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Riverhead School Bond set at $85.9M; vote likely in February

11/06/2019 1:28 PM |

Riverhead school officials have set the district’s capital bond total at $85.91 million and delayed the vote to February 2020 under a revised proposal announced Tuesday. 

Kevin Walsh of BBS Architects presented the finalized bond proposal at a public work session at Riverhead High School. First pitched in September as a roughly $100 million project, the bond proposal was updated based on continuing feedback from the community, Mr. Walsh said. During October, the bond ranged from $73.5 million to $87.9 million.

Voters can expect to see a second proposition on their ballots in February, for an additional $8.8 million that will mainly refurbish and construct sports facilities on school grounds. The second proposition is dependent on the first and cannot be approved by itself, Mr. Walsh said.

School board president Greg Meyer said February was the latest the vote could be pushed back and still accommodate the student population by September 2023, when enrollment is expected to exceed capacity. The delay also allows for more public forums on the proposal, he said, though dates have yet to be determined.

The district is considering allocating funds from the Cafeteria Capital Reserve to the bond to shave $500,000 from the total.

PROPOSITION 1

A portion of the first proposition will address the need for more space throughout the district.

Pulaski Street School will be reconstructed for $16 million to create 10 more classrooms and one additional gymnasium to accommodate the volume of students, Mr. Walsh said.

The project originally called for dividing all students in grades 5 through 8 between Pulaski Street and Riverhead Middle School — a cheaper option — but continued criticism from parents prompted the district to leave Pulaski with grades 5 and 6 only.

At Phillips Avenue School and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, additional classrooms are needed to match expected enrollment. Phillips will get three additional classrooms and Roanoke will get four on the upper balcony. Classroom expansions are not necessary at Riley Avenue or Aquebogue elementary schools, Mr. Walsh said.

Plans for the high school remain unchanged since the last presentation. Roughly 24 classrooms will be constructed to meet enrollment standards, Mr. Walsh said. The first proposition also includes roughly $3.3 million for districtwide safety and security upgrades and $19 million for infrastructure changes across all district buildings, Mr. Walsh said.

For $3.98 million, the bond will also construct a new 7,000-square-foot Pupil Personnel Services building, situated next to the current district office.

PROPOSITION 2

The second proposition focuses solely on changes on the grounds of Pulaski Street, the middle school and the high school. If approved, the second proposition would convert McKillop Field to synthetic turf for $2.2 million, construct an eight-lane track at that location for $3 million and improve the varsity baseball field for roughly $1.3 million.

The second proposition would also upgrade the multi-use courts, intended for pickleball and tennis, expand parking at Pulaski Street, construct a fairgrounds entrance and improve the middle school baseball and varsity softball fields.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Several residents said there is not adequate space at the middle school.

Parent Dean Marelli of Calverton, who has a child in school there, said he can’t believe the middle school is not over capacity. He said some of his daughter’s teachers operate from a cart and do not have classrooms.

“How do we consider it at 70% capacity?” he asked.

Mr. Walsh said that “capacity changes as the buildings are used differently.” Though no construction changes are proposed for some buildings, they can still be reconfigured internally for different use.

Kathy Berezny of Riverhead expressed concern about using the upper balcony space at Roanoke.

“When Roanoke was falling apart and we asked that they fix that mezzanine so the children could enjoy it, it was deemed unsafe. Now I know they’re going to be fixing it, but where are all the records that said nobody could ever go on top of the auditorium at the school?”

Mr. Meyer said he did not recall there being a weight warning at Roanoke. Mr. Walsh stated that regardless of the past, the scope of this project is “conscious of the structural modifications” and ensured its safety.

ENROLLMENT, STATE AID

The district expects to receive aid from the State Education Department on the first proposition, deputy superintendent Sam Schneider said, but not as much on the second. If the project did not receive aid, he said, the offset cost would be much higher for taxpayers.

The “average” home in Riverhead Town has an assessed valuation of roughly $43,000. The proposed bond would add roughly $195 per year to the typical homeowner’s property tax bill, Mr. Schneider said. However, for the second proposition, aid could be minimal.

Enrollment estimates in the presentation were taken from a demographic study conducted by Western Suffolk BOCES.

In 2010, voters rejected a roughly $125 million bond project. Former school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, who sat on the board when a bond revote was passed in 2011, said because it was voted down the total was cut and did not meet enrollment needs.

Former board member Amelia Lantz said she is concerned that the study used for the bond may not meet enrollment needs quickly enough — similar to what happened during the last bond.

“What makes us think we are not going to blow this one out of the water in the same way?” she asked. “We outgrow these before they even come to fruition.”

Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said state aid can only be obtained if need is reflected in the Western Suffolk BOCES study.

“There’s no way to truly predict the future.” She said. “We had to start somewhere. … If the study does not support it, we will not get it right now.”

Later, Mr. Meyer made a similar comment: “I’d love to say, ‘Lets tack on an extra $30 million and construct more classrooms,’ but we’re bound to the study,” he said. “The bottom line is, the state can turn around and not give us aid on certain things.”

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