By Kathryn G. Menu
For parents, driving past Pierson Middle-High School or Sag Harbor Elementary School during the month of August may have left them with a sense of foreboding — heavy construction equipment, plumes of dust and an army of hard hat construction workers dominated the landscape just weeks before school’s opening.
But on Tuesday, Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves said construction projects at both schools — approved by voters in 2013 at a cost of $7.36 million — would largely be completed in time for next Wednesday, September 7, when children step off the bus for the first time of the new school year.
“The child-occupied spaces will be completed on time for our children and faculty for the start of school, and for the sustainability of our community we will also be on budget,” said Ms. Graves. “That is because of very careful fiscal management working in cooperation with our business administrator, Savin Engineers, and our architects, as well as careful communication with our contractors on site. Cost overruns are something we like to keep to five percent, but, knock on wood, ours are currently below two-percent.”
“I am pleased with how well construction has been moving along within the budget,” echoed Diana Kolhoff on Wednesday morning.
The bond project — led by then Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso — was approved in November of 2013 by a wide margin, 740-369. A second proposition, for a synthetic turf field, was also approved that night, although narrowly, 585-507— it’s fate remains under debate by the board of education.
In addition to basic improvements such as building code compliance and window replacements, the first proposition included projects designed to enhance the curriculum for Sag Harbor’s students, such as renovations to the Pierson Middle-High School auditorium and technology classrooms. The plan also called for the reconfiguration of parking lots at both schools, to allow for safer egress for emergency vehicles, and Pierson kitchen was proposed to expand and adhere to health department codes. A storage room was also proposed next to the elementary school gymnasium.
Following the public vote, a planning phase began in January 2014, where a series of workshops were held regarding the bond plans prior to the design phase being completed and plans sent to the state education board for approval in late 2015.
In total, the first bond will cost $9.03 million. This includes budget line items in the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 spending plans for the elementary gym HVAC and security vestibule, a computer data closet air conditioning unit, the purchase and installation of a ventless cooktop, new tile for the elementary school entry way, supplemental funding for the elementary school parking lot and funding for the high school gym roof clerestory window at a total cost of $882,000.
In May, the board of education approved an additional $645,000 in repair reserve funding in an effort to include projects that were listed as “add-on” pieces by architect Larry Salvesen of BBS Architects. An additional $151,778 in unassigned fund balance was approved in mid-August, business administrator Jennifer Buscemi said on Wednesday, to complete additional projects.
These projects will include the construction of additional parking spaces in the Pierson Middle-High School’s Division Street lot later this fall, additional sidewalks and curbs along Jermain Avenue, a secondary bus lot entrance on Division Street and additional parking, sidewalks in the Hampton Street and Atlantic Street parking lots at the elementary school, and an archway portal and picket gate at the elementary school.
Of the awarded bids, there have been a total of 13 change orders— two which did result in savings — for an overall cost overrun of $81,346.40. These overruns, noted Ms. Graves, are for unforeseen kinks during the construction process. For example, drywells — not visible on any old site plans — were discovered in the plaza of Sag Harbor Elementary School and had to be removed and relocated. Air conditioning units had to be upgraded for a new server room to ensure the servers would stay at optimal temperatures. Most recently, a fuel tank — intact and not leaking — had to be removed from the elementary school parking lot, unknowingly underground for several decades before it was discovered earlier this month.
By comparison, the addition to Pierson Middle-High School, approved by voters in 1999, and later constructed after the district ran into a tumultuous bid process amid rising construction costs, included 91 change orders, according to New York State Department of Education data.
According to Ms. Buscemi, for this project, the district set aside an industry standard 5 percent into a contingency account, which currently has an additional $393,820.41 in it.
“Any construction project with more than 5 percent in change orders could indicate poor upfront project planning and design,” said Ms. Buscemi “Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances and discovered job conditions that may occur during a project which could blow the entire budget out of the water.
Whatever funding is leftover, she said, could be used for projects like windows on the Clinton Street side of the elementary school — the rest of that school building will have its windows restored after school hours early in the school year, according to project manager Michael Melocoton with Savin Engineers.
What also will not be completed in time for the school’s opening is Pierson’s auditorium and an adjacent courtyard addition, which will a backstage area complete with dressing rooms and bathrooms. The auditorium project will be completed when seating arrives in October. During a Sag Harbor School Board meeting on Monday night, Mr. Melocoton estimated it would be finished by the third week of October, in time for the high school musical performance in mid-November.
Despite ongoing construction, walking along the Pierson Middle High School lot on Jermain Avenue, Ms. Graves was clearly thrilled with the results.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” she said. “And the best part is this is going to make our children so much safer this year.
“This keeps children on the right side of the vehicles when walking throughout our parking lot, as compared to 50 years ago when it was built,” said an equally enthusiastic Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone surveying the new lot there on Tuesday. “It gives us a better turning radius for our buses, and the way parking is placed this will improve site lines overall. Overall, it’s just going to be a lot safer.”