Bridgehampton Seeking More Funding for School Expansion Project

The Bridgehampton School. Michael Heller photo

The Bridgehampton School District has hit a snag as it embarks on its $24.7 million expansion and renovation plan — specifically, that that $24.7 million, approved by residents in December 2016, isn’t enough to cover the costs of all the pieces in the plan.

The Bridgehampton School Board met twice last week to begin the process of requesting more money from the community.

On Wednesday, after an executive session that followed the board’s first regular meeting of the new school year, the school board voted to reject the latest set of bids it received for the project after having published a second announcement seeking construction proposals. On Thursday, the school board met at approximately 5:30 p.m. in a meeting publicly announced at 4:30 p.m., and approved a resolution that set both a date for a community vote and a specific amount of money to request.

Voters will decide on approving an additional $4.74 million for Bridgehampton’s construction project on Thursday, September 13, which is the same day as the New York State primary election for state legislature offices.

According to Superintendent Robert Hauser, the first set of proposals received from contractors in early June came in at around $525 per square foot of building space, whereas they initially budgeted for $400 to $425 per square foot. With the bids averaging 20 percent over budget, Mr. Hauser said, they requested new proposals during the first week in July.

“When it was all said and done, they’re still over budget,” he said by phone on Friday. “Some of the contractors tried to tweak their numbers a little better, but in the end it wasn’t enough. The architect, as well as our bond counsel, suggested that we reject the bids again and that we go back out to the Bridgehampton community and request the additional funds.”

The Bridgehampton School District appears to have been caught up in the same complications that contributed to the demise of the Sag Harbor School District’s artificial turf field project — namely, a lengthy New York State Education Department approval process. Sag Harbor’s construction plans languished with the state for more than a year, which ultimately led to higher-than-anticipated cost estimates, which opened up a window of opportunity for parents who opposed the artificial turf to make their case that the project should be abandoned. Natural grass now grows behind Pierson Middle-High School, and the Sag Harbor School District is now facing a similarly long approval process for its building plans for the former Stella Maris Regional School.

Mr. Hauser said the extra money being requested is a worst-case scenario and that any unused funding would be returned to the community. The $4.74 million bond, over the span of 20 years, would cost about $30 per year for a resident with a house valued at $2.5 million. That would be on top of the approximately $200 per year already added to that resident’s tax bill for the original $24.7 million construction project.

Public forums will be scheduled so the community can vet the proposal, Mr. Hauser said.

“If the voters approve this, it could take another 60 days to award bids and start the construction,” he said. “The architect is somewhat concerned that in the next four months, the prices could go even higher with the current economy, market conditions and the way the steel tariffs are affecting materials. … Really the board of education felt this was really up to the voters to decide where they want this project to go. We really shouldn’t be scaling back the project from what they were originally told was going to be the whole scope.”

The “whole scope” is a 35,440-square-foot addition that more than doubles the existing building size, with significant renovation to the existing spaces. The school has promised its students a new gym, library, cafeteria, music room, fitness room, locker rooms and more. School officials have previously said the 1931 school building has had few physical improvements over the years, with the only extra space added via temporary, modular buildings erected on the campus.

But on a lighter note, Mr. Hauser said, the district already has its long-awaited building permits in hand, and can start construction very quickly if the new funding is approved and after contracts are awarded. He said the funding shortage seems to have delayed the initial December 2019 completion date by six months, but with a new June 2020 target, that might make for a natural transition to start the 2020-2021 school year with a shiny, new building.

“The more we think about this, if all the stars line up … there’s hope, a lot of potential positives,” Mr. Hauser said. “It looks that way, but this is subject to the voters’ approval.”