Sag Harbor Moving Forward with More Learning Center Renovations

Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Katy Graves in the gymnasium of the Stella Maris Regional School building during a 2017 tour. Michael Heller photos

The Sag Harbor School District has decided to move ahead with a second slate of renovations at the Sag Harbor Learning Center, formerly known as the Stella Maris Regional School, following a lively debate and split vote during Monday’s school board meeting.

On a 4-2 vote, with board member Susan Lamontagne absent and board members Chris Tice and Brian DeSesa voting “no,” the board authorized the district to spend $348,239 for a list of improvements to “Sage Hall,” which is the school’s gymnasium.

Superintendent Katy Graves made a pitch for the additional work, saying, “I’d like to seize the day while it’s still a construction zone. It’s a dated space. It looks dated, it feels dated and this investment would make it a truly beautiful and very safe space.”

She previously told the school board she would not feel confident allowing the district’s youngest students, its prekindergarten classes, to use the gym space because it did not have certain types of doors and other security features.

She anticipates that the new improvements will run concurrently to the renovations already under way. The new work includes flooring replacement with asbestos tile abatement for estimated $140,000; door replacements for $40,000; a new suspended ceiling with LED lighting for $72,000; new wiring as well as wireless connectivity for $5,000; a new $12,000 security system, and a $5,000 public address system.

The roof over the gym will also be replaced at a cost of $165,761, money which Ms. Graves said will be spent from the district’s general fund. Additionally, on a separate vote, also 4-2, the board approved a kitchen walk-in cooler and freezer for the basement kitchen with a pricetag of approximately $75,000.

Ms. Graves said the money to pay for the upgrades will come from surpluses that were the result of extra tuition money from out-of-district students as well as the district’s transportation contracts with other school districts.

Mechanical repairs of the air conditioning units at a cost of $75,000 were postponed on a suggestion from board vice president Jordana Sobey. The board opted to explore a cost-benefit analysis of a full replacement of the system, which had not yet been presented.

“I’m all for ripping off the Band-Aid and getting this done so that it’s not going to drag on for years,” Ms. Sobey said of the new slate of improvements.

Board president Diana Kolhoff agreed.

“If we can get Sage Hall up to where it should be, it can be a revenue generator,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “If we put that off, we’re almost missing out on some opportunity … to capture that money back.”

Board member Alex Kriegsman also agreed and raised the point that “if you’re doing a renovation, it’s better to do everything at once.”

“It’s disruptive to do any of these things after the building is already open, and will cost more to do them separately,” he said.

Board member Susan Schaefer said she’d like to see the facility “get its full potential use. … In order for that to be fully utilized, it’s a space that needs to be done.”

Mr. DeSesa and Ms. Tice voted “no.”

Mr. DeSesa suggested the board put the money the district planned to use in a capital reserve fund, instead of spending it outright and then letting end-of-year surplus moneys replenish the district’s unassigned fund balance. Then, he said, the district would have to hold a referendum to allow it to spend the money on the Sag Harbor Learning Center, thus giving the community a chance to decide the fate of Sage Hall.

“I think we should do what’s necessary to open the building for children,” Mr. DeSesa said. “I think maybe the community sentiment has changed … and there should be a vote on spending it.”

Ms. Tice favored spending money to do just a handful of the upgrades, most specifically the roof and the security features, rather than all of them.

“I think we have to be really cautious about how much we spend and maybe do it in a phased approach that the community can weigh in on,” she said.

The board also received an update on the progress of the project from architect Ed Bernhauer of IBI Group. He said the construction is on time, with a completion date in August, and said that, “on the bonded side of the project” with all contractors in place and materials on the way, there will be a surplus of about $37,434 from the initial construction budget of $6.9 million. However, he acknowledged the district still needed additional funds, which have totaled $1,313,076 so far, to complete parts of the project, such as initial demolition, two rounds of asbestos abatement, security infrastructure and playground equipment.

Tenure Recommendations and Retirement Letter Accepted

Anita LaGrassa, who has worked in Sag Harbor as a teaching assistant for 10 years, notified the district of her intent to retire, and the administration made four recommendations for staff tenure appointments, all of which the school board approved on Monday.

Eric Bramoff received tenure as the director of athletics and wellness. School counselor Amanda DiNapoli, speech language pathologist Deborah Dooley and special education teacher Chelsea King also received tenure.

Garden, Activity Table Donation Accepted

Tal Litvin and Dana Gaskill donated $2,660 for the purchase of a shed for the elementary garden and greenhouse at Sag Harbor Elementary School, as well as $1,048 for the purchase of four activity tables at the school.

Ms. Tice thanked them for their donation on behalf of the board.