Only a few handfuls of residents turned out on Thursday, September 6 for a forum on the Bridgehampton School District’s request for $4.7 million in additional funding for a major renovation project, but they had plenty of questions about the need for the extra money.
Voters will be asked to weigh in on the request from 2 to 8 PM on Thursday, September 13, in the school gymnasium.
On September 6, John Grillo, the architect for the project told the small gathering of some 30 people, about half of whom were school officials or reporters, that he was shocked when bids were opened this summer for a $24.7 million bond measure that was approved by voters on December 16.
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said of bids that came in 20 to 25 percent above the expected amounts.
The project that was approved by voters was supposed to pay for a comprehensive, 35,000-square-foot addition that would more than double the size of the school and provide a new library, gymnasium, auditorium, and classroom space.
Superintendent Robert Hauser said the plans call for the razing of several modular classrooms that have been used long past their lifespan. Consultants have also urged the district to bring all students under one roof for security reasons.
Grillo told the gathering that once the initial bond was approved, architects drew working plans, but due to a backlog at the state education department, those plans were not approved for nearly a year. Soon after receiving a building permit from the state in May, plans were put out to bid, he said.
The timing was bad for two different reasons, he added. One, because summer marks the start of contractors’ busiest season, and two, because building activity is cyclical and the district found itself competing with other public sector projects across Long Island. Not once, but twice, the bids came in abnormally high, Grillo said, an outcome that led the school board to seek the second bond vote.
A handful of people in the audience asked most of the questions. Joyce Weinberg, whose son is a Bridgehampton student, said she supported the school and knew it was overcrowded, but she added she did not believe voters had enough information in hand to make an informed vote on the request for more money. “Nothing’s been said plainly, clearly, or simply,” she said.
Pamela Harwood, who serves as the chairwoman of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, asked if a new library was necessary.
“Why do we need a new library in this school when across the street we have the Hampton Library?” she asked. She said when a state project to put in new crosswalks in the hamlet is completed, it would be a safe walk from the school to the library for students. Her comments drew heated rebuttals from several other audience members, who said a proper library should be part of any school building. In Bridgehampton, a converted classroom serves that purpose.
Enrollment at Bridgehampton, which serves children in pre-K through high school, has grown from 145 in 2008 to 227 this year, Hauser told the group.
But Jenice Delano, a resident who has long argued that the high school could be closed and students sent to a neighboring school district, questioned whether elements of the plan like a regulation-sized gym were needed for a small high school, but she was told the gym, like other improvements, were being designed for the entire student body.
Responding to a comment that the district was building in extra space for future growth, school board member Lillian Tyree Johnson said that was simply not the case and she pointed out the district was the only one on the East End to not have undertaken some kind of capital improvement project in the past 25 years.
“It’s not a wish list, it’s a-what-we-need list,” she said of the proposed expansion. “It’s how we came about this project to begin with and we haven’t changed that philosophy. It’s what these kids need now.”
School board president Ron White also made the case for the expansion. “We have an amazing group of kids who are constantly striving in this small district,” he said. “What we are trying to do is give our district a chance to be competitive. With this expansion and being able to spread out just a little bit more, I believe our curriculum will go through the roof.”