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Public invited to tour Southold schools in advance of December’s $9.8 million bond vote

Southold Union Free School District Superintendent David Gamberg has an invitation for residents: He’s asking anyone interested to come take a tour of the district’s campus, to get a “close-up” look at the proposed work included in the bond vote scheduled for December 8.

The public will be asked to vote on a new $9.8 million capital project that Gamberg believes will shepherd the district into the future.

“I am providing these tours as a service to residents who may not have had an opportunity to attend board meetings when this information was presented by our architects,” Gamberg said.

Four dates/times for the tours are available:

Sunday, November 15  at 3 p.m.

Tuesday, November 17 at 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, December 3 at 10 a.m.

Thursday, December 3 at 1 p.m.

All tours will begin at the entrance to the secondary building by the tennis courts; Gamberg will be waiting at that entrance and will escort visitors for the 45-minute tour.

Those who wish to attend are asked to RSVP by contacting Jennifer Bruer, secretary to the superintendent, at 631-765-5400, ext. 304, or by emailing [email protected].

Last month, plans were rolled out last night for the capital project.

A special work session was held with the Board of Education to discuss the proposed bond referendum and capital reserve project.

The district’s architectural firm, BBS Architects & Engineers, gave a power point presentation, followed by a discussion by the board.

In September, the board first discussed the new capital improvements project. But at the October meeting, they delved into specifics and costs.

The bond would help to finance improvements in four categories: health and safety, educational space upgrades, community and athletics, and infrastructure and building preservation, in both the high school and elementary schools.

Those improvements include replacing the P/A intercom system, replacing fire alarm systems, a new voiceover IP phone system that will allows classrooms to communicate, security upgrades — including new card-access doors, cameras and enhanced technology — new lighting in the parking lots, parking lot bus and drop off circulation and replacement of deteriorated walks.

Educational space upgrades in the high school include renovation of the existing technology shop and computer lab, converting the existing technology shop to a new library/media center, converting the current library and computer lab to three new classrooms, conversion of the existing weight room to a TV production studio, interior renovations in the art room, photo lab, and ROTC room, and transforming the athletic storage area to the weight room.

In the elementary school, interior renovations and reconfiguration of the existing computer lab and library will take place.

Outdoors, a new, six-lane polyurethane track will be constructed, a new, synthetic turf, multi-sport athletic field will be created, and both the girls JV softball and boys JV baseball field will be relocated.

A reconstruction of a natural grass soccer field will ensue, as will construction of new, 150 seat bleachers.

In addition, some infrastructure and building preservation measures will be taken to replace deteriorated steel lintels and damaged brick masonry, as well as other improvements.

Conversion of the technology shop to the library will include moving the library to a central location in the building, creating a multi-use space where meetings might even be held.

The work will include modernization, electrical system, lighting, mechanical and ventilation system upgrades, as well as new interior finishes, new bookcases and library furnishings, and a new research and media center.

Roger Smith of BBS outlined preliminary floor plans of how the new configurations might look but said the plans were by no means final and, if the bond was approved by voters, the firm would be back to finalize specifics and designs.

The total project cost is $9,765, 750, according to BBS.

Two sources of funding were outlined, including $2 million to be appropriated from the district’s capital reserve fund, and $7,765,750 from the issuance of bonds.

Also discussed was the tax impact of the proposal.

Currently, the district has a $14 million bond indebtedness that’s due to retire in June, 2018.

The tax impact to the average household in Southold for that present $14 million is approximately $204 annually. There have been two refinancings of the bonds over the past several years, to decrease costs as interest rates have gone down.

Should the new bond proposition pass, the tax impact on the average household assessed at $6,480 would be $130 annually for bond totaling $7,765,750.

First up will be public meetings on the bond proposition, with a public vote scheduled for December 8, from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Southold Junior-Senior High School gym.

Should voters approve the bond proposition, some work could begin immediately, using the $2 million in appropriated funds, the board said, with other projects to come after the current debt is retired.

The board could also consider a bond anticipation note, Smith said.

“This will take a few years to unfold,” he said.

Gamberg said the project has been “years in the works,” with some discussions about moving the library to its proposed space dating back some 20 years.

The changes, he said, are critical and necessary. “This is as important as it is exciting,” he said.

Not only will the plans enhance the educational experience for students and help to prepare them for an evolving world, but the improvements will serve to protect the taxpapers’ investments, Gamberg said.

He added that the $2 million appropriation from the district’s capital reserve fund was possible due to “prudent fiscal planning.”

Students today, he said, are no longer consumers, but “producers of knowledge,” and it is the district’s charge to prepare them for the shift, creating expanded research and classroom facilities.

BOE president Paulette Ofrias said many improvements, such as upgrades to the art room, have been discussed for years. “We’ve been really patient,” she said. But, she added, many other items on the “wish list” were put on hold, such as new tennis courts, as the district’s needs were prioritized.

“This has been years in the making and I think the time is right,” she said.

Improvements are necessary, BOE member Judi Fouchet  agreed. “We wouldn’t live in our houses for 50 years and not change things,” she said, adding that materials have modernized.

BOE member Scott Latham assured the public, “This is not a sandbag. We’re not trying to sneak it in when people go to Florida for the winter. It’s not disingenuous.” Instead, he said, the timing had everything to do with the calendar of when the district’s current debt is set to retire.

The entire board assured that many public meetings will take place before the December vote, giving residents as much time as they need to weigh in and let their concerns or support be heard.

BOE member John Crean said taxpayers have been “very good” to the district for many years and the district has been mindful of residents in kind.

It’s not unheard of, he said, “to ask for money every 20 years to upgrade a 100-year old school.”

Gamberg agreed and said in the climate of the state’s two-percent tax cap, other districts were following the same route. “We are not alone,” he said.

The board voted unanimously to authorize that the bond proposition go to a public referendum in December.