said the district would be saving money by getting this done through a bond as opposed to financing it through the budget. Board member Daniel Hartnett agreed with that observation.

“It will be funded in a way, through bonds, that those who will be enjoying it in 10 years will also be bearing the financial burden of it,” Mr. Hartnett said. “If we put it in the budget, only today’s taxpayers will be paying for it, which makes this more fair to them.”

The board plans to utilize the services of a public relations firm, already contracted for $6,000, to help encourage taxpayers to approve the bond when they head to the polls in early November. A date for the actual vote has not yet been finalized.

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