By Christine Sampson
Following the community’s dramatic defeat in December of the Sag Harbor School District’s artificial turf athletic field proposal, school officials on Tuesday formally presented their back-up plan for a grass field at Pierson Middle-High School and several outdoor improvements at Sag Harbor Elementary School, which also requires voter approval.
Only two community members braved snowy weather to attend the forum, but Superintendent Katy Graves, school business administrator Jennifer Buscemi, and Sag Harbor Elementary principal Matt Malone were joined by the school board and other administrators and experts to break down the proposal that will appear on the ballot on February 15.
The community will vote on a change-of-use proposition that would give the district permission to spend the money initially earmarked for the artificial turf instead for natural grass at Pierson and a practice field, revamped multipurpose court and refurbished concrete plaza at the elementary school.
The money originally came from a November 2013 proposition, which the community approved, authorizing the district to borrow $1.62 million to pursue the synthetic turf field. But because it has spent about $26,000 so far on architectural, design, and legal fees related to the project, the amount that will appear on the February 15 ballot requesting residents’ approval for the change-of-use is $1,593,807. Of that, $1.45 million is earmarked for the project’s construction costs and contingencies.
A sketch of the Pierson project shows a 75-by-110-yard sod playing field behind the school, along with drainage and irrigation systems, plus a concrete stairway down from the middle school gym, a concrete plaza outside the cafeteria, a concrete pad for movable bleachers, a set of 240 movable bleacher seats, a scoreboard and fencing.
The design work at the elementary school has not been narrowed down yet. “We have to revote the funding before we design the project more fully. Right now there are no grass field drawings yet other than this sketch that was created to have a conversation,” said Larry Salveson of BBS Architects, which is managing the project for the district.
Ms. Graves said the multipurpose court and concrete plaza at the elementary school will be designed as delightful, educational spaces.
“We are reading more and more about moving away from screens and how children can move their bodies and learn through kinesthetics,” she said. “This is a great way for children to go out and enjoy themselves and learn at the same time.”
Diane Hewitt of Noyac said she was surprised to learn only the soccer teams would be able to play games on the Pierson field, although Eric Bramoff, the district’s athletic director and supervisor of buildings and grounds, said gym classes and recess periods could have access to the field as well.
Ms. Hewitt asked if the district would consider preserving the organic work The Bridge Golf Club had done pro bono with the district to begin improving the field.
Gregg Stanley, the superintendent of grounds at The Bridge, replied, “Given that it is an organic program I would encourage the district to get rid of the existing turf” and go with sod.
Ms. Hewitt also asked, “What if this gets voted down?”
“Then we go back to the drawing board,” Ms. Buscemi said.
“The funding would hold steady. … It would sit until the voters redirect it,” Ms. Graves said.
Some school board members raised questions over the cost of maintaining the grass fields. On Monday night, during a board budget workshop, Mr. Bramoff said an additional $1,000 had been budgeted for increased watering of the fields, $5,000 had been added for supplies, and that $5,000 had been budgeted for a consultant to train existing staff members on how to take care of the natural grass fields.
Ms. Buscemi said the district could expect to spend about 75 cents per square foot of field to maintain the grass, including supplies and staffing, which would total more than $111,000 annually, but Chris Tice, a school board member, pointed out that some of that money was already built into the budget as existing maintenance and groundskeeper salaries, supplies and equipment.
Ms. Buscemi also said these were conservative cost estimates. “The reason why I was told to use the high end of the scale was the location factor,” she said, referring to the higher prices that often occurs in building projects on the East End.
Dominic LaPierre, a member of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee, spoke up to encourage the district to put measuring tools in place to control costs. “It’s been a long haul to get to this point,” he said.