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Riverhead voters soundly reject proposed bond totaling $97 million

Riverhead voters soundly rejected two propositions totaling $97 million to fund repairs and renovations that would have addressed critical space needs in the district.

A total of 2,626 no votes were cast compared to just 1,151 yes votes for Proposition 1, which made up the majority of the proposed bond. The results were revealed just before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday as district officials gathered at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School.

The room quickly fell silent as the numbers flashed from a projector onto a screen.

There were 250 absentee ballots.

Proposition 1 totaled $88.2 million and would have funded a number of repairs and renovations in the district. Proposition 2 totaled $8.8 million and would have funded several athletic upgrades, such as a new track and field and converting McKillop Field to turf. The second proposition was contingent on the first one passing.

Proposition 2 received 2,775 no votes compared to 993 yes votes.

“We’ll get back to the drawing board and do what we do,” said board president Greg Meyer. “We all have to get together with the superintendent … and she’s got to come up with some future plans and we’ll see.”

Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez echoed that statement.

“The community spoke,” she said. “We certainly respect that. It’s time to go back to the drawing board. For us, this about the students. This always was, and it always will be. Next step is we’ll reconvene, obviously with the Board of Education, and we’ll consider our next steps.”

The cost of Proposition 1 to homeowners with an assessed value of $43,000 would have been $16.41 per month.

The Board of Education, district administration and consultant BBS Architects pitched the roughly $100 million bond in September 2019. Later that month, district officials began hosting public forums to gather community input on the proposal. The plan underwent several revisions based on that feedback.

The 3,525 total votes was a substantial increase in turnout compared to the regular school board vote. An average of 2,500 votes have been cast in the school board elections over the past five years.

Riverhead voters approved a $78.3 million plan for infrastructure upgrades in 2011 after initially rejecting a $123 million plan eight months earlier.

Mr. Meyer said a bond initially failing is not uncharted territory in Riverhead, pointing out how voters ultimately approved a bond in 2011.

Board member Laurie Downs said the vote needs to be further discussed among the Board of Education to determine what the results mean for the community.

Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers said district administrators will look to address overcrowding by examining every available space and see how it can be repurposed or reutilized to provide more opportunities for students.

Editor’s Note: The final tallies were updated to include absentee ballots.

Aquebogue assistant principal Gary Karlson, center, waits for results Tuesday with superintendent Aurelia Henriquez and board president Greg Meyer. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)