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Voters reject Sewanhaka $99.5M bond issue

Rendering of the new Sewanhaka Central High School.

Rendering of the new Sewanhaka Central High School. Credit: Handout

Voters in the Sewanhaka Central High School District Wednesday rejected a $99.5 million bond referendum to fund major improvements at the district's five campuses. Voters decided against the proposal 2,705 to 2,412.

Board president David Fowler was disappointed, saying the board does not yet know how it will proceed from here. "In a tax cap world with aging buildings, we will have to decide how to preserve our physical plant as well as our educational programs."

Board member Jean Fichtl said she was surprised; voters she had spoken with supported the plan. "I don't know where we are going to go now," she said, adding that the buildings need significant repair.

The bond would have cost the average homeowner $144 each year.

Every district school would have seen major renovations to their auditoriums and get new, synthetic athletic fields. Officials said they no longer can afford to pay for such improvements out of the annual budget.

A dip in state aid and the addition of the property tax cap -- which limits the amount of money the district can ask of taxpayers in the annual budget vote -- has made it impossible to account for all of their buildings' needs, they said.

The money also would have been used to repair leaky roofs and to make security and technology upgrades, among other changes. School board member Laura Ferone said 80 percent of the renovations were "essential" -- many are focused on health and safety -- and the remaining are "desirable."

Sewanhaka serves about 8,500 students in Floral Park, Bellerose, New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Franklin Square and Elmont. Sewanhaka High School was built in 1929, and the others in the mid-1950s.

That high school was slated for a new addition with its $31.3 million allotment, including a teacher cafeteria that could be converted into a board meeting room.

Records show that $15.8 million was set for Elmont Memorial High to fund a new guidance suite as well as a major upgrade to its athletic facilities.

Floral Park Memorial High School would have gotten rooms for orchestra, band and chorus with its $20.8 million share. H. Frank Carey High was scheduled for major renovations to its orchestra room, two science rooms and weight room with its $14.98 million allocation.

The $14.4 million set aside for New Hyde Park Memorial High School was to be used to replace its gymnasium ceiling, among other improvements.

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