By Kathryn G. Menu
Residents in the Bridgehampton School District voted Tuesday night to approve a $24.7 million expansion and renovation of its Montauk Highway building, with a margin of just 32 votes moving the project forward.
The final vote had a total of 167 votes in favor of the bond project and 135 opposed to the expansion. Those totals included 12 absentee ballots in favor of the project, and 17 absentee votes against the proposal.
“This feels good. I still feel like there are too many ‘no’s.’ But we are here and the community spoke,” said Bridgehampton School Board President Ronald White after the vote totals were read by former school board member and current audit committee member Elizabeth Kotz. “Now it is onward and upward. Now we give this community, this district, a chance to really grow — something that has been needed since the 1930s.”
“I feel like the community has really backed us and supported us. To pass it the first time around is a tremendous feeling,” said Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, who emailed the full staff and faculty of the school directly after the vote. “Tomorrow will be an exciting day here at the school.”
The bond will fund the construction and renovation of the 86 year-old building, expanding the facility by 35,440 square-feet — almost doubling its size. Architect John A. Grillo, of Port Jefferson, developed draft plans for the expansion earlier this year that showed an addition off the rear of the existing building, which includes a new gymnasium, new locker rooms, a fitness room, and a number of classrooms that would provide state-of-the-art science classrooms and allow technology and shop classes to be moved out of the cellar.
The project also calls for the conversion of the existing gym into an auditorium — the school currently does not have one — as well as an expanded library to replace the current classroom-sized facility, a new music room, and a cafeteria. A number of classrooms on the main building’s second floor, which were divided into two to provide more space for an expanding curriculum, would be restored to their original size.
District officials say the project is necessary to accommodate growing enrollment, and to allow school facility to meet the demands of modern education. It will also bring several classrooms — including the pre-kindergarten — into the main building and out of temporary classrooms constructed decades ago to meet the demand for classroom space.
On Tuesday night, Dr. Favre said the district may reach out to stakeholders to tweak the design, but that the size of the project — and the price tag approved by voters — would not be altered in any way. The district will also need to get approval for the plan by the New York State Education Department.
According to a presentation given by Mr. Grillo in November, the goal would be to start construction early in 2018 and complete it by the start of school in 2019. The project is expected to cost the owner of a house valued at $1 million about $233 a year during the life of the 20-year bond.
“Peter Wilson at the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting said it best: this school has been iconic for some time and we have to continue to build on that,” said Mr. White. “This is a huge step forward in terms of us being able to build on our success.”
He added that the security of being able to house the district’s children in its main building, is an important step forward for Bridgehampton.
“In terms of security, this is big,” said Mr. White. “We all know what is going on in terms of this world today and to have more of an ability to really lock down our students in one building in the case of an emergency is really important. You don’t have kids potentially being locked out in transit between buildings, or, at the very least, we can significantly minimize that possibility.”
He added that with the expansion, the Bridgehampton School would be in a better position to absorb more students.
“I think we are still going to have conversations about consolidation and mergers, but what I think this expansion does is put Bridgehampton in a very good position in terms of being able to accept more students into the district, rather than have the conversation always be about us sending our children to other schools,” he said. “Our facility, although nice and in good condition — we have always taken pride in what we have here — it was difficult to consider accepting more children into our district. With this expansion, with the new developments and programming we will be able to do here, we will be in a position where we will be discussed as a place other districts can send their students.”