Riverhead voters gave two thumbs-down to the school district’s multimillion dollar capital construction plans Tuesday, rejecting two bond propositions by wide margins.
Proposition 1, to authorize the expenditure of $88,249,340 to address spatial needs, infrastructure and security issues, fell by a vote of 2,626 to 1,151 (70% to 30%).
Proposition 2, to authorize $8.8 million in athletic facility improvements, additional parking capacity and a “fairgrounds” entrance, went down by a vote of 2,775 to 993. (74% to 26%).
There were 250 absentee ballots cast in the election.
School board members, district administrators and faculty absorbed the vote results in stunned silence as the vote results were projected onto a screen in the cafeteria at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School Tuesday night about half an hour after the polls closed.
“The community has spoken,” Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said. “We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and try and come up with solutions that the community will buy into,” she said.
Voter turnout for Tuesday’s bond vote was lower than turnout in the last two construction bond votes a decade ago. In February 2010, 4,626 votes were cast and a $78.3 million bond proposition passed 2,330 in favor and 2,096 against. In October 2011, there were 3,659 votes cast, with voters shooting down a $124 million capital plan 2,274 to 1,385.
In the proposal turned down Tuesday, the district sought to address overcrowding at the high school and Pulaski Street Elementary School, which are both at or over capacity. School enrollment has grown more than projections used in 2010 and the high school has been especially hard hit.
The plan would have added 32 classrooms at the high school and 10 at Pulaski.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed,” Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Gregory Wallace said. “It’s up to the voters and the voters said no. We’ll make it work for the children of Riverhead. It’s not the first time we faced adversity and we’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he said.
School board president Greg Meyer said the board would go back and develop new plans.
“It’s disappointing, but we’re not going to give up,” he said.
Meyer pointed to the board’s experience with bond votes in 2010 and 2011. In February 2010, voters rejected 62% to 38% a $123 million bond proposition to finance district-wide improvements and expansion. The board, with the assistance of a community task force, devised a scaled-back, $78.3 million plan that voters approved in October of 2011 — by a margin of just 234 votes (53% to 47%). A separate proposition authorizing the construction of a second gym at the high school was turned down in 2011.
“We’re all about supporting the needs of our students,” Henriquez said. “That’s what we’re here for. Students are our number one priority.”
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