Former Stella Maris School Gets New Name — and New Construction Estimate

The former Stella Maris School on Division Street. Express stock photo

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, the Sag Harbor benefactor who lived from 1828 to 1918, built the John Jermain Memorial Library and named it after her grandfather; donated the money to build Pierson Middle-High School, named for her ancestors; donated the land for Mashashimuet Park, and accomplished many other philanthropic efforts.

Finally, more than 100 years after her death, something in Sag Harbor has been named in honor of Mrs. Sage herself: “Sage Hall.”

Sage Hall is the expansive auditorium-gymnasium in what is now to be known as the Sag Harbor Learning Center, formerly the Stella Maris Regional School building, which the Sag Harbor School District purchased in 2016 from St. Andrew Catholic Church for $3.3 million.

The Sag Harbor School Board on Monday voted unanimously to rename Stella Maris the Sag Harbor Learning Center and to separately name its auditorium-gymnasium for Mrs. Sage.

“I was so pleased the board was able to come up with a name, and I’m really pleased with Sage Hall,” school superintendent Katy Graves said Wednesday. “It honors Mrs. Sage, who was such a benefit to the community. I just am so glad because we’ve been calling it ‘former Stella Maris’ and now this vision of the building that now belongs to the district and to the community is starting to take shape. That’s exciting.”

The Sag Harbor Learning Center, a name developed through an extensive survey and analysis process by the district’s Educational Facilities Planning Committee, was the subject of a wide range of discussion, from architectural budget updates to project timeline to newly estimated operating expenses, during Monday’s school board meeting.

Architect Ed Bernhauer of the IBI Group, which is managing the Learning Center renovations, offered the school board a revised construction budget that is about $1.48 million over the previous construction budget of $6,901,805, which was approved by the community in a May 2016 referendum. The new budget, $8,385,964, includes general fund allocations for asbestos abatement, safety and security upgrades, electronic infrastructure and playground equipment. The district has already spent or encumbered $999,092.

A handful of projects have been broken out into “future phases” of construction, including commercial kitchen equipment ($581,900) and renovations to Sage Hall ($192,027), as well as a new mechanical system ($269,128) and theatrical lighting and sound system ($133,837) for Sage Hall.

Despite the higher revised construction budget, Ms. Graves said “I can’t say we’re over budget, because we haven’t gone out for bid yet.”

Ms. Graves said the district can still accommodate the major overhaul needed to bring the building up to New York State standards for schools within the existing, voter-approved budget. She said the administration is committed to not reaching out to taxpayers with a request for a new bond during this phase.

“We promised to bring that school up to New York State standards for safety and security for daycare and prekindergarten, and to move the business offices down so we can have the middle school,” she said. “We have done those things. … It is an older building, and like all of our buildings, we will continue to need to invest in them.”

Board member Chris Tice on Monday was critical of the expenses that have gone beyond the initial construction figure. “It’s still taxpayer money,” she said.

Mr. Bernhauer said Monday the district’s next step is to go out to bid for the major contracts the week of February 11. He said IBI Group is planning an onsite walk-through with potential contractors the week of February 25, with bid openings the week of March 4.

In November, Mr. Bernhauer estimated the building would be done by July of 2019; on Monday he pushed that back slightly to August 1.

He also recommended the board approve additional money to fix a roof leak that was recently identified, as well as money to replace the roof over the auditorium.

However, because the board had recently approved about $400,000 to replace the roof over the classroom portions of the building, which is already under way, board member Susan Lamontagne criticized the process. Some board members had thought they approved money for the whole roof to be replaced.

“I feel like a game got played here,” Ms. Lamontagne said. “We’re being put in an impossible position and I really have issues with the way it has been done. I don’t feel it has been up-front with taxpayers.”

The board ultimately gave the architect the green light to request permission from the New York State Education Department for additional changes to the already-approved roof plans.

Some board members also took issue with the fact that the plans no longer include a full commercial kitchen, but Ms. Graves assured them it was still in the long-term plan for the new facility.

Dr. Philip Kenter, Sag Harbor’s school business administrator, unveiled a full estimate of operating costs for the first time for the former Stella Maris building. Previously, since the building has not been occupied full-time in quite some time, school official have said they did not build the full slate of necessary expenses into the budget.

Heating oil will cost an extra $8,000, up to $22,000, while electricity will cost an additional $26,400. Gas for the building will cost about $18,000, while water will cost $1,200. Trash hauling will add $12,000 to Sag Harbor’s total garbage tab, up to $52,000, and cesspool service will add $3,000. Salaries for a custodian, nurse and security guard at the new facility — and possibly other staff members, school officials said Monday — will also impact the district’s bottom line.

Ms. Tice suggested Dr. Kenter form a separate presentation that isolates the new facility’s expenses, which would help inform the public as well as the district itself. She reminded the administration they had pledged doing so to the community when they first brought up the idea of purchasing the building.

“I think it would be helpful to pull [the expenses] out and note them … considering this is the year we’re breaking ground,” she said.