Sag Harbor School Board Promotes Pair Of Bond Proposals

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With about a month and a half left before Sag Harbor School District taxpayers decide the fate of two separate bond proposals, the Board of Education and the district’s architect spent most of Monday night’s meeting rehashing the need for their approval. They also stressed the cost-effectiveness of the two plans, which would mean nearly $9 million in spending.

The first bond proposal, which was presented by architect Lawrence Salvesen and accounts for more than $7.35 million of the spending, would finance safety and other improvements at both Pierson Middle-High School and the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

Mr. Salvesen said the first proposal covers the “soup-to-nuts” renovation of the high school auditorium, increasing capacity to 353 seats with the reopening of original balcony seating; replacing old windows; upgrades to the shop class area; an expansion of the kitchen; and cafeteria upgrades that include the addition of 16 seats and replacing ceiling tiles to reduce noise. The work also calls for redesigning the parking lots at both schools, to increase parking and improve bus traffic flow, as well as new windows at the elementary school and putting a new gym storage space in that building.

“This isn’t to make anything pretty, these are fundamental safety and educational issues,” interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso said. “You’re not building true educational space, but support space that will certainly enrich the children’s education and remedy safety issues. Even in the auditorium, we’re talking about chairs that are literally falling apart.”

Board member Chris Tice also felt the safety upgrades were obvious, saying of the current Pierson parking lot, “You would never build a parking lot today the way our lot is built. I wait for a bad call all the time because of how dangerous that lot is. It should’ve been changed years ago.”

If the proposal passes, the new Pierson lot will feature a landscaped buffer between Jermain Avenue and the school, plus an additional nine or 10 parking spaces.

The second proposal, which will cost about $1.6 million, was a lot easier to describe to residents: It will replace the existing Pierson athletic field with synthetic turf and add a two-lane walking track around the outside of the field.

At the board meeting, Sag Harbor athletic director Todd R. Gulluscio gave his seasonal update on athletics, presenting to the board fall numbers that would seem to bolster the argument for the turf bond proposal.

Mr. Gulluscio, who noted that Sag Harbor is “the only high school on the South Fork that does not have a turf facility to call their own,” said that 43 percent of the high school students are participating in a fall sport, as well as 44 percent of middle school students. In addition, Mr. Gulluscio said that 46 percent of those student-athletes participate in either girls or boys soccer, the sport that could arguably benefit most from a turf field at Pierson.

The first bond will cost taxpayers $7,357,132 if approved. For Sag Harbor School District residents living in the Town of Southampton, this bond will raise taxes $10 a year per $100,000 of assessed home value. For district residents living in the Town of East Hampton, taxes would go up $10.31 a year per $100,000.

The second bond will cost $1,620,000 if approved. For Town of Southampton residents in the district, the turfing-bond would raise taxes $2 a year per $100,000 of assessed home value. For school district residents living in the Town of East Hampton, taxes would go up $2.26 a year per $100,000.

If both bonds are approved, the numbers would be $12 a year and about $12.58 a year for Southampton and East Hampton residents respectively, per $100,000 of assessed home value.

In 2009, the school district’s residents were presented with a different proposal, larger in scope than the current one. The voters shot down that proposal, and according to Dr. Bonuso, the problems that existed then have only been exacerbated, despite yearly improvements made using the annual budgets.

“The future is now. It is time to make a decision about the future of our school district. We are planning for today and tomorrow,” he said. “In 2009 we presented a bond, and it failed. Here we are four years later, and we need it that much more. We’re talking four years. If it doesn’t pass this year, it could be another three, four, five years before we get to it. Quite frankly, we are at a crossroads.”

“Even if you were just worried about money, it would be more costly in the long run to do nothing. It is no longer an option through the annual budget because of the property tax cap,” concluded Dr. Bonuso.

Board member David Diskin continued the thought, saying that voting down the proposition will not save taxpayers any money, but will actually end up costing them.

“Costs have increased since 2009 when the proposition failed—that is the cost of doing nothing,” he said. “At that time, we thought it was a no-brainer proposition. Well, all the issues are the same, they aren’t going away despite the incremental repairs we’ve made. The time is now.”

Sag Harbor schools business administrator John O’Keefe, who said that the district has spent about $1.5 million over the past three years through the budget to improve facilities and cut the costs of these bond propositions, added that the life of the bond is 15 years, so every family benefiting from the upgrades would share the load in paying for them.

“Bond rates are favorable right now,” said Mr. O’Keefe. “If this was done through the budget, we would see annual spikes and only current residents would pay for it. This has a uniform repayment schedule.”

Mr. Salvesen estimated that if the proposition passes, work could begin in the fall of 2014 and would be completed by the fall of 2016.

On October 23 and 26, the school district will host bond fairs in the Pierson gymnasium. Residents will be able to speak to the project architects and school officials, as well as feel the turf materials and see pictures of proposed safety upgrades.

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