Saturday's facilities tour to showcase needed repairs as East Rockaway school officials mull bond

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With buildings across the East Rockaway School District in need of repairs and upgrades, officials have scheduled a facilities tour at the high school on Saturday at 11 a.m.

The walk-through is intended to give residents a better sense of the district’s facility needs as administrators mull a possible $30.4 million bond to cover needed projects. The Facilities Committee, comprising Board of Education trustees, teachers, parents, administrators and district architect John Grill, will outline the proposed renovations.

Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said the committee did an “outstanding job of narrowing down the scope of the work,” adding, “Engagement with our residents is one of our top priorities during this time.”

Voters approved an $18.7 million bond on March 18, 2005, which will be paid off in 2020. If district officials were to put another bond to a vote, payments would not be made until after the current one is paid off, said Jacqueline Scrio, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

“There is no definite decision on the bond,” Scrio said. “It’s been many years since we’ve had a bond or we’ve done any large improvements to the district.”

The committee met six times between February and June 2018 and compiled a list of needs at the high school and Rhame Avenue and Centre Avenue elementary schools. They included air conditioning and ventilation installation, masonry improvements and classroom upgrades. Scrio said the consumer science classrooms are outdated, and district officials narrowed their focus after Grill provided a cost analysis for each project.

Scrio added that officials hoped to decide on whether the district will propose another bond by June. She noted that it is difficult to determine how much the bond would impact homeowners because a county-wide reassessment is ongoing, but she estimated that the bond would cost the average home about $104 per year.

A major concern officials hope to address is the rapid erosion of the playing fields at the high school as the shoreline of Mill River creeps closer to the grass with each passing storm. “There’s 42 inches between the shoreline of Mill River and the back of the bleachers because there’s no bulkhead,” Scrio said. “We’re losing our fields slowly but surely.”

The district is awaiting approval of a major project that falls under Living with the Bay — a state initiative undertaken after Hurricane Sandy and funded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery to improve storm resiliency in communities along Mill River, which runs from Hempstead Lake south to Hewlett Bay.

The district reached an agreement with GOSR to install a Greenway Project, which is to include a path for walking and biking from Hempstead Lake State Park through the Village of East Rockaway and behind the high school, on district property. As part of the agreement, GOSR is to fund a $1.9 million bulkhead, which district officials said would protect the fields at no additional cost to local taxpayers.

“It benefits GOSR,” Scrio said, “because they’ll get access to the waterfront, and it will benefit the district because in order to do the Greenway, they’ll add a bulkhead.”

In August, school officials presented the projects they deemed necessary to residents at a meeting, but did not move forward because they were waiting on a timeline from Living with the Bay. Scrio said that officials hoped that GOSR representatives would meet with them and residents to provide a clear timeline for the project, but have not heard back. The LWTB plans have been under discussion since 2016.

Emily Thompson, the acting general counsel and chief external affairs officer for GOSR, said the next meetings were scheduled for May.

"GOSR is committed to a collaborative and structured design and review process with the community and school administrators and looks forward to its next engagement in early May," she said. "The resiliency improvements at East Rockaway High School will protect the school and residents from flooding, defend the shoreline from erosion and foster community engagement along the river. GOSR looks forward to presenting the specific improvements to the community in the coming months.”

Officials also said they hoped to install a stronger drainage system beneath the fields and to raise them to avoid further flood damage. Inside the schools, pipes dating back to the 1930s are eroding and need to be replaced, as do many of the floors.

Another large project would be the addition of a hall that would connect the high school’s technology building to the main building. To merge the now separate areas, workers would have to demolish a garage and build a driveway between the technology building and the athletic fields. They would also install a 15-foot-tall chain-link fence to separate the fields from the driveway leading to the back parking lot.

In January, the Board of Education hosted a facilities forum, at which trustees updated residents on the status of the Greenway Project and discussed the possibility of bonding for other needs. Scrio said she hoped that GOSR would have the bulkhead in place by the summer of 2020, and that the fields would be worked on that fall.

She said that future school tours would likely be announced. “Showing people this, seeing it, visualizing it, really makes the difference,” she said.

Ruiz encouraged residents to take the tour. “I urge everyone to complete the facilities survey posted on our website and sign up to attend our upcoming facilities tour,” she said.

Visit eastrockawayschools.org to complete the survey.

Melissa Koenig contributed to this story.