The Bridgehampton School has been planning to bring back middle and high school students on a hybrid schedule after Thanksgiving, so when construction manager Robert Caliendo told the School Board on November 18 that contractors had told him they would not be finished with the district’s major new addition by mid-to-late February, there was silence.
“I hear crickets,” he said.
“We’re just stunned,” replied board member Jennifer Vinski. “We’re trying to digest this.”
But despite that initial shock, Superintendent Robert Hauser said things were, in fact, going as planned, and students in grades seven through 12 would be able return to school by December 2.
“This thing is being finished in sections,” he said, “and it’s being handed over to us that way.”
As part of the effort to bring the upper grades back to the campus, workers have focused first on completing the renovation of classes in the original building and are now putting the finishing touches on five new classrooms on the second floor of the addition, Mr. Hauser said. Work on a community fitness center that will be pressed into service for physical education classes while the gymnasium is being finished, will be completed by December 2, he added.
With heavy — and noisy — construction largely complete, Mr. Hauser said he was confident the remaining work would not disrupt classes. He said a night crew continues to work on converting the old gymnasium into an auditorium, library, and computer room to reduce impact on daytime school activities.
Workers are also converting three portable buildings into 24 small offices for secondary school teachers, who will return to school on November 30, the Monday following Thanksgiving. Those offices will give teachers space to prepare for in-person classes and allow them to present online classes without interrupting other students.
Students in grades seven through nine will be in one group, while students in grades 10 through 12 will be in a second group. Each cohort will attend on schedules alternating between two and three days per week.
A larger problem facing the district is whether enough students will decide to return for in-person classes. Principal Michael Miller said that among 49 students in grades seven through 9, only 12 had indicated they would return to campus, while 13 have opted to continue studying remotely. Another 24 students have yet to decide. Among the 42 students in grades 10 through 12, only 14 have indicated they will return, while 21 plan to study remotely, and 14 have not yet informed the district of their plans.
On Friday, Mr. Hauser said he had been notified that two more high school students have decided to return, and added that he expects undecided students to wait until the last minute to decide.
He said so far, only one student and one staff member have tested positive at Bridgehampton. Safety protocols, including temperature checks, are in place, and when secondary students return, they will have disposal sheets of paper to cover their desks and be issued folding Plexiglas shields that they can take from class to class, he said.
“I’m not hearing of any district in Suffolk County where it is really spreading inside the walls of the schools,” he said of COVID-19. “It is students and staff who come to school who have it.”
The addition was originally slated to be completed by October, but the pandemic put a halt on everything from on-site construction to the production of raw materials needed for the project, Mr. Caliendo told the board. He added that the delays were largely beyond contractors’ control.
Mr. Hauser said the original contract called for the project to be completed by December 31, but said he was confident workers would be hitting punch lists and cleaning up during those extra weeks.