Sewanhaka school district seeks $99.5-million bond

Sewananka High School in Franklin Square. (Nov. 27,

Sewananka High School in Franklin Square. (Nov. 27, 2013) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Sewanhaka school district officials are seeking support for a $99.5 million bond -- it would cost $144 annually for the average homeowner -- for "long overdue" renovations they say can't be covered by the budget because of funding restrictions.

The state will pick up 40 percent of the tab, they say, and the money will fund several major projects, including roof repair, technology and security upgrades. The district serves four communities: Floral Park/Bellerose, New Hyde Park/Garden City Park, Franklin Square and Elmont. Voters will decide Wednesday.

The district has been struggling with a decrease in state aid and with a 2-year-old tax cap that restricts the amount administrators can ask of taxpayers, school board member Jean Fichtl said. The $1 million or so it has set aside for repairs during the past few years isn't enough to keep all five of its aged buildings -- Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park was built in 1929 -- up to date.


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"We have roofs that are leaking to the point that the custodians know whenever it rains to get the buckets out," she said, adding that bricks started falling off H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square last year. "We have tried to do things on a rotating basis, but the buildings are aging faster than we can keep up with them."

An ad hoc committee of community members has been meeting for more than a year on the issue. Rob Brusca, 54 and the father of four, including two now in the district, was one of its members. "We are not asking for a domed stadium," he said, but for the replacement of some bathrooms, elevators and windows.

School board member Laura Ferone said the district has delayed some repairs in an effort to preserve programs, but that can't continue.

"Bond rates are low now and we have no debt," she said. "It's a good time to borrow money. We feel this is the best way to meet the needs of all five buildings. Now is the time."

A piecemeal approach wouldn't be fair, she said, because it would postpone by several years much needed work at some campuses.

All of the district's schools would see major renovations to their auditoriums and would get new, synthetic athletic fields, among other improvements.

About $15.8 million would go to Elmont Memorial High, built in 1955. It would fund a new guidance suite as well as a major upgrade to its athletic facilities and the expansion of its media center.

Floral Park Memorial High School, built a year later, would get new orchestra, band and chorus rooms with its $20.8 million share. The money would also be used to resurface its track.

H. Frank Carey High, built in 1955, would see major renovations to its orchestra room, two science rooms and weight room with its $14.98 million allocation.

New Hyde Park Memorial High School would see its gymnasium ceiling replaced and its fitness room refurbished as part of its $14.4 million plan. Sewanhaka High School would get a new addition, including a teacher cafeteria that could be converted into a board meeting room, regulation sized gymnasium, weight/aerobic room and culinary arts program facilities with its $31.3 million allotment.

Resident Chris Gioia, 53, of Franklin Square, said he has reservations. There are ways to pare down the list, said the father of three children, including two at Carey High School.

"There are some repairs that must be attended to," he said. "But the amount of money is staggering." He said the community needs to strike a balance between what it wants and what it can afford.

"I understand where they are coming from," he said. "If you were going to borrow money or float a bond, now is the time to do it. A lot of what they are saying is logical -- whether it's practical, that's another story."

Polls on Wednesday will open at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., or 8 a.m. depending on the community. They close at 9 p.m.

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