Bridgehampton School Budget Will Likely Pierce State Spending Cap

A slow-moving construction project at the Bridgehampton School means a baseball field will not be ready in time for the high school's new junior varsity team to host games. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

The Bridgehampton School District will hold its annual budget forum at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10. Superintendent Robert Hauser said this week that the district will allow up to 50 people to attend the forum in the new school gymnasium. The forum will also be livestreamed for those unwilling or unable to attend in person.

The district’s business official, Jennifer Coogin, said if the district adopted a proposed $20.8 million budget, it would pierce the New York State tax levy cap by $1.6 million. She said the tax cap is required to be the lesser of 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, a key inflation gauge, which was measured at 1.23 percent, the lowest since 2016. The district is also factoring in a reduction in state aid of about $100,000.

The district’s budget advisory committee has already suggested cuts that could total $665,000, but those are largely based on the pandemic ending, which would allow the district to reduce staff and eliminate temporary buildings that have been rented to provide space for teachers to use for remote learning classes, while classrooms are used for in-person instruction.

The School Board will hold a series of budget workshops this spring. The budget hearing will be held on May 5 and the budget vote will take place on May 18.

COVID-19 outbreaks and scheduling difficulties have combined to further delay the completion of the Bridgehampton School’s $29.4 million renovation and expansion project.

This week, Mr. Hauser said the interior of the school, which officials had hoped would be finished top to bottom by the end of February, might not be done until the end of April. While new classrooms have been completed, contractors have been slow in completing public spaces such as the auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium.

“In the gym, for example, the contractor is on site for two weeks to install the bleachers, which couldn’t be done earlier because of basketball season,” he said. Now, due to a problem with a divider curtain in the gym, the school has been forced to continue holding gym classes in a workout room, which, in turn, has made it necessary to delay installing the workout equipment due to be placed in that room. Another example, he said, was in the cafeteria, where the contractor had to stop work for two weeks because too many of his employees had contracted COVID-19.

With students in seventh through 12th grades set to return to school full time on Monday, Mr. Hauser said portable classrooms, which were set for demolition, will be pressed into service through the end of the school year, as the district provides additional space for instruction to meet social distancing guidelines. That, in turn, will delay the completion of an expanded parking lot on the west side of the building.

When the School Board discussed the building project, it was an exterior delay that caught the attention of board member Jen Vinski, who pressed architect John Grillo for an explanation of why a baseball practice field behind the school would not be ready in time for use by the high school’s new junior varsity baseball team this spring.

“Can you explain why this got held up?” she asked. “Why did this not get done with the completion of the rest of the project?”

Mr. Grillo said due to delays caused by COVID-19, contractors had to bring in extra workers. “There were so many men on site, they were literally parking in the outfield,” he said. Mr. Grillo said he did think the root system of sod planted this spring would knit to the soil in time to provide sound footing for athletic activities.

“It has been a really tough haul for these kids,” Ms. Vinski said, adding that the district looked high and low to find a regulation-sized field they can use to practice on. This week, Mr. Hauser said the tentative plan is to provide enough space for the new team to practice on, although all games will have to be at other schools.