By Kathryn G. Menu
The Sag Harbor School District has yet to close on the former Stella Maris Regional School property on Division Street, almost six months after voters approved a $10.23 million referendum to purchase and upgrade the property from St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church.
On November 2, the board of education met in executive session to discuss real estate with its attorney, and during a board meeting on Monday, Superintendent Katy Graves confirmed the board had received an update from its attorney about the closing, although offered few details about the delay.
“It’s still in the process,” she said. “We are not looking at a closing for another few weeks.”
In May, district residents approved the referendum to redevelop the property. The approval provides funding for the district to purchase the property, bring the building up to state education standards and use it for programming, including the creation of full-day services for pre-kindergarten students, and expanded special education services.
On Monday, parent Greg Burton raised issues regarding another referendum — a ballot proposition voters will consider on December 14 to allow the district to use $365,000 from its Capital Reserve Fund to bolster a $1.62 million referendum passed in 2011 to install a crumb rubber synthetic turf field behind Pierson Middle High School.
Mr. Burton, who has two children, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the synthetic turf field. While approved in 2011, initial bids for the project came in well over budget. If approved by voters, the additional $365,000 will fund a scaled back synthetic turf field behind Pierson.
Mr. Burton read a letter to the editor he wrote that was published in the November 3 issue of The Sag Harbor Express. In that letter, Mr. Burton wrote that the infill — the crumbs between the blades of plastic grass — being considered by the board “are totally innocuous, and totally safe for the environment, with zero carcinogens.” Mr. Burton also noted the board opted for the “Cool Fill” infill, in which the crumb rubber is covered in an acrylic aimed at keeping the temperature of the field in check during hot days.
Some members of the board took exception to those statements in particular, with board member Susan Lamontagne asking board president Diana Kolhoff what members should do when the public presents statements that she called “false.”
Ms. Kolhoff said she felt Mr. Burton was reading his piece into the record, but added “We did not approve infill that was safe. There is no evidence the infill up for vote is safe.”
Ms. Lamontage added the $2 million federal government study into the possible health impacts of crumb rubber has yet to be completed, and that the Consumer Product Safety Commission — one of the government bodies completing the study with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control — announced in August previous research confirming the safety of crumb rubber was not comprehensive enough for the agency to determine whether the infill is safe.
“The community decides, not this board,” chimed in board member Stephanie Bitis.
On Tuesday, November 15, at 7:30 p.m., the Noyac Civic Council will host a presentation about the synthetic turf referendum at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse on Noyac Road. Ms. Graves and business administrator Jennifer Buscemi will discuss the issue at that meeting as will Patti Wood, the executive director of Grass Roots Environmental Education Organization.
The board also received a report from its external auditors, R.S. Abrams & Co., LLP, which gave the district a clean bill of health, financially speaking. One recommendation made was to ensure graduating classes vote on what to do with any extra funds left over at the end of their time at Pierson. According to the audit, the Class of 2016 left a balance of more than $12,000 in its account.
According to Ms. Buscemi, the district’s policy is any additional funds are rolled into the student council fund. Principal Jeff Nichols noted that fund can be used to help students in need of financial assistance.