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Long IslandNassau

Voters approve $245M to reconstruct Roosevelt High

Fourteen-month-old Joshua Kennard waits for his mom, Robyn

Fourteen-month-old Joshua Kennard waits for his mom, Robyn Kennard, to vote on a massive school rebuilding project in Roosevelt, Thursday. (March 18, 2010) Credit: Karen Wiles Stabile

The biggest school-construction project ever proposed on Long Island - and one heavily backed by the state - took a major step forward last night when Roosevelt voters agreed to rebuild their 55-year-old high school.

By a vote of 289-150, residents of Roosevelt, the only state-managed district in New York, agreed to another $40.5 million in construction funds to the $205 million approved earlier by residents. State and local officials say the extra money is needed to reconstruct the high school, due to cost overruns on other parts of the districtwide project.

Many residents said reconstruction is essential to deal with students' complaints of leaky ceilings, broken lockers and rusty plumbing.

"We need this," said Lorraine Venair, a mother of three, as she emerged Thursday from the polls at Roosevelt High School. "The school's in poor condition - it's way past time."

The proposed $245.5-million project is the largest ever approved on the Island, according to state and private construction experts. The previous record was a $228.6-million package approved by Sachem district voters in 2000, which resulted in construction of a new high school and middle school there.

Roosevelt's aim has been even more ambitious - nothing less than reconstructing its entire physical plant.

So far, the district has rebuilt all three of its elementary schools and erected a new middle school. But work at the middle school ran into delays and millions of dollars in cost overruns three years ago, after inspectors discovered toxic insecticides from a Nassau County mosquito-control unit that formerly occupied the site.

Reconstruction at the high school - where planned new facilities include a library, cafeteria, science labs and sports complex - has been billed by local officials as the district's future "flagship." The estimated cost is $66.9 million, including $26.4 million left over from the original bond issue approved in 2004.

In an renewed effort to win voter support, State Education Department officials vowed earlier this month that Albany would bear virtually all extra costs. The district has pegged the cost to the average local taxpayer at $2.40 a year.

The district's superintendent, Robert-Wayne Harris, described the proposal as "the chance of a lifetime."

Many students agree that the high school needs reconstruction. "It's in kind of bad condition - leaks, lockers that don't lock," said Danielle Jenkins, 17, a senior.