School board to vet $47.7 million measure

The school district’s five board members are beginning to rally around a proposed $47.7 million bond measure that would pay for the construction of a new high school classroom building and the renovation of several existing structures on the sprawling campus.

But a wholesale rebuild of the high school’s aging gym would be deferred and would be financed by a second bond measure sometime in the future.

Board chair Bob Hen-nessey said he expects the two-pronged proposal to come before the board at its meeting Thursday night for a “first reading.” It’s expected to go to the board for final approval at its Dec. 10 meeting, he said.

Both he and Super-intendent Michael Soltman said the emerging consensus represents a significant breakthrough for the board, which offered up a $75.5 million measure late last year that did not have the board’s full support. That measure, which requires a supermajority, failed, 51 to 49 percent, in March.

“The five of us are all there,” Hennessey said. “And we haven’t been there before. So I think that’s going to make a huge difference in its salability to the community.”

Soltman agreed. “I think it’s wonderful that the board is reaching consensus on the subject,” he said.

Dan Chasan, one of two board members who didn’t support the $75.5 million measure, said he backs the latest proposal, which he labeled “reasonable.”

“It seems to tackle the big things that are obviously wrong. It does not go overboard in providing things that may be desirable but seem to rank lower on many people’s list of priorities,” he said.

Under this phased ap-proach, floated as an idea by outgoing board member John “Oz” Osborne at a board meeting last month, the district would build a new classroom building for $16 million and fully renovate Building A — the current main building at the high school — for $17 million. The bond would also provide $2.5 million for several upgrades to McMurray Middle School and Chau-tauqua Elementary School, including a remodel of Chautauqua to accommodate school district offices.

But deferring improvements to the high school’s 50-year-old gym carries some concerns because of its age and poor condition, Hennessey said, so the measure includes $400,000 to provide what he called “a bare-bones” gym renovation project and $1.5 million in a contingency reserve “in case the HVAC system blows up.”

Soltman said he hoped that this approach, were it to garner voter approval, would lay the foundation for a second phase.

“We have to pick a portion of the project that is most essential, complete it well — on time and on budget — and then ask the voters to come back and finish the remainder of the project,” he said.

Island activist Hilary Emmer, however, who was an outspoken critic of the $75.5 million measure, said she thinks the new proposal is still priced too high.

“You need to be reasonable. The economy is still very bad for many people,” she wrote in a letter to the board. “Voters need something affordable.”

Board member Laura Wishik, in a response to Emmer, said board members realize many Islanders are still struggling and as a result may decide to defer the measure until next November rather than put it forward in February.

“I would not want the public or our supporters to feel disrespected by the board putting forth a bond when people are in real pain financially,” she told Emmer.

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