Sag Harbor Learning Center Delayed Once More By Faulty Retaining Wall

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

While residents in the Sag Harbor School District were told earlier this fall the Sag Harbor Learning Center would open this week, the board of education was informed an unforeseen issue with a retaining wall at the rear perimeter of the property will push back that opening for students into the 2020-21 school year.

The Learning Center, located in the former Stella Maris Regional School building on Division Street, which was purchased and partially renovated through a $10.23 million bond approved in 2016, will eventually house the district’s pre-kindergarten and day care program, as well as administrative offices.

Despite the delay, according to Ed Bernhauer, an architect with the IBI Group — a global architecture firm managing construction of the Center — construction in the building is on schedule. The district should have a certificate of occupancy for the building no later than January 2020. However, it was brought to the Sag Harbor School Board of Education’s attention at its Monday night meeting that a retaining wall on the perimeter of the property is in need of reconstruction as well, causing unforeseen safety concerns if students should move into the building before its completion, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols explained. Because of this, students may not move into the building until the 2020-21school year.

“There’s an existing wall that needs to be rectified,” Mr. Nichols said after an update regarding the Learning Center. Mr. Nichols said the existing retaining wall on a neighboring property has been deemed by the IBI Group architects as subpar. Mr. Berhnauer said the retaining wall doesn’t affect construction on the Division Street building, however, the wall doesn’t meet current building standards. Having large machines and construction happening at the Learning Center with students and staff around is a safety concern, Mr. Nichols said, noting that is the sole repair holding up the district from being able to move into the building.

“I concluded along with Mr. Malone that given the nature of the work that was going to transpire there that it would not be wise to move students in there until that work is completed,” Mr. Nichols said, noting that it could be a four-month process for the board to issue a request for proposals for the wall reconstruction, awards the bid and begin actual construction. As a result, Mr. Nichols said mid-April would be the earliest that the building would be appropriate for students to move in, and possibly later than that.

Board member Chris Tice said it’s important for parents to be aware of the further delay because many parents of prekindergarten students assumed their children would be moved into the Learning Center in January. Mr. Nichols said pre-kindergarten can remain at Pierson Middle-High School for the time being, adding there is no sense of urgency to move students into the building during April or May, even if the district has a certificate of occupancy.

“It’s pretty invasive and you have pretty big machines back there,” Mr. Nichols said. “I wouldn’t want pre-k students, or daycare, or even employees there until it’s complete.”

Board member Alex Kriegsman said he appreciated Mr. Nichols bringing this issue to everyone’s attention.

Mr. Bernhauer added that they’re confident the building itself will be completed by December 31.

In other school news, a few audience members at Monday’s meeting as they felt the district didn’t follow correct hiring procedures in the hiring of an assistant business administrator position. According to board member Chris Tice, the district posted the job last Wednesday, but made the hire that Friday. Legally, the school district must have a job posted for two weeks, giving people a longer chance to apply.

On Monday, Laurie Baum, who was previously serving as the assistant to the school business administrator, was appointed as the new school business administrator effective December 17 at an annual salary of $165,000 for the 2019-2020 school year.

Mr. Nichols said that administrators started interviewing for the role of business administrator months ago when the vacancy first came up. He said two candidates met the qualifications — Ms. Baum and Rascheda Wallace, who was appointed as assistant to the school business administrator at Monday’s meeting at an annual yearly salary of $119,000.

Board member Yorgos Tsibiridis voted against Ms. Baum’s hiring with both Mr. Tsibiridis and Ms. Tice voting against Ms. Wallance’s appointment.

Also, Monday’s meeting was Eleanor  “Ellie” Tritt’s first board meeting as interim superintendent, following current superintendent, Katy Graves, medical leave of absence last month and upcoming retirement in early January.

“After being here for just two days, the most striking feature is how well the staff works together,” Ms. Tritt said.