At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Sag Harbor Superintendent of Schools Jeff Nichols gave a long awaited update on the district’s plans to move forward with renovations at Mashashimuet Park, and, along with Mashashimuet Park Board President Janine Rayano, gave an overview of what those plans would entail, and a timeline for a bond vote.
Nichols applauded both Rayano and the rest of the park board, as well as the school board, for their efforts in working together since the start of the school year to put together a plan for needed renovations and upgrades to the park facilities. At the end of the summer, after several tense weeks of negotiations, the district inked a one-year deal to renew its contract for hosting interscholastic sports at the park, with the understanding that significant improvements would need to be made to the aging facilities in order for the district to sign a long-term lease the following year.
Members of the school board and park board have been meeting on a near weekly basis since early September to hammer out the details of what a capital improvement project would entail, and Nichols shared the broad parameters that have resulted from those discussions on Monday night. He said the meetings have been “productive,” and added that the park board members — all volunteers, like the school board members — have been putting in a lot of extra time outside those meetings researching additional info.
Currently, he said, there is a “general template of what we envision the renovation plan to include,” but he cautioned that it’s possible not every item on the wishlist will ultimately be included.
The goal is to have two full baseball diamonds, which entails refurbishing one and adding another. That would include making sure the existing field is leveled out, and that new backstops, fences, and dugouts are built. There would also be necessary electrical and plumbing upgrades.
The plan also calls for the park to have two softball fields, including one that has been recently renovated and building another new one. There would also be one Little League field.
Nichols said one item that is high on the district’s wish list is the construction of a full-size track, with an eye toward a future where Pierson could host its own track and field teams rather than sending students to East Hampton to compete. The track would also benefit Pierson’s cross country teams, which could use it for training purposes. The track infield, made of natural grass, would be used as a playing field for other sports, like soccer and field hockey, and additional soccer and field hockey fields would be brought up to standards.
The renovation plans could also include lighting that would potentially allow for evening games, and Nichols said that new technological advancements in field lighting means the addition of lights would result in no negative impact on neighbors. A concession stand (with a location to be determined) and new bathroom facilities are also on the table.
The district will need to go out to the public for a bond referendum to pay for the upgrades, something Nichols said they’d like to do this year during budget season. It’s a tight timeline, and a lot has to fall into place to make that a reality.
Once the design is settled on — a process that Nichols said is close to completion — the district architect would need to look over the plans and make any necessary changes before sending the plans to the state for approval. Once approved, the district would notify the public by April 1 to have the bond referendum included in the May 17 budget vote. The biggest piece of information needed by that April 1 deadline, of course, would be the total dollar amount for the project.
While hoping to meet that deadline, Nichols added a word of caution.
“With regulatory approvals and reviews, any delay could result in us having to go out to the public at a later time,” he said. “But we’re hoping for a May vote.”
Board member Chris Tice asked to what extent members of the public would be allowed to weigh in with their thoughts and have any kind of say or input when it comes to the designs and proposed upgrades and changes to the facilities.
“My take is that it’s going to be different than a typical bond referendum where we invite public input,” Nichols said, pointing out that because the park is not part of school property, the park board is largely in charge of what ultimately happens, although he pointed out that the effort to make upgrades has been “collegial and collaborative.”
“Our role in this whole thing has been to articulate to the park board what the school district needs,” Nichols said. “They’re including us in the design, but ultimately it’s their decision as they move forward with it.”
Rayano said that aside from those parameters, the tight deadline also makes it difficult to engage public opinion in the form of a hearing or other community forum. But she said the board has the best interests of both the school district and the greater Sag Harbor community at the front of its mind.
“It definitely has been a cooperative effort to come up with a design that will satisfy the athletic program at Pierson and also serve the community,” she said. “Sag Harbor has grown, and the school population has grown, and so has the community. We’re hopeful that the particular type of development at the park will serve everyone. It’s a stroke of luck that we’re doing it now, because it does seem to be at a tipping point. We would feel terrible if the school’s events couldn’t be held in the village of Sag Harbor. The discussions have been fruitful, and we’re grateful that, knowing the park is of limited financial means, we’ve been given the opportunity to share resources.”
School Board Vice President Sandi Kruel has been deeply involved in the process, and said she’s excited for what the future holds.
“Being born and raised here, and knowing what the park is and wants to be, we’re working together to keep that and bring it into 2021,” she said. “It’s been a great collaborative effort. I can’t wait to get the plans to people. It’s going to be awesome, and it’s been great being a part of it.”