Bridgehampton School Voters Approve $4.7M More for Construction

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District clerk Tammy Cavanaugh, left, and Elizabeth Kotz, right, counted the ballots by hand on Thursday. Christine Sampson photo

A loud round of applause broke out in the gym. There were high-fives and handshakes all around. There was a text message that said, “Wow, congrats, let’s get to work,” with a thumbs-up emoji from the school’s architect, John Grillo. The Bridgehampton School District had just earned approval for an additional $4.74 million for its major expansion and renovation project after two rounds of proposals from construction contractors came in over budget and led school officials to ask the community for more money.

At 57 percent voter approval – a slightly higher rating than the initial $24.7 million bond itself garnered when it was approved in December 2016 – the final result on Thursday was 132 in favor, 98 opposed to the additional funding.

“I’m very thankful,” school board president Ronnie White said after the vote results were announced. “The job has just begun. We have to continue to build and bring more awareness of how important our district is. I thank the community so much for getting this passed once again.”

He said he hoped to find a way to reach out to the 98 people who voted against the additional construction money.

“We’ve got to find a way to convert the 98 and get them to come in here and understand how serious it is,” Mr. White said.

Since the school district has building permits in hand, and does not have to wait for any approvals from the New York State Education Department, superintendent Robert Hauser said he anticipated advertising the project as open for bidding in Thursday’s editions of The Sag Harbor Express and The Southampton Press, the district’s two newspapers of record. The school board could award contracts to the lowest bidders as early as October 4. He said he hoped to “mobilize on the ground” around November 1.

“I’m looking forward to the excitement of a new future for the school,” Mr. Hauser said.

He admitted to being “overwhelmed” with gratitude, saying, “Once again the community rallied as a whole and came out to support the school, the students and the staff.”

That the $4.74 million bond would be approved was far from assured heading into Thursday’s vote. Just one week prior, the tone of a community forum about the additional money was somewhat tense as residents grilled Mr. Hauser and the school’s architectural, financial and legal team over the circumstances at hand. School officials had said a longer-than-anticipated wait time for the state to approve their construction plans ultimately led to higher-than-anticipated bids from contractors.

Thursday’s vote drew a lower turnout than the initial $24.7 million bond vote, which had been approved 167-135, and may have benefited from the overlapping evening scheduling of “Back to School” night, when parents had their first chance to meet their children’s teachers.

But had the $4.74 million bond failed on Thursday, Mr. White said, the backup plan would have involved scaling down the project so much that it might not have made any sense to build at all.

“The project was so tightly woven together,” he said. “All of the smaller things were on the outside shell, but it didn’t makes sense to do the major expansion without the littler things. We can’t only do the gymnasium and cafeteria and still have issues with the classroom sizes. Ultimately, it’s important to do the full package because it will be more functional.”

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