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Riverhead school board approves bus garage demolition

The Riverhead Board of Education unanimously approved spending nearly $700,000 from a repair reserve fund to demolish the former bus garage, restoring the parking lot and create field space in the process — although numerous community members claim that work doesn’t qualify as a repair.

As defined by new Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez during a presentation at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, a repair is “occasional work of recurring nature, which are intended to restore a satisfactory condition that which has: decayed, deteriorated, weathered or become broken, torn or inoperable.”

But according to residents Sal Mastropaolo and Greg Fischer, the district isn’t repairing anything. Instead, they’re demolishing a building and creating fields where they don’t currently exist.

“It doesn’t even come close to satisfying the definition,” Mr. Mastropaolo said at the meeting. “You want to take down a building. That shouldn’t be part of the repair reserve.”

Greg Meyer, president of the Board of Education, said that because the district is repairing the existing parking lot and “restoring the field space,” the work can be done using money from the repair reserve.

Removing the existing building at 702 Osborn Ave. — which will result in 4.35 acres of field space for use by students and community members — is expected to cost about $652,000. Repairing the existing parking lot will cost around $46,000.

“If there was a field there already, I would agree with your reasoning,” Mr. Mastropaolo said. “There is no field there. It’s new construction.”

After listening to residents’ concerns and before voting on spending the reserve money, new board member Ron Fisher asked if the district’s counsel had “justified the use of the funds.” Mr. Meyer replied that they did.

These changes to the former bus garage are congruent with a $9.5 million reserve fund approved by voters in May 2015 to construct a new transportation center on Edwards Avenue. A 2,600-square-foot addition was constructed on an existing building at the location.

Additionally, a nearly 4,000-square-foot building will be constructed at the Osborn Avenue site and will function as a building and grounds facility. Deputy superintendent Sam Schneider said at Tuesday’s meeting that the metal building will have three garage bays, an office and a storage area. He added that some, but not most, of the building will be heated.

“One fund is for the relocation of the bus garage to where it is now,” Mr. Meyer said. “What we’re doing here now is the repair reserve that was established already. So that money, the $698,000, is coming out of that and not that transportation facility. That is a whole different reserve.”

After the closing of the public hearing, which lasted only minutes, Mr. Mastropaolo asked the board to consider leaving public hearings open for two weeks so that rather than voting on a topic the same night it is brought to the public, the board can vote on it at the following meeting. He said doing so would give community members who couldn’t attend the meeting time to ask questions and express concerns to the superintendent and board.

Mr. Meyer said the board would look into it.

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Photo: Calverton resident Sal Mastropaolo addresses the Riverhead school board Tuesday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)