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Copiague residents to vote on $58 million in school repairs

Copiague residents are scheduled to vote on two bond proposals for a combined $58 million in school repairs on Nov. 23.

State building aid would reimburse three quarters of the cost, leaving the hamlet's taxpayers responsible for only $16.6 million of the total.

The first proposal covers $42.9 million in repairs and renovations that district officials say are urgently needed for its aging, crowded schools. It would pay for more classrooms and repairs to masonry, plumbing and electrical systems.

A second $15.1 million proposal, which would supplement the first but cannot be passed on its own, would cover repairs on items such as flooring, heating and lighting that officials say are less urgent.

The first proposal would add $131.76 a year over the 15-year term of the bond for a typical home assessed at $3,600 and paying school taxes of $4,922. The second proposal would cost an additional $46.43 over the same period.

Voters rejected a $69.4 million proposal last November by 694-383 that would have funded much of the same work.

Besides splitting the project into two to give voters a bare-bones option, officials said they have reduced the overall cost to taxpayers by $5.5 million by reducing the scope of work and securing a state grant to cover some of the proposed items.

The twin challenges of space and infrastructure have not changed, said Superintendent Kathleen Bannon, who stepped into the job Sept. 1.

While most Long Island school districts are shrinking in size, she said, Copiague, which now serves 5,025 students, is growing at a rate of about 100 students a year. "We have converted closets where children are receiving support services," Bannon said. "We have a band program run out of a converted locker room. Kids are on the floor in hallways."

In a district whose buildings range from 50 to 100 years old, age is taking a mounting toll on the physical plant, she said. A water pipe broke last year at the two Deauville Gardens elementary schools, which share a building, displacing 900 students for a day. One weekend last year, an electrical transformer blew out at Walter G. O'Connell High School, leaving the building without power before an important marching band competition.

PSEG fixed it, but said the district would have to pay for subsequent repairs, said Peter H. Michaelsen, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

School officials, shocked by last year's bond rejection, have retooled their approach. To better communicate their message in an increasingly immigrant and multilingual community of 22,155 -- where just 1,077 voted last November -- officials said the district will offer building tours and a special public meeting in coming weeks.

Should the bond proposals fail this year, Bannon sounded a note of grim determination. "We will take care of what we have to take care of, but it will cost us more," she said, forcing the district to either cut services to students or raise taxes.


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