Sag Harbor School Board Receives Update on Stella Maris Project

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

Members of the Sag Harbor School Board received an update this week on construction progress at the Sag Harbor Learning Center, just a week after the board was informed by a Sag Harbor school business official that the project would cost millions more than anticipated when voters approved the project in 2016.

Tim Bowker, from the engineering firm C&S Companies, walked the board through a series of slides detailing work underway at the Learning Center, located in the former Stella Maris Regional School building on Division Street. According to Mr. Bowker’s presentation, the building’s new gymnasium is almost complete, with a new ceiling, paint and lighting already installed. Many of the rooms also have cabinets and some furniture in place, as well as toilets and sinks. Drop ceilings have also been installed on main floors and hallways, and the courtyard and playground area is also complete, Mr. Bowker said.

“We’re on schedule,” he said, noting lighting is 90 percent complete throughout the building and flooring is expected to be installed next week. He added that he still anticipates a completion date of December 31.

Board member Chris Tice, noting it had been almost two months since the board completed a walk-through of the building, asked if another could be scheduled.

The update came one week after former business administrator Jennifer Buscemi, who left the district in 2017 but still serves as a consultant, outlined the rising cost of the Learning Center project for board members.

According to Ms. Buscemi, the overall cost of the Learning Center now stands at $12.81 million. That is more than $2.5 million above the original $10.23 million bond voters approved in 2016.

Buying the school building cost $3.3 million, as expected. The original construction budget included in the bond was $6.34 million, mostly to cover the cost of rehabilitating the building to meet state requirements.

The bond also included about $600,000 for one of several “options” chosen by a community survey: to equip the building for prekindergarten and early intervention programs as well as to rearrange office space so that the middle school wing at Pierson Middle-High School could be expanded.

The cost of projects not included in the bond now stands at $2,576,967, according to Ms. Buscemi’s presentation on Monday, October 21. About $268,000 of the bond money is still available, while about $1 million worth of renovations are to be completed, including renovations planned in the future or “wish list” items.

In an email on Wednesday morning, Ms. Buscemi said the wish list items are not currently a priority, with the exception of the construction of a retaining wall at the rear of the school, which will replace an existing wall that had to be torn down due to its condition. That is anticipated to cost $125,000.

In her email, Ms. Buscemi said the board of education and the administration were unaware the project would be this far over budget when it went to voters in May 2016. She said it was only after the district hired a new architecture firm, the IBI Group, in the spring of 2017, and the facilities study was completed by former district architects, BBS Architects, that they learned necessary items were missing from that report and that the Learning Center was underfunded.

Items that are included in the project that were not included in the original bond include getting the building access and systems in line with the district’s current security system, at a cost of $125,833, replacing the public address system at a cost of $138,201, the replacement of the playground at a cost of $220,214 and casework for the classroom spaces, which cost $261,855.

Renovations to the auditorium and kitchen, which will cost $1.2 million, are listed as a future project for the building.

Many of those figures, noted Ms. Buscemi, were presented to the board of education and the educational facilities planning committee in October 2017.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Katy Graves said, based on discussions with the district architects and contractors, it is anticipated the building will be completed in late December with the business and district offices moving into the facility over the December break. Prekindergarten classes, said Ms. Graves, will be held at the Learning Center in January.

Additional reporting by Virginia Garrison and Elizabeth Vespe