School bond up for vote

Unless taxpayers support a bond referendum next fall, Greenport’s stately old school building could be on its last legs.

That was the opinion expressed at an April 14 budget hearing by Greenport Board of Education president Heather Wolf, who said, “The school’s going to become uninhabitable.”

And she wasn’t talking about peeling plaster from the auditorium ceiling or other cosmetic improvements. Greenport’s 1932 building has a badly leaking roof, boilers at the end of their useful life, HVAC units badly damaged by storms and other critical repairs that can no longer be delayed, Superintendent Michael Comanda said.

He and board members don’t yet know the full scope of the project, so they can’t put a dollar figure on the bond yet. Toward that end, they will interview architects on April 21 with an eye to hiring one to take charge of the project.

While the North Fork continues to struggle in a difficult economy, Mr. Comanda pointed out that it’s a time when the district has no other long-term indebtedness and when interest rates and construction costs are lower than they have been in years.

Mr. Comanda said he wasn’t pointing a finger at his predecessor, Dr. Charles Kozora, or previous board members. But Mike Reed, who has announced his intent to seek a board seat, placed the blame on Dr. Kozora and former board presidents Lisa Israel and Gary Charters.

The roof is 23 years old and while it was inspected every year, it hasn’t been ready for replacement until now, Dr. Kozora said in a telephone interview. And he differed with critics who say maintenance was neglected during his tenure, citing the following: In the 1995-96 school year, masonry work was done on ornamental structures, bricks were reset and work was done on lintels and columns. Toward the end of his tenure, window lintels were repointed and boiler sections replaced. Under his leadership, the setup for computers and Wi-Fi were purchased and, in conjunction with the village, tennis courts were repaired. Soundproofing was done in the school auditorium and cafeteria and blacktop was put down in the parking lots.

Both former board presidents said they did the best they could in their years at the helm.

“All things that needed to be repaired were repaired and all things that needed to be replaced were replaced,” Ms. Israel said. “You cannot have it all; it is not a possibility,” she said.

The district squirreled away $700,000 several years ago, holding it in a reserve fund for boiler replacement, Mr. Charters said. But the state required that the reserve fund be dissolved if it wasn’t going to be used within the following year, he said.

For years, Greenport had the highest tax rate among North Fork districts, Ms. Israel said. In the last several years, efforts were made to provide the best education possible for students while keeping expenses in check, she said.

Now it’s time to concentrate on building maintenance, Ms. Israel said. Failing to do so would lead to other unnecessary expenses to try to keep the building operating, she said.

“Greenport is a district that cannot have it all at the same time,” Ms. Israel said.

“It’s a toss of a coin if you’re going to offer students the best education possible” or spend money in other ways, Mr. Charters said. He pointed out that when the district entered into a performance contract a couple of years ago, it couldn’t include new boilers in the plan. Performance contracts are designed by private companies that guarantee school districts will save as much or more money in energy costs than they spend in upgrading various systems. But the boilers were too expensive to make it worth adding to that project, he said.

“We did the best we could as far as students and as far as taxpayers in the district,” Mr. Charters said. “Everybody sitting behind that table is doing the best they can.”

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