Stella Maris Project Already Over Budget

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The former Stella Maris Regional School is in the process of being renovated and upgraded by the Sag Harbor School District. Christine Sampson photos

By Christine Sampson

The Sag Harbor School District has yet to put a shovel in the ground on its Stella Maris project, but parts of it may be shelved temporarily because an updated cost estimate by the district’s architects appears to top the existing budget. The project is also running late on its original timeline due to an anticipated approval backlog at the state education department, according to the district’s architects.

Ed Bernhauer and Bill Sands with BCK-IBI Group, the Binghamton-based architectural firm hired to oversee the project, delivered the news during Monday’s Sag Harbor School Board meeting.

“As we know, there are a lot of different ideas and thoughts. … All of the wonderful ideas exceed the budget,” Mr. Bernhauer said.

The process started with a set of estimates put together by the district’s previous architects, which broke down costs that school officials used to project how much money to request in Sag Harbor’s May 2016 bond referendum. The community approved $10.23 million for a place to base an early childhood education center and business office and to bring in revenue by leasing space to a local day care provider. Of that sum, $3.3 million was spent to buy the Stella Maris property from St. Andrew Church and $1.04 million is earmarked for soft costs such as engineering and architectural fees. Of the remaining money, $5.9 million was earmarked for construction, with contingency funds available as well.

An updated Stella Maris building condition survey, presented to the school board over the summer, identified $6.3 million in necessary construction work. Another survey, completed by BCK-IBI Group, upped that number to $7.2 million but broke it down into two categories: Work that needs to be completed immediately to bring the building up to state education department standards, for $5.5 million, and less urgent work not strictly related to code compliance, for $1.7 million.

School business administrator Jennifer Buscemi said it’s possible the district can use repair reserve funds or budget regularly for some of the items in the second part of that list.

Superintendent Katy Graves said Wednesday it is not possible to directly compare the two building surveys because the most recent one was extremely in-depth, whereas the other was not as comprehensive. She said she does not consider the project to be over budget.

“He wasn’t saying all of the wonderful things can’t be done. It just can’t be done right now,” she said. “We can’t burden the taxpayers. We have to work within the budget. We can budget and allocate for goals moving forward. Our eye tends to be distracted by what we can’t do, but what they’re doing is substantial. I think that we’re going to have a highly useful facility for the community and the school district.”

The updated cost estimate includes items that previously were not on the list at all, most notably a sprinkler system for the basement at $252,828 and air conditioning, which is required for facilities serving children up to age 4, at $327,319. Ms. Graves said the previous architects only examined the New York State Education Department standards, whereas the current architects incorporated those governing day care centers as well, since the district anticipates leasing space to a local day care provider.

Some school board members expressed concern that the architects classified the playground replacement, estimated at $218,213, as a project that could be completed at a later date.

“We can’t open the space without an outdoor play area,” board member Chris Tice said.

The new estimates also separate “future projects” such as commercial kitchen renovations at $581,900, gym/auditorium lighting and sound at $133,837 and more.

The original timeline anticipated 20 weeks of review by the state, but Mr. Sands said that is up to 32 weeks now and is out of their control. Whereas construction was initially planned for April to August in 2018, it is now targeted at June through November.

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