Greenport Union Free School District has reduced the total cost of its proposed Capital Improvement Plan by $2.8 million. District officials presented a revision on the proposed plan last Tuesday and listed potential options that would reduce the cost even further by scaling back athletic upgrades.
The plan, first introduced at a Feb. 5 Board of Education meeting, would transform the current school building, improve security and accessibility and upgrade athletic facilities, among other changes.
The district presented an updated version of the plan at a special board meeting last Tuesday. The project would now cost $27.1 million if approved in its entirety. Architectural firm Tetra Tech Engineers will continue to work with the district.
“This is a project that we need the community’s help to decide what we need to do,” board president Babette Cornine said. “After the presentation, please make comments, questions, ask for clarification.”
As previously reported by The Suffolk Times, the Feb. 5 presentation said $775,000 would be appropriated from the Capital Reserve Fund and $29.1 million would be raised through a bond issue.
Funding sources for the revised plan will remain the same: The majority of the money will still be generated by bond sales and an additional $25,000 will be appropriated from the Capital Reserve Fund.
Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg said there are two options for the plan that would alter funding amounts and affect the related tax increase. These options, presented at last week’s meeting, are both based on the use of $800,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund. The bonding proposal and the use of reserve funds would need to be approved separately by voters on individual ballot items to be presented, respectively, in May and June.
One option, which removes a turf field from the plan, is $24.8 million. Roughly $24 million of that would be covered by the bond issuance. An alternate approach would remove all athletic improvements from the original plan — no track, field or tennis court repair. That option would cost $22.2 million, of which $21.4 million would be bonded.
The total amount was reduced “primarily by the architect’s phasing project, moving lighting to Energy Performance Contract, and some other small items pulled that do not impact the scope of the project,” Mr. Gamberg said.
The reductions were calculated by Tetra Tech Engineers after the district received community feedback following the official plan unveiling last month, Mr. Gamberg said.
The original proposal called for a new wood and automotive shop in the building. After talking with residents, the superintendent said, the district also proposed a program that would focus on trades in the marine industry, including boat building, marine manufacturing, dock building, boat supply and shipyard management.
The marine, wood shop and automotive programs could accommodate students from neighboring districts, like Southold and Mattituck-Cutchogue, who would no longer need to travel over an hour to Bellport for specific BOCES programs. It’s unclear if other districts would contribute to the cost of the programs.
“If we design a quality program that has partnerships and apprenticeships, it’s attractive enough that it becomes an educational option of value instead of traveling an hour and going to a BOCES program,” Mr. Gamberg said after the presentation.
The original spending plan emerged after numerous public hearings, and only a year after the district asked voters — for the third time since 2011 — to pierce the state tax cap to avoid staff and service cuts. More than 60 percent of voters supported piercing the cap last year.
Community members were encouraged to comment on the proposal following the presentation.
Sandy Martocchia of Greenport, who voiced her support of the plan Feb. 5, said the Capital Improvement Project will improve education quality. While the project is expensive, she said the district needs the change.
“I can’t stress this enough, how important this is for the kids,” Ms. Martocchia said. “We have families who choose to send their children elsewhere because of the condition of our building.” Greenport trustee Mary Bess Phillips said the proposal fails to address debt service numbers in future budgets as a result of the bonds and she asked for a better understanding of the debt that will impact the community.
While Mr. Gamberg said the debt payment is exempt from the tax cap, Ms. Phillips said the money “still has to come from somewhere to pay the debt.”
Mr. Gamberg said the next presentation will offer a more detailed overview of the debt impact in Greenport.
Greenport resident William Swiskey, a former village trustee, was critical of the plan, saying he believes the estimates may be inaccurate and the plan is not specific enough.
“I’d like to have more specifics of the cost and what’s actually involved,” he said. “Why do we need an auxiliary gym? I want some straight answers on this.”
Chatty Allen of Greenport responded to Mr. Swiskey’s comment on the gymnasium.
“For those of you that don’t know, that don’t have children in this building, when they can’t go outside for recess, they don’t have any space — they’re brought in [the auditorium] at a time when they should be running and playing,” she said.
Ms. Allen also said she supports the potential marine program and believes it will save the district money.
“We will no longer have to tuition our students out. Not every child is one that will go to college,” she said. “We still need our mechanics, our woodworkers or marine and dock builders.”
Mike Reed of Greenport was concerned about the district being overcharged for certain infrastructure changes. He also suggested the district hire a grant writer to obtain other funding for the project.
“There’s a lot of free money in there,” Mr. Reed said. “It would help alleviate some of the financial burden within the community.”
Mr. Gamberg said that, based on the feedback received last Tuesday, adjustments will continue to be made to the plan.
Photo caption: Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg speaks at Tuesday night’s meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)