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Jun 12, 2018 3:53 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton School District Voters Speak Up About Building Plan Flaws

Southampton School Board Member James McKenna said at a meeting on June 5 that the voters spoke, though he was not sure what they said. GREG WEHNER
Jun 12, 2018 3:53 PM

It’s been nearly a month since Southampton School District voters soundly rejected a proposal to purchase a Narrow Lane home near the high school and convert it into administrative offices.

A handful of residents this week tried to offer some insight into why they voted against the deal.

For months leading up to the May vote, many voiced concerns about the proposal through letters to the editor, in full-page advertisements in The Press and through online comments on articles.

Some of the voters said they were concerned about cost. Some perceived a lack of transparency by the board. Others cited a potential new standard that would have become the norm if the proposal had been approved by voters.

Along with the $2.3 million purchase price of the home, district officials proposed spending an additional $2.9 million to renovate the single-family house into an office building, making the total cost $5.2 million. The renovations would have included filling in a backyard pool and creating an addition—which in some areas was expected to be two stories—linking the home and the garage. It also would have included office space and an elevator to ensure that the newly created offices were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Greg D’Elia, a resident of Southampton Village, told board members at a meeting on June 5 that he was concerned about the expansion and the precedent it could set.

He, like others, said he was concerned that a residential property would be converted into a commercial use without adhering to Southampton Village code. Instead, as Southampton School Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Dyno has said, the building modifications would only have to follow state zoning code, because the district falls under state regulation and is not subject to local zoning.

“I couldn’t have done the expansion on that property as an individual that you were talking about doing,” Mr. D’Elia told the board.

He also said he was concerned that the project seemed to be rushed through. “The reality is, one of the issues the community had with this was, some of them felt that this was being pushed on them,” he said. “A lot of them didn’t know about this until later in the game.”

Mr. D’Elia said he lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, during the offseason and found out about the board’s proposal from friends.

Julia McCormack, who lives in a condominium complex next door to the home, told board members at the meeting that she and other members of the complex where she lives were concerned about other things. “How it was presented to the public is part of what the issue has become,” she said. “Some of it was about issues of zoning, [and] some of it was about dollars to be spent.” She has been vocal about what she says was the board’s lack of transparency with the project, and its unwillingness to listen to input from the public.

Others say there were better options to meet the district’s needs.

Dale Berman, a resident of Southampton Village, said in an interview that the district would have been better off tearing out the current offices next to the intermediate school and having an architect design a building to fit that space. “I think it would be cheaper than buying a residence for $5 million,” he said.

He added that office space is available in the village that could have been used temporarily until a new building could be constructed. “In Manhattan, they rent space to schools all the time,” Mr. Berman said. “Everything can be done if it’s properly planned.”

Southampton resident Joan Tutt, a frequent and vocal critic of the project, said in an email last week that voters were disgusted with the School Board in general, and the vote offered them an opportunity to vocalize their dissatisfaction.

Some of the larger issues that soured voters, according to Ms. Tutt, included a twice-defeated Tuckahoe School District merger plan, a past failed proposal to purchase a Hampton Road property for administrative offices, and an underused property on Majors Path that could have been converted to administrative offices, though the district is instead looking to sell it.

Ms. Tutt also said some voters were upset that the district took the Columbus Day holiday off school calendars in favor of Indigenous People’s Day, and stopped naming a valedictorian and salutatorian, among a long list of grievances.

“The powers that be don’t seem to get it,” Ms. Tutt said. “They don’t have a finger on the pulse of the community. For if they did, voting results would be different. The community reacted at the polls—big time.”

Ms. Tutt said residents became energized when they found out about the project after not being kept in the loop. Their energy, she said, sparked a concern in the community that their neighborhood could become targeted.

“In general, the voters were so perplexed that the district could not find space on any of the many acres of district-owned property,” she said.

Still, the district has offered an olive branch to members of the community: an opportunity to air their concerns. On June 13 at 7 p.m., the district will hold an open forum to allow members of the public to speak up about where the district went wrong. The meeting will be held at the Southampton Intermediate School on Leland Lane, and all voters in the district are invited to attend.

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BAM !! Reality check for the board.
By bigfresh (4369), north sea on Jun 12, 18 6:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
So for now, the Education Aristocracy will have to put plans for their new palace on hold.
By Babyboo (275), Hampton Bays on Jun 13, 18 6:50 AM
A pair of new trailers would suffice , after all the old ones were fine .
By bigfresh (4369), north sea on Jun 13, 18 6:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
A terrific change of strategy! They surely must be taking advice they were given many moons ago & finally going about this in the right way.
By East End 2 (145), Southampton on Jun 13, 18 9:06 AM

Nice Seeing all the nice awards for all the schools on LI, EXECPT Southampton High School. It is a pity not to show our well deserved students...

By knitter (1720), Southampton on Jun 13, 18 10:46 AM
There is room south of the gym. Remove the old offices, build new and attach to the school. Majors path is a good temporary housing for staff
WANT, want want, get real people...
By knitter (1720), Southampton on Jun 16, 18 2:18 PM
knitter, please.
By even flow (833), East Hampton on Jun 16, 18 2:36 PM