Guest: Bus garage questions that need answers in Riverhead

A Riverhead School District-owned school bus. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
A Riverhead School District-owned school bus. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A lot of questions and concerns bounced around this little brain of mine after hearing that the River-head School District is looking to purchase the TS Hauler property on Edwards Avenue in Calverton for the future location of a bus lot and garage.

Laurie Downs
Laurie Downs

Below are just some of my many concerns:

• Why is it that the district put together a committee of 30 people to help search for properties, yet a list of these committee members isn’t readily available to the public? When the district put together the CPR committee for building projects, that group was voted on by our school board. Pictures and information about the members of that committee were publicly available on the district website, which was updated after each meeting to keep the public informed.

(The News-Review was able to acquire the list of names through of Freedom of Information Law request.)

Everything was open and transparent with the CPR committee. This new group is very secret.

• The Capital Reserve Fund that was approved by the voters by only 116 votes was for $10 million. Purchasing this property would cost $5 million. We’re going to use half of this fund for this one purchase?

• Does this land meet New York State Education Department requirements for a school bus garage? Or do we have to put more money into it to meet the requirements?

• Will this property also be used to house and repair our district equipment? Will district lawn mowers and other items have to be driven to Calverton from, let’s say, Flanders in order to be repaired?

• How many more hours will be added for our drivers to complete their route if the garage is based in Calverton? How much more fuel will be used and how many more miles will be added to the buses that are on the eastern ends of the district?

• We fuel at the Riverhead Town Municipal Garage, will that be a problem being that our barn will be so many more miles away from the garage?

• What is the exact cost to knock down and rebuild the current garage, in its current spot? I imagine it would be less than the current plan for Calverton, but then again will the public ever get to see the real numbers to compare before a decision is made? Or, will district offi cials just show us what they know we want to see?

Just look at how many change orders we have had increasing the amounts paid for certain services during this construction project. I videotape the school board meetings and, on occasion, school board members Lantz, Carson and Falisi have questioned the number of change orders and why the price always goes up, never down.

Another issue I’m concerned about is the removal of the existing bus barn, making that property into athletic fi elds and parking. Parking isn’t really too much of a problem for the district, but the price the district has discussed for knocking the barn down concerns me.

I’ve learned the district estimates it would cost $1 million to remove the existing facility. However, just a few years ago, I remember, when the $122 million bond was proposed and voted down, the budgeted cost for removal of the bus barn was for well over $1 million. Construction prices don’t generally go down, they go up, and the architects and construction entities are the same today as before.

Back when the district was looking to purchase property to build a brand-new high school, they were interested in a piece of land on Middle Road. They had to walk away from it because the land was contaminated with arsenic and reclaiming the land alone would have cost into the millions. The district would have been allowed to build a building, but the athletic fi elds and any piece of the land where children were to walk or play had to be 100 percent reclaimed, according to the state, from my recollection.

Now the district is planning on reclaiming the bus barn property to make it into a fi eld or to extend our athletic fi elds. Either way, that property needs to be 100 percent reclaimed. The district keeps saying how the barn was a horse stable, but what they neglect to tell you is it also once housed the town highway department. Regulations on dumping contaminants didn’t come until the 1970s.

So how contaminated might that property be?

Our experience with the town landfi ll is that reclaiming land is not very easy to fi gure out. Can this reclaiming turn into what the landfi ll became?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to fi nd out.

Laurie Downs is a former Riverhead High School Parent-Teacher Organization president who has regularly attended school board meetings for several years. She also films Riverhead school board meetings for public use. She lives in Polish Town.