Board Votes To Move Forward with Semkus Memorial

Alex Kriegsman was sworn is as vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board by District Clerk Victoria Handy. Elizabeth Vespe photo

Michael Semkus of Sag Harbor was just 28 years old when he fatally overdosed in 2016. Today, his friends Drew Harvey and Nicholas “Nico” McMahon are determined to construct an athletic workout station in Mr. Semkus’s honor at Pierson Middle-High School, where Mr. Semkus was a student, athlete, soccer coach and substitute teacher.

But they wanted a go-ahead from the Sag Harbor School Board last week, or they said they would consider other locations for the planned memorial. The board, after some discussion, voted to move forward with the project during its July 2 reorganizational meeting, where Mr. Harvey asked the board members when they’d be willing to vote on advancing the project to the next step.

The workout station would consist of a set of parallel bars, three pull-up bars and a natural rock donated by East Hampton Masonry, with a memorial plaque in memory of their friend, Mr. Semkus.

“We’d like to see the vote happen, or we will, unfortunately, look to other areas for the project,” Mr. Harvey told the board.

He explained that architects working with his nonprofit estimated the project to cost somewhere between $7,500 and $12,000, adding that licensed professionals and architects who are involved with the nonprofit could provide drawings and three-dimensional renderings to alleviate costs to the district.

Mr. Harvey explained that materials have already been purchased for the athletic station and drawings could be produced within 24 hours.

“We’d like to see that vote happen so we know the School Board is in support of this project. We don’t want to see it pushed off,” he said, noting that the board doesn’t reconvene until their August meeting.

A half hour after Mr. Harvey and Mr. McMahon exited the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Katy Graves explained that the school architects, who’ve been occupied with work surrounding the Sag Harbor Learning Center, took time away to discuss the potential workout station with the board.

Ms. Graves explained that the memorial would not have to be reviewed by the State Department of Education since it is site work only, and the next step would be for the district to put out a request for proposals for more competitive pricing.

Ms. Graves said that work could start immediately with district authorization following a designed plan for the site, construction documentation and an RFP. As for a time line, the construction contract could take about two weeks, the RFPs could take another two weeks, and construction of the site could take one to two weeks, she explained.

Although the men offered their own architects to draw up the plans, Ms. Graves said the school’s insurance company and attorney would likely turn down their architectural plans due to liability issues, since they are not affiliated with the school.

Board member Brian DeSesa asked Ms. Graves to ask the school architects to possibly look over the architectural plans to save money, which she agreed to with no guarantee of a go-ahead.

“I would hate to wait to the end of August,” Board member Chris Tice said of moving forward with the memorial. “If the board wants to proceed, the summertime is a great time to do it while the kids aren’t out there.”

“We’re not voting to spend dollars right now,” Jordana Sobey, who was elected board president at the July 2 meeting,  said in response to Ms. Tice. “We’re just voting to move forward with the idea and explore the next steps.”

Although Mr. Harvey and Mr. McMahon offered to have volunteers build the workout station, because it will be on school property, it can’t legally be installed by volunteers.

“We don’t know what those costs are yet, so it’s hard to say that we authorize it without knowing what the costs are. It’s a project that seems to be valuable for many reasons,” Ms. Tice added.

“I would hope that we can find a way to move forward on this because I think it’s valuable to our community and our students,” she explained, adding that other high schools and middle schools have track courses, playgrounds, and other areas for students to exercise.
“It’s something very meaningful for the school and the community,” board member Yorgos Tsibiridis added.

“We’d have to prioritize, something else would have to go. We have a limited budget,” Ms. Graves said, adding that she believes the project will cost closer to $25,000. “This has touched people’s heartstrings.”

Ms. Sobey made a motion to move forward with exploring the next steps with costs to the district not exceeding $12,500, and the motion was accepted.

“I think it should be a bigger number,” Ms Tice, being the only one to vote against the measure, added. “We don’t have a meeting for eight weeks. I’m worried that time is of the essence … I fear that this is going to derail the project.”

Before ending the conversation, Ms. Sobey added, “If they want to hold a fundraiser, I will be there and personally donate. Hopefully, the rest of the community wants to get behind it so we can make it happen.”

In other board news, in addition to Ms. Sobey being named president of the board, Alex Kriegsman was voted in as vice president.