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Wi-Fi to the Rescue at Springs School?

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 11:32

It’s no secret that poor cellphone reception and emergency communications capabilities in Springs are an issue for many — first responders, homeowners, and, not least, administrators, staff members, and students at the Springs School.

There’s just “one spot” in the school building where people can stand if they have to use their cellphones, said Debra Winter, the Springs superintendent. She did not say where it is.

On Monday, in light of the difficulty in making and receiving calls, the school board weighed an update to a policy that governs appropriate use of the building’s Wi-Fi network. It would allow students and staff to use the network for personal reasons during lunchtime and other breaks, specifically because cellphone data connections are unreliable in the hamlet. School Wi-Fi cannot be used at present for personal business.

While the school’s attorney has not recommended this change, Ms. Winter said it would be practical and beneficial to all concerned.

“It’s just a possibility for us, seeing as how we are access-challenged,” commented Barbara Dayton, the school board president.

“It’s the town’s fault,” said M.J. Arceri, a Springs resident who attended Monday’s meeting of the board.

A debate is now playing out over the status of a 150-foot-tall communications monopole erected by the Springs Fire District without approval from East Hampton Town officials in 2015. It was to be outfitted with emergency communications equipment and could theoretically house cellphone carrier equipment as well. The pole has no site plan approval, however, and the fire district has sued the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals over the issue.

In the meantime, the Springs Fire District has applied to the town planning board for a higher communications tower; a spokesperson for Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Tuesday that the town expects to receive an update on the matter next week. It was to have been discussed last night at a meeting of the planning board. Carl Irace, the lawyer representing the fire district, said while some alternate locations for the communications tower have been proposed, the preferred site is still behind the firehouse on Fort Pond Boulevard.

If cellphone service ever does improve in Springs, Ms. Dayton said at Monday’s board meeting, the policy can revert to its current form.

“I think it’s appropriate under our circumstances right now,” Tim Frazier, the board’s vice president, said of the proposed change.

Last month, the school board discussed sending a formal letter to the town to support the activation of the fire district’s existing-but-unused monopole. The board ultimately decided not to send the letter, though some individual members said they had already signed a community petition expressing a similar sentiment.

The school board agreed informally to make the change to its internet use policy, but postponed an official vote until January.

Also on Monday, the school’s business administrator, Michael Henery, said the district is still actively pursuing an insurance claim to cover the approximately $350,000 in repairs that were needed after a floor collapsed in a special-education classroom last year. No students were injured in the incident, the cause of which was attributed to a leak in the ceiling.

“They’re still asking for a lot of information,” Mr. Henery said. “They’re leaning toward saying it was due to neglect and it’s not covered.”

In other business, the board approved a bid for the maintenance and operation of the school’s new low-nitrogen septic system, the installation of which is nearly complete. Suffolk County regulations require the district to have such a contract in place before the system can be turned on. The winning bid was submitted by Direct Drainage Inc. of East Patchogue for a base fee of $4,200 per year and $350 per on-site maintenance visit.


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