A Sag Harbor School District committee tasked with monitoring the conditions of the school facilities has recommended that the school board embark on three major capital projects: building a wet lab to enhance science programs in all grades, overhauling the Pierson High School gym, and making key security upgrades, all to be funded via a bond referendum on the May 2024 school budget ballot.
The 17-member educational facilities planning committee also recommended that the district take on repairs totaling more than $8.6 million over the next six years, which would be paid for using a combination of regularly budgeted money and end-of-year surpluses. These “would not increase the budget or the tax levy,” said Jennifer Buscemi, the school business administrator.
Jeff Nichols, the district superintendent, said during a June 26 school board meeting that school officials “spent a lot of time this year on Mashashimuet Park and the proposed acquisition of Marsden [properties], but what should not be lost is we have a pretty large facility that needs attention.”
Saverio Belfiore, the district’s architect, noted that no critical “health and safety items” were identified during a thorough inspection of the facilities, and that the $8.6 million in projects mostly represent “routine maintenance and upkeep.”
Of the district’s three major priorities, the gym renovation would pose the biggest logistical challenge because of how heavily it’s used just about every day. “Every student in the school uses that facility” for gym classes, after-school sports, test-taking, and more, said Chris Tice, a former school board member who serves on the committee.
Brian Tardif, the district’s athletic director, recommended that the gym be enlarged and its ceiling raised, that the locker rooms be redone, that air-conditioning and drop-down dividers be installed, that a storage facility for equipment and supplies be created, and that separate weightlifting and cardio-workout rooms be built. He also suggested new wall padding, scoreboards, sound system, and bathrooms, larger bleachers, a dedicated room for an athletic trainer, and other improvements.
Also on the school district’s radar, thanks to the facilities committee, are improvements to the kitchen at the Sag Harbor Learning Center so that the district’s breakfast and lunch offerings can be restructured, the creation of an “all-purpose” large-group instruction space at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, technology infrastructure upgrades, and — as was discussed at length last school year — more athletic fields.
Already built into the new school year’s budget is money to redo Pierson’s outdoor basketball court, install new floors, fix cast-iron piping in the boiler rooms, renovate several bathrooms, bring emergency lighting up to modern safety standards, and patch and repaint walls where needed in all buildings. The board also discussed taking on an energy-performance contract with Johnson Controls to upgrade utilities and lighting, which would be budget-neutral.
The facilities presentation was not without criticism from community members. The kitchen upgrade “may be a more important need . . . than some of the quite luxurious renovations you’re talking about for the gym,” Kathryn Levy said during the public comment session.
Janis Donnaud said the gym renovation “seems like a want,” not a need. “I’m frankly so shocked by this presentation tonight that mere weeks after the vote in Sag Harbor” — she was referring to the rejected attempt to buy Marsden Street properties — “there is yet again all this conversation about sports rather than academics.”
In response to the comments, Brian DeSesa, the school board vice president, assured that “there will be in-depth presentations on all of those items. As they are developed, those presentations will happen. The list is not an inclusive list and is not specific to a prioritized order; those were just recommendations that came from the committee to the board.”
Also during the meeting, Mr. Nichols lauded a retiring teacher, Frank Atkinson-Barnes, himself a Pierson alumnus and parent of two Pierson graduates who taught social studies at Pierson Middle and High School since 2002. “I always found him to be a wealth of knowledge, very well read, [and] a very kind soul. . . . I want to thank him for his service,” Mr. Nichols said.