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File photo: Peter Blasl

It’s decision time in the Riverhead Central School District.

The fate of a proposal to renovate, upgrade and expand school district facilities will be decided by district voters today. Carrying a price tag of $123.9 million, the plan would add 53 classrooms spread across six of the district’s current school campuses.

The need for more classrooms is dire, district officials say, pointing to a surge in school enrollment of more than 1,100 students in the past 20 years. That has forced the district to add portable classroom trailers to several campuses and convert storage and other spaces to classrooms and instructional areas.

“We should not be teaching our students in closets and basement utility rooms,” said district superintendent Diane Scricca, who has made presentations to nearly 20 civic, service and PTO groups throughout the district over the past month.

The plan also calls for the construction of new music, athletic, art and support spaces to each of the six schools and a new synthetic turf athletic field at the high school campus on Harrison Avenue. Extensive renovation and upgrading of the district’s school facilities, which officials say have suffered from deferred maintenance for decades, is also incorporated into the proposal, including items such as window and door replacement, HVAC upgrades and the installation of emergency generators and photovoltaic cells.

The Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, built in 1925 and out of compliance with current state standards for classrooms and the Americans with Disabilities Act, would be converted to an administrative office building , where administrative offices, currently housed in trailers on the district’s main campus, would be consolidated.

The district expects to receive approximately $25 million in state building aid for the project, and would finance the remaining 80 percent of the project cost with bond issuances over the next three years. District bond consultants project an average interest rate of 5 percent on the new bond debt, which would mean a tax impact on the district’s “average homeowner” of 56 cents per day, or $15.68 per month, beginning in 2012.

 

Some of the infrastructure repairs and upgrades, which account for nearly $23 million of the total project cost, are so urgently needed that, if the bond referendum fails on Tuesday, the items would have to be added to upcoming district operating budgets, according to Dr. Scricca. That would create a bigger burden for district taxpayers, she said.

The proposed project would be bid in phases over three years, requiring the issuance of three separate bond issuances

The district has mounted an extensive publicity campaign to gain community support for the plan, including direct mailings, community presentations, school facility tours, a “bond fair” and even a YouTube video.

Many of the events have been sparsely attended and community reaction to the proposal has been mostly low-key.

The manager of Riverhead’s AM radio station, WRIV, Bruce Tria, of East Quogue, has harshly criticized the plan on the airwaves. In particular, he has argued that the district should expand the high school by adding a third floor to the building, but district architects rejected that idea from the outset, after determining that the building would not support a third floor. Tria also criticizes the planned  conversion of the Roanoke Avenue school to offices and the construction of a $1.1 million artificial turf field. Tria is a former East Quogue school board member.

Polls will be open at the Riverhead High School gymnasium from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

 

See the district’s online Q&A

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.