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Riverhead raises bond total to accommodate new enrollment projection

Riverhead Central School District has once again altered its bond proposal based on the results of a long-range planning study completed Nov. 13 by Western Suffolk BOCES.
According to the study’s enrollment projection, 2,272 students will occupy Riverhead High School by October 2023 — 180 more than previous peak high school projections anticipated.
Kevin Walsh of BBS Architects presented the bond changes to the school board at Tuesday’s meeting. The new design, he said, reflects this uptick in expected enrollment at the high school, which reached 104% capacity in October 2019.
Approximately 32 classrooms will be constructed at the high school to accommodate the projected increase — eight more than were included in the previous plan. The cost of that construction will rise to $35.7 million from the previous cost of $32.1 million.
The majority of the plans remain unchanged since the last presentation. The vote remains broken down into two propositions and will go before voters in late February 2020, Mr. Walsh said.
The first proposition now totals $87.7 million. If approved, $44.08 million will go toward spatial improvements for grades 9-12, $18 million to district capital projects and infrastructure changes and $15.4 million to meet spatial needs in grades 5 and 6. An additional $3.32 million will be allocated to enhance district safety, ADA compliance and security, $4.73 million to upgrade district parking and the pupil personnel services building and $2.6 million to provide additional space in K-4 buildings.
The second proposition totals $8.8 million and focuses solely on changes on the grounds of Pulaski Street, the middle school and high school. If approved, the second proposition would convert McKillop Field to synthetic turf for $2.2 million, construct an eight-lane track there 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.
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 amount ranged from $73.5 million to $87.9 million.
The proposal has undergone major adjustments since it was first presented. A new field house and pre-K wing have been removed, as have district office improvements. The scope of the work has been reduced at the pupil personnel service building and the fairgrounds near Pulaski Street School.
Deputy superintendent Sam Schneider said the average assessment on a home in Riverhead is $43,000. Based on that, he said, Proposition 1 would cost the average homeowner $197 per year in additional taxes. If Proposition 2 is also approved, that will cost the average homeowner an additional $36 per year.
Mr. Schneider encouraged voters to contact the business office for personalized information on the tax impact for their properties, or call 631-369-6711.
Sal Mastropaolo of Calverton asked if district officials plan to distribute absentee ballots for the bond vote. Mr. Schneider said they do not, but information on how to obtain an absentee ballot will be made available to all voters.
As part of the bond plan, Pulaski Street School will be reconstructed for $16 million to create 10 more classrooms and one additional gymnasium to accommodate the volume of students.
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.
Mr. Mastropaolo advised the board to let the public decide if they want to pursue the cheaper option or separate students based on age group. He believes more people will approve the bond if the amount of the first proposition is decreased.
Yolanda Thompson of Baiting Hollow said she’s attended all of the bond presentations and doesn’t understand why replacing A/C in the high school cafeteria wasn’t included in the original bond.
Mr. Schneider said the district is looking to apply $500,000 from the Cafeteria Capital Reserve to use on the bond. He said the A/C replacement could be covered by those funds.
Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez announced the following dates for the next bond forums.
• Wednesday, Jan. 8, at noon, Riverhead Free Library
• Saturday, Feb. 1, at 9 a.m., Riverhead High School
• Thursday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m., Riverhead High School
Board president Greg Meyer was not in attendance.
Photo caption: Kevin Walsh of BBS Architects speaks at Tuesday’s BOE meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski) 
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