The East Rockaway School District is seeking public comment on a 15-year, nearly $30.5 million bond, which the district’s Facilities Committee members and architect presented at a facilities forum on Jan. 29.
The bond would fund security and facility upgrades at all three district schools — Centre Avenue and Rhame Avenue elementary schools and East Rockaway High School. If it is put to a vote and residents approve it, the bond, as presented, would increase the average household’s taxes by $105 per year, based on 2018 assessed values, but that figure could change as Nassau County rolls out its new property assessments.
The district has not yet received updated assessed values, according to Jackie Scrio, its assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
The district would also use $6.2 million in reserve funds and $21.1 million in debt services it accrued from its 2005 bond to offset the new bond — and thus property taxes.
Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said that a new bond is necessary because the district’s buildings are aging and upgrades are becoming “too costly” to include in the annual operating budget.
“While our facilities continue to provide a safe learning space for our students and staff,” Ruiz said, “they are in need of a number of renovations to maintain the integrity of our facilities, and to also en-hance the safety and security of our buildings for our students.”
One of the larger projects included in the bond is the addition of a hall that would connect the high school’s technology building to the main building. To merge the now separate buildings, workers would have to demolish a garage, and they would 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.
Board of Education President Keith Gamache said that district officials are seeking to connect the buildings because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities recommended that the high school have a single point of entry for students at the main entrance. In the current configuration, there is more than one entrance to the school.
Officials are also thinking about working with Living with the Bay to improve drainage at the school.
Living with the Bay is a state project, undertaken after Hurricane Sandy, to improve storm resiliency in communities along the Mill River, which runs from Hempstead Lake south to Hewlett Bay, just south of Bay Park.
For the Living with the Bay project at East Rockaway High, which is to be funded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, a bulkhead will be constructed on school property where it meets Mill River, along with drainage pipes that will run under the athletic fields. The bulkhead, officials say, will reduce flooding in major storms like Sandy.
The district would also install a raised synthetic-turf field to aid in drainage. The field would be funded by the bond.
Some residents expressed concern about another Living with the Bay initiative, known as the Greenway Project. For this one, a path for walking and biking is to be in-stalled from Hempstead Lake State Park through the Village of East Rockaway and behind the high school, on district property.
Ozzie Lonergan said that the Greenway Project is “counterintuitive” to the district’s efforts to improve school security, adding that she would like to see the district spend its funds on a high-tech security system. Ruiz said that district officials shared Lonergan’s concern about security on the greenway, but explained that the path would be closed during the school day.
Dineen Cillufo asked whether the district could install the bulkhead itself, so it would not depend on the state to pay for it, and thus it could reject the Greenway Project. In a phone interview, Scrio later said the bulkhead would cost roughly $1.9 million, and could be paid for either with reserve funds or through the bond.
Other residents expressed concerns about the amount of the bond. One woman said that she makes $20 an hour and would be unable to afford a tax increase of $105 per year.
Jim Munz asked the board why some upgrades — such as a hot-water system and air conditioning — were necessary to include in the bond. Gamache replied that the hot-water system would reduce the district’s energy costs, and Ruiz said that air conditioning would protect students with asthma.
Lonergan agreed with Munz that some of the upgrades were unnecessary. “You’re asking people to now go ahead and pay out more money for certain things that may not be so necessary and we could find another way to fix it,” she told the board. Munz noted, however, that he thought some of the projects to be funded by the bond were needed, and he was pleased to see them included in it.
Board members said they expected to vote on the bond in late spring, and if it is approved, the public would be able to vote on it in the fall. If the bond were approved in a referendum, construction would begin in the 2020-21 school year.
Residents can share their views about the bond on the district’s website, eastrockawayschools.org.