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Dec 20, 2017 12:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Moves Forward With $8.4 Million School Renovation

Superintendent Robert Long at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday. VALERIE GORDON
Dec 28, 2017 1:24 PM

The East Quogue Board of Education finalized its plans for a proposed $8.4 million elementary school renovation project on Tuesday night, and also scheduled the public referendum for this spring.

After unanimously agreeing to set the final cost of the bond at $8,428,025, which would be paid off over 20 years, board members then scheduled the public referendum for Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Eligible district taxpayers will be able to cast their ballots between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Central Avenue elementary school.

The board-approved work calls for the replacement of the elementary school’s portable building—currently home to administration offices and three classrooms—with a 5,100-square-foot permanent structure. That part of the project is estimated to run around $5 million on its own, according to district officials.

Additional work calls for the installation of a security vestibule in the school’s main lobby that would require visitors be buzzed into the school two times, the reconstruction of the school parking lot, and myriad interior renovations and space reconfigurations, according to John A. Grillo, owner of John A. Grillo Architects in Port Jefferson and the architect for the project.

Mr. Grillo, who did not attend Tuesday night’s board meeting, said on Wednesday that the permanent addition would allow for anticipated growing enrollment at the elementary school.

“I’m pretty confident that the community is going to support this,” Mr. Grillo said. “You’re talking about a 50-year-old portable building that has a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. They’re not meant to last—that’s why they call them ‘portables.’”

The district’s business administrator, Bruce Singer, explained on Tuesday that the cost of the bond will be entirely offset by the pending retirement of a separate $6.9 million school bond used to construct the north wing of the school in 1999. He added that “there will be no tax increase” if the new bond is approved in the spring, and that the district’s current tax rate of $11.50 per $1,000 of assessed value will remain the same.

Mr. Singer added that once the existing $6.9 million bond is retired, the district’s debt service will be reduced by about $500,000 annually. If it finishes paying off the earlier bond, scheduled to be retired in December 2018, without accumulating any additional debt, the district will no longer qualify for a $500,000 exemption.

Essentially, the district’s $24.4 million operating budget for the current year would see a $500,000 reduction starting in the 2018-19 school year, according to School Superintendent Robert Long. He added that school districts benefit when they have debt because they are then allowed certain exemptions that permit them to increase spending, with the state compensating them for the costs.

Board members said they are pleased with the plan they will present to taxpayers next year.

“I think we would get the best turnout then,” Board of Education President Christopher Hudson said, explaining the reason for the date. “We feel March sets us up for success.”

Though Tuesday evening’s meeting was sparsely attended, those who were present said they intend to support the project.

“We need it,” said Al Algieri, who serves as president of the East Quogue Civic Association.

Noting that he had already reached out to the leaders of the hamlet’s various community organizations, Mr. Long added that both Joan Hughes, chair of the East Quogue Citizens Advisory Committee, and Donna Lanzetta, president of the East Quogue Chamber of Commerce, were on board with the plan.

"This is a necessary expense," Mr. Lanzetta said. "The school is an integral part of our community. We can't skimp when it comes to our children."

Ms. Hughes could not be immediately reached on Wednesday.

If approved by taxpayers in March, the work is not expected to start until the 2020-21 school year, according to Mr. Grillo. He added that the renovations would take roughly 14 months to complete.

“The longer we wait, the longer it takes for the shovels to get in the ground,” added Board of Education member Brian Babcock. “We’re excited.”

According to a letter addressed to the board from an environmental consulting service, KGO Consulting Inc. in Uniondale, the proposed expansion and improvements are exempt from the normally mandated State Environmental Quality Review Act review. Kim Gennaro-Oancea, president of KGO Consulting Inc., who was hired by the district earlier this month for a cost of $850, explained in the same letter that the expansion would have to exceed 10,000 square feet to trigger such a review.

School officials, meanwhile, said they are eagerly awaiting the sprint referendum.

“A lot of work was taken to get us to this point,” Mr. Long said.

“All of our information is out there,” Mr. Hudson added. “We’re pretty confident.”

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