Bridgehampton Voters Okay Second Bond

Staffers worked into the evening Thursday as residents arrived to vote on the $4.7 million in additional funding the Bridgehampton School District was seeking to renovate and expand the school. Johnette Howard

Bridgehampton School District residents approved an additional $4.74 million in funding Thursday for the district's renovation and expansion project, bumping the total funding for the project to $29.4 million and avoiding a new round of delays that could have pushed completion of the project well past the current July 2020 target date.

The district will immediately bid out the project to contractors in hopes of breaking ground on construction work by November, if all proceeds as planned. 

Voters approved the measure 132-98.

“Once again, the Bridgehampton community comes out to show incredible support for the students, staff, and community itself," Robert Hauser, the district superintendent, said Thursday night.

Mr. Hauser said he had been cautiously optimistic in the days leading up to the vote.

"I hadn't really been presented with any negative concerns [from voters] – every indication I was hearing about the vote was very positive," Mr. Hauser said. "I think people just want to see it started."
 
The new bond issue will be combined with $24.7 million in funding that voters approved for the project in December 2016. The request for the added money happened because of cost increases during the district's yearlong wait for the State Education Department to issue its building permit for the project. The district could not solicit construction bids until it had the permit in hand. Once it did, district officials and John A. Grillo, the school's architect on the project, said they were surprised and dismayed when the construction bids came back 25 percent higher than expected in two separate rounds of bidding this summer.

"I've been doing this for 27 years, and I've never seen anything come close to this — nearly a 25-percent increase in two years," Mr. Grillo said at a citizens forum last week in the same school gym where district residents voted Thursday.

Downsizing the project rather than seeking the additional $4.7 million in funding was considered. But William Jackson, the district's bond attorney, said the district had to be careful about slashing features that voters thought they were getting when they approved the original $24.7 million.

"The general test that we use is you have to deliver the project as originally designed in all material respects," Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Hauser said the funding would add about $20 to homeowners' tax bills for every $1 million of assessed value on their homes.

When the planned additions and renovations are completed, the 80-year-old school building – which currently houses 228 students in kindergarten through 12th grade – will get new science, technology, English, math, and music rooms, as well as a new regulation-size gym, locker rooms, and cafeteria. Part of the current gym will become an auditorium and the remainder a new school library. The school will also be able to move its prekindergarten into the main building and out of 40-year-old modular classrooms on the west side of the school.

Mr. Hauser said, "The architect has led us to believe it could take about 20 months, which means we would be completed sometime around July 2020, and students would start in the new building that September."

Alanah Johnson, a high school junior who has attended the Bridgehampton School since prekindergarten, said Thursday afternoon that she was hoping the vote would pass.

"I won't still be here when it's done, but I hope it's approved," Alanah said, standing outside the gym as voting went on. "This is a small school. Everyone is like family here. There's been a lot of talk about the expansion." 

Mr. Hauser said neither school officials nor Mr. Grillo had discussed exactly what would have been cut from the plans if the new funding had not been obtained.

"We would only cross that bridge when we had to," Mr. Hauser said.

Parents and school officials who spoke at last week's forum cited an array of reasons why they felt the expansion is necessary. They gave examples of the overcrowded classrooms that are now divided in two by temporary partitions, children having to take tests in the hallways, and how the shortage of space constrained the school's ability to add more student programming and activities.

One school district resident, Phillipe Cheng, said, "It's a financial question, yes, but more so it's a human question. . . . It has a human face. Lives are changed here. . . . This school district is striving to make a difference in kids' lives. See beyond the numbers. . . . Let's all make a difference."

Lillian Tyree-Johnson, the vice president of the Bridgehampton School Board, drew applause when she said, "We're the only school district on the East End that has not done capital improvement in the last 25 years, and we are direly in need. . . . We're asking for what we need. It is not a wish list."