Sag Harbor School Board Say Turf Is Always Greener

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Taxpayers in the Sag Harbor School District will decide the fate of two long-debated upgrades to Pierson High School this fall, after the School Board on Monday agreed to hold a pair of bond referendums on the projects.

The larger of the two issues, a $7.6 million bond, would pay for an extensive renovation of the high school auditorium, as well as a new paved parking area for buses, a renovated main entry plaza, and an upgraded intercom system. Of the total amount, an estimated $2.7 million would go toward the renovation of the auditorium itself.

A second, $1.62 million bond would pay for the installation of an artificial turf playing surface on the athletic field behind the school by 2016.

The referendums will be separate, so one, both or neither of the projects might be approved.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso said there was less enthusiasm among board members for the turf field plan, which would entail replacing the natural grass from fence to fence and include the installation of a walking track around the perimeter. The board rejected a $675,000 proposal for stadium-style lighting.

School Business Administrator John O’Keefe said on Tuesday that it is too early to tell how the bonds, if approved in November, would affect tax rates. He said the district’s bond counsel and financial advisors have yet to review the proposals to determine the length of the bonds and provide an estimate of what the interest rate will be. More information will be available at the August 5 board meeting, he said.

Lawrence Salvesen, an architect for BBS Architects and Engineers, a Patchogue firm that has drawn up the designs for both projects, on Monday presented a proposal to the board for the auditorium that significantly differed from a previous version.

Saying an earlier idea to gut the old auditorium and build a new one in the Pierson courtyard “wasn’t realistic or efficient at a price tag of $13 million,” Mr. Salvesen presented a previously discussed option, 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 to 351. The plan would also replace the entire floor system and all the seats, and increase the incline of the seating arrangement.

“This upgrade truly is necessary,” said School Board 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 would also widen the narrow entrance to the auditorium, 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 would be constructed in 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 Dr. 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.

The discussion of the turf field bond circled three main themes: economy, safety and functionality.

Dr. Bonuso said the district would be saving money by getting the project done through a bond as opposed to trying to finance it through the annual 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,” he said. “If we put it in the budget, only today’s taxpayers will be paying for it, which makes this more fair to them.”

Mr. Salvesen said that school districts generally recoup their investment in artificial surfaces through saved maintenance costs over a 10-to-12-year cycle.

Ms. Tice said the district would save money on fertilizer and not having to water and maintain the field. “Plus, the safety benefits are priceless,” she said.

Describing how any field that has holes in it is a potential lawsuit waiting to happen, Ms. Tice praised the idea of a permanently flat surface, especially with the addition of the walking track. “It may not be suitable for a track meet, but it would be safer than all the gullies and divots the track team has to run through now,” she said.

But board member Mary Anne Miller was not as enthusiastic.

“Let’s be honest—there is no way that a two-lane, non-regulation track can be used for any kind of track team activity,” she said.

The board plans to use the services of its public relations firm, Syntax Communications, to help “communicate the elements of the bond propositions to voters” when they head to the polls in early November, according to Dr. Bonuso. The board has already contracted to pay the firm $6,000 for its work on the project.

Dr. Bonuso stressed that the firm wasn’t hired to convince anyone, simply convey facts and figures of the project, “and that distinction is an important one,” he said.

In other news, the board also voted to delay renewal of the district’s contract with the Sag Harbor Parks and Recreation Department, which allows certain Pierson athletic teams to play home games at Mashashimuet Park, because members felt like they were getting the short end of the stick.

Board members took issue with the perceived lack of receptiveness by park officials to their pleas for improvements to baseball backstops and other equipment. The board members also questioned why they had to pay the Parks Department the balance of the contract in the first eight months of the fiscal year, instead of making monthly payments.

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