When the Riverhead school district holds a ceremonial ribbon-cutting this week at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School -- the smallest and oldest school in the sprawling 5,000-student district -- officials will be standing on a site where bulldozers have already ripped up part of the parking lot and turned grass and dirt into a sea of mud.
Inside, there are bigger changes. While every classroom will be in use, the library is closed, so the librarian will go from class to class once a week. The auditorium stage has been turned into a makeshift library to store the books.
It's the start of a multiyear, $78.3-million renovation project that will ultimately change all seven buildings in the district, starting with three elementary schools this year and ending in September 2015.
Construction started at Phillips Avenue, which has about 450 pupils, because it was the first school to get through the formal state review process, according to Superintendent Nancy Carney.
"It's very exciting," Carney said. "We're redoing the whole front and the parking lot . . . they're working on parking and the bus loop."
The improvements also include expanding the school library, replacing the roof and expanding some classrooms into specialized learning centers.
The work on the K-4 building will cost $3.38 million, and because the bids came in low, the district is also renovating the playground, adding rubberized pads under the equipment there.
District residents approved the construction bond in October by a vote of 2,330 to 2,096. But they defeated a separate proposal to spend $7 million for a new high school gym, 2,570 to 1,760. That vote followed the defeat two years before of a $123-million renovation bond by a 2-1 margin.
The last major renovation to a school building in Riverhead was 40 years ago, and others have not been upgraded in 70 years. Some schools are not accessible to the disabled, and almost all need roof replacement and upgrades to their air-conditioning and heating systems.
The last building to be worked on will be the Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, one of the oldest buildings. Carney said it needs the most work, and that the school district is working with the town historical society to preserve the architectural integrity of the building while it is brought up to modern building standards.