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South Huntington district asking for more than $115 million in bond referendum

South Huntington Deputy Superintendent Joseph Centamore shows how

South Huntington Deputy Superintendent Joseph Centamore shows how the field will be improved at Stimson Middle School while touring some of the rundown spots that would be transformed if a bond proposal is approved. Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

South Huntington school officials are proposing a more than $115 million bond referendum in the Suffolk County district that would, among the projects, add science and technology labs, performing arts studios and theaters, and upgraded athletic fields.

The proposal, called Vision 2020, is split into two parts: Proposition 1 covers more than $86 million for renovations and upgrades, and Proposition 2 covers more than $29 million for air conditioning in classrooms, gyms and cafeterias. Voters can approve the first and the second, or just the first.

If both proposals are approved, residents on average would pay about $52 extra in property taxes annually in the first year of repayment to around $363 in peak years. The vote is scheduled for Oct. 7 at Walt Whitman High School from noon to 9 p.m.

The bond issue would impact all district facilities and include projects such as adding security vestibules to buildings throughout the district; upgrading to all-turf athletic fields; building a baseball/softball complex for student athletes; installing automatic door locks; creating a center for senior citizens; providing science and technology labs at each building, and updating most infrastructure, such as parking lots, roofs and windows.

District officials noted that while bonds often are used to repair outdated equipment and facilities, this proposal will transform schools academically as well. The district has an enrollment of nearly 6,000 students.

School board President Nicholas Ciappetta said recent rankings, including Advanced Placement scores and graduation rates, have shown the district — one of the most diverse on Long Island — is thriving academically. And with interest rates low, it was a good time to propose a referendum, Ciappetta said. He said most of the buildings and learning spaces date to the mid-1960s.

"We wanted to go above and beyond the normal infrastructure-type improvements," Ciappetta said. "We wanted to do something that really complimented the incredible academic growth we have had in this district."

Proposition 1 covers more than $18.1 million for athletic, co-curricular and community projects; $31.9 million for academics, arts and research; $22.4 million for safety and security, and more than $13.4 million for infrastructure.

The second proposition — at a cost of more than $28.8 million — covers the installation of air conditioning in classrooms, gymnasiums, offices and cafeterias.

Adam Weiss, who is one of the vice presidents on the district’s PTA council, has lived in the district since 2013 and has a son in the sixth grade. He supports the proposal, saying it will increase real estate values and also offer academic improvements.

“My son is going to get a better education,” Weiss said. “And as a homeowner, you are going to see it attract more parents to the district. And housing values are going to go through the roof.”

Not all bond referendums have been successful in recent years on Long Island. In 2017, voters in Great Neck rejected an $85.9 million bond issue, but then passed a $68.3 million revised bond months later. Uniondale voters rejected a $199 million bond in 2017, but approved a smaller package of $158 million the next year.

The South Huntington district has been hosting bond presentations throughout the process, and another one is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Walt Whitman High. The bond proposal has been unanimously approved by the district's Board of Education.

District officials noted that 92 percent of the projects proposed in Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 will be eligible for a 54 percent state aid reimbursement rate, meaning the district will be reimbursed $57,032,887 on the cost of the bond plan.

The district would borrow a series of 15-year bonds over the course of seven years to cover the costs of the projects. Work would begin in summer 2020 and is estimated to be completed within seven years.

If both propositions pass, for a house valued at $507,700 — the median price in the district — a homeowner would pay $51.83 more in taxes in the first year of the bond in 2021, then increase by that same amount each year until reaching a peak of $362.81 for years 2027-35. The cost would then decrease each year until 2041, when it reaches $51.83 and the bond is paid off. That represents $5,442.15 over the 21-year life of the bond, according to the district.

"We firmly believe the value you are getting from this — the opportunity to completely transform your district facility-wise, safety-wise, technology-wise and academically is well worth that," Ciappetta said.

At Stimson Middle School, for example, a multipurpose room that serves as a cafeteria and a stage is original to the building built in the mid-1960s. There is not enough capacity to serve the 900 students, so performances and award ceremonies are held at the high school. Part of the project will transform the space, adding fixed seating and expanding the stage. 

In addition, the district will have forum-style classrooms modeled after college-level forum halls, and new science labs, a marine biology research center and a cybersecurity lab at the high school.

Superintendent David Bennardo said it was a combination of factors that led educators to offer such a proposal, including "the way technology is changing, the way the jobs in the 21st century have changed, to make students college-ready and to meet the needs of diverse learners."

BOND REFERENDUM

Proposition 1 includes projects such as:

  • STREAM labs (Science-Technology Research-Engineering Arts-Math) that expand library media centers in each building. These will be additions at the elementary schools and replace portable classrooms.
  • Music, art and performing arts studios and theaters
  • 13 turf fields
  • Security upgrades, including automated door locking and secured entrance vestibules
  • Buses equipped with cameras and internal GPS
  • Bleachers and press box at Walt Whitman High School
  • Athletic complex at Stimson Middle School
  • Replace windows and lighting, update fire alarms districtwide
  • Television studio at the high school
  • Kickball field and parking lot expansion at Maplewood Intermediate School
  • A Wildcats Hall that will include a special education transition center, instructional space, a student/senior citizen interactive center, a TRI-CYA center, and an internet cafe providing free Wi-Fi access for students and community members.

Proposition 2

  • Provides air conditioning for classrooms, gymnasiums, offices and cafeterias

SOURCE: South Huntington School District

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