School board president Greg Meyer at the Nov. 5 forum on capital improvements. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

The Riverhead Central School District has settled on the bond proposal it will ask residents to approve for the upgrade and expansion of facilities to address the district’s rising student enrollment.

The finalized proposal, presented Tuesday night by BBS Architects at a public forum at the high school — revised multiple times based on community feedback since early September when it was first unveiled –would split the bond project into two propositions for voters to consider next year at a special election. 

Proposition 1, at a cost of $85.9 million, would address “critical” items such as spatial, infrastructural and security needs, while Proposition 2, at a cost of $8.8 million, would isolate “essential” elements of main campus planning such as sports field improvements, parking expansion and other similar items. 

Proposition 1 — at a total cost of $85.9 million financed by bonded borrowing— proposes the following in order to meet projected peak enrollment in the next five to 10 years:

  • High school expansion, currently at 98% capacity: the addition of a two-story classroom wing with 24 classrooms, plus support spaces, new cafeteria and serving line and additional gym lockers. Total cost: $40.4 million
  • Pulaski School expansion: the addition of 10 classrooms, plus physical education space. Total cost: $16 million
  • Phillips School expansion: removal of three classrooms currently housed within modulars and relocation into new permanent spaces within the building. Total cost: $2.1 million
  • Roanoke School expansion: Creation of four support spaces at the upper mezzanine balcony. This would open up two existing full size classrooms for capacity. Total cost: $513,658 
  • Pupil Personnel Services: New 7,000 sq. ft building next to district office (currently located in the old modulars on the south side of the high school, where new expansion would go.) Total cost $3.9 million
  • Demolition of old high school south portables (currently houses PPS). Total cost $211,125
  • Parking lot construction to accommodate new expansions. Total cost $675,000
  • District-wide safety, security and ADA requirements. Total cost: $3.3 million
  • Capital projects: Infrastructure improvements and replacements at all buildings, which include roofing systems, replacing boilers, renovating toilets, among other changes. Total cost: $19 million

Proposition 2 — at a total cost of $8.8 million financed by bonded borrowing— proposes the following improvements:

  • McKillop Field synthetic turf conversion. Total cost : $2.2 million
  • McKillop Stadium construction of an eight-lane running track and field. Total cost : $3 million
  • Varsity baseball field improvements. Total cost : $1.3 million
  • Construction of multi-use courts. Total cost : $350,000
  • Parking expansion and bus parking at Pulaski School. Total cost: $650,000
  • “Fairgrounds” entrance. Total cost: $250,000
  • Middle school baseball field improvements. Total cost: $265,000
  • Varsity softball field improvements. Total cost: $650,000

School board president Greg Meyer explained that unless Proposition 1 is approved, Proposition 2 cannot be voted on its own. Meyer also said that although both propositions were very important, the board decided to split the proposal as a result of community input, which had prioritized student space and learning. 

Two parents in the audience said that they considered athletics as important as other areas, and that they would vote for both propositions. 

“For some kids it’s music or science, or something else, and for others it’s sports, and we desperately need to do something especially for the baseball fields,” a mother of a Riverhead school student said. 

One of the biggest changes in the final proposal is the elimination of construction of a new district office, a savings of about $7.7 million. 

However Meyer warned that even though the construction of a new district office was being eliminated, it would be an issue that “voters would need to deal with down the road.” He said that the structure, which consists of modulars dating back to the 1970’s, is not sustainable long term and a plan for a new district office would need to be made.

“We have talked about as a board to go to the voters this year to ask for us to establish a reserved fund that will let us use some reserve monies to focus on a new district office,” he said. “It’s not going to happen now, because everybody told us to pull it out, but it’s going to have to happen at some point.”

Meyer said that they would consider, at a future date, to look into several options for a new district office, which might include a relocation to Main Street.

Construction of a “field house” indoor athletic facility and a new pre-kindergarten wing at Phillips Avenue school were also eliminated after receiving negative input from the community, Meyer said. 

Community members also strongly rejected the idea of combining the student populations of Pulaski Street Elementary School and Riverhead Middle School, to create two buildings to house grades 5 through 8, Meyer said. The new proposal goes back to keeping Pulaski School as a 5th to 6th grade school only, which is significantly more expensive. 

With Pulaski school currently at a 114% capacity according to data from a Western BOCES study, spatial adjustments would need to be made, which would add an additional $16 million—$12 million more than combining the 5th through 8th grades option—, district architect Kevin Walsh told the group. 

“We listened to the community,” Meyer said. “This is something where we received a lot of input on.”

Although several members of the audience proposed other additions and changes to other schools and buildings, Meyer emphasized several times the importance of a long range planning demographic study completed by Western BOCES in June. 

Meyer said that the study was “the holy grail” in terms of planning for the school district’s future and be prepared and the district could not deviate from it to include “what if” or “just in case” changes. He also explained that, financially, all proposals had to be based necessarily on this study, otherwise the state would not grant any aid to the district. The study marks September of 2023 as a critical date, when enrollment is projected to peak. 

“The bottom line is that we need this,” Meyer said. “We know we have spatial concerns and we have an enrollment problem. The question is: how do we fix it?” 

Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider said that there is nothing on proposition 1 that is not “aidable by the state,” and that items on proposition 2 could also be potentially offset by state aid. 

Schneider said that the district took a look at the tax impact costs for homeowners. He said that with the latest revised numbers, the average assessed value of a home in Riverhead, not the market value, was $43,000. At the peak of the impact of the bond, he said, the average assessed house would have a tax impact of $195 per year for proposition 1 and for proposition 2 it would be $36 per year on average. 

“If your house is worth more or less you have to extrapolate from that,” Schneider said. “But again, people can contact my office once the bond is adopted by the board to get a specific number for your property.”

Schneider said that the tax impact would first be noticed by taxpayers around four to five years after the bond has been approved by voters. 

The bond proposal vote that was originally planned for January 2020 has now been moved to February 2020, Walsh said, which would allow to start occupancy of new facilities by September of 2023. The next available vote would be in May of 2020, which would push occupancy to September of 2024.

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria