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Riverhead school officials set Feb. 25 as date for capital bond vote

Voters in the Riverhead Central School District will decide whether to fund a $96.5 million capital bond proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to schedule the special referendum, which is split into two proposals. Board members also approved a resolution to accept the plans created by BBS Architects.

The first proposition totals $87.7 million and includes $44.1 million for expansion at the high school, $18 million for infrastructure changes and $15.4 million to expand classroom space at Pulaski Street. In addition, $3.3 million will be allocated to enhance district safety, ADA compliance and security, $4.7 million to upgrade district parking and the Pupil Personnel Services building and $2.6 million to provide additional space in the four elementary schools.

The second proposition totals $8.8 million and would see improvements to the district’s athletic facilities. That proposal would convert McKillop Field to synthetic turf for $2.2 million, construct an eight-lane track for $3 million and improve the varsity baseball field for roughly $1.3 million.

Proposition 2 also includes upgrades to the multi-use courts, intended for pickleball and tennis, expanded parking at Pulaski Street, construction of a fairgrounds entrance and improvements to the middle school baseball and varsity softball fields.

Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider. (Credit: Tara Smith)

First pitched in September as a roughly $100 million project, the plan underwent several revisions based on continuing feedback from community members. District officials say the bond proposal will help the district accommodate its growing enrollment. 

According to district data, the K-12 student population has increased by more than 22% since the 2010-11 academic year. Data from Western Suffolk BOCES showed that in 2011, high school enrollment was 1,525 students. In 2018, high school enrollment reached 1,922, which brings the building close to reaching its maximum capacity of 1,955.

The most recent data compiled by Western Suffolk BOCES predicts that 2,272 students will occupy the high school by October 2023 — 180 more than previous projections anticipated.

Officials have said that enrollment at both the high school and Pulaski Street have already reached capacity.

But during community input meetings, residents criticized the plan, accusing the district of not adequately vetting students’ proof of residency and blamed the spike in enrollment on overcrowded housing.

Addressing the public and Board of Education at Tuesday evening’s meeting, Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Greg Wallace urged support for the bond — not just as a teacher, but as a taxpayer and parent of children in the district. 

“Our community continues to grow,” Mr. Wallace said. “There’s been a fierce debate as to what has caused that growth as well as which arm of our government bureaucracies are supposed to stem the rising tide. As the debate rages on, nothing will change the fact that our student population has outgrown our current facilities,” he said, adding that he fears the possibility of split sessions if the bond does not pass.

During a December presentation, district officials outlined that based on an average assessment of $43,000, Proposition 1 would translate to $197 more annually in taxes. Proposition 2 would cost the owner approximately $36 more in taxes per year.

Several more public forums on the bond are scheduled ahead of the vote. They will be held Wednesday, Jan. 8 at noon at the Riverhead Free Library, Saturday, Feb. 1 at 9 a.m. at Riverhead High School and Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. at Riverhead High School.