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Southold School District residents to vote on $9.8M construction plan

David Gamberg

Southold School District residents will be asked to approve a nearly $9.8 million capital improvement project that includes a new turf athletic field, security features and a reconfiguration of classroom spaces.

Specifically, residents will vote Dec. 8 on the district’s plan to pay for the construction project using $2 million in reserves and issuing a $7.76 million bond to fund the rest.

During a work session Wednesday night, the Southold school board unanimously approved a resolution to schedule the vote after Roger Smith of BBS Architects, the Patchogue firm hired to draft the construction project, gave a presentation outlining the proposal.

Mr. Smith, whose firm is also working on construction plans for the Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River school districts, explained how the project will be financed.

The district’s previous $14 million capital improvement bond, which carries a 20-year term, is scheduled to be paid off in 2018. Mr. Smith noted that payment amounts have decreased over the past several years since the district has refinanced the bond twice and secured lower interest rates.

That $14 million bond still costs the average homeowner about $200 a year, he said, adding that the tax impact for the new $7.76 million bond proposal is estimated to cost the average homeowner $130 annually.

“This discussion is really letting the taxpayer know that they are paying a certain amount presently for a referendum that is in place,” Mr. Smith said. “That will sunset and this will be in its place, but not to the impact that someone is presently paying within the district.”

Superintendent David Gamberg described the district’s ability to establish a $2 million capital reserve about six years ago that’s funded with budget surplus as “evidence of prudent fiscal planning.”

“You don’t get there overnight,” he said. “You have to be diligent and it’s years in the works.”

As for the proposed capital improvements, Mr. Smith said the plan consists of building new athletic facilities totaling $3.63 million, including a six-lane polyurethane track and field, a multi-sport turf field, and 150 bleacher seats.

Mr. Gamberg said after the meeting the turf field will be made of organic, non-synthetic materials.

In addition, the girls junior varsity softball field and the junior varsity baseball field will be relocated. The soccer teams’ grass field will also be reconstructed, Mr. Smith said.

Other highlights of the district-wide construction plan include installing a security system that allows staff members to enter buildings by swiping a card; additional cameras; reconstructing parking areas, bus loops and student drop off areas; and converting the existing weight room into a TV production studio, as well as moving the weight room to the athletic storage area.

The library would also move into the tech shop space, according to Mr. Smith’s presentation.

[Click on the tab below to see a list of the construction projects]

The district finished a $1.5 million upgrade last month to the cafeteria, reconfiguration of the main office and classroom spaces, and creation of a new entranceway. The superintendent said he’s received positive feedback on those recently completed projects, which were paid for with voter-approved reserves, and he believes now is the time to move forward with additional capital improvements.

“This has been years in the works,” said Mr. Gamberg, referring to the latest construction proposal. “I was told some of these discussions were first made 20 years ago, including moving the library.”

“This is important work that we’re really looking forward to,” he continued. “It’s not a final floor plan. There’s a long process ahead. Not only are we doing this for our students and children of this community, but we’re doing this to protect the investment of the taxpayers of Southold.”

School board president Paulette Ofrias described the latest proposed projects as having been placed on the backburner for the past several years.

“These items were on the list before and we couldn’t get to them because there was always something else,” she said. “It’s fair to say we’ve been really patient and addressed the things we felt were a priority.”

School board vice president Judi Fouchet noted that many facilities hadn’t been upgraded in decades and believes it’s important to maintain the school’s facilities.

“We wouldn’t live in our house for 50 years and not change things as they become worn out,” she said.

School board member Scott Latham stressed the timing of the bond vote isn’t a “sandbag” to the community.

“We’re not trying to sneak it in,” he said. “That was the earliest we could hold the vote. It wasn’t a disingenuous attempt to move a vote through. This is legitimate.”

Mr. Smith agreed to give additional presentations at future school board meetings to assist the district with informing the public about the bond proposition, including at the next meeting on Oct. 21.

In addition, Mr. Gamberg confirmed after Wednesday’s work session that the school board has approved a $7,500 contract with Syntax Communications, a public relations firm in Bohemia the district uses periodically.

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Click on the tab below for a list of the proposed projects.

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