The Lindenhurst school district is creating an advisory committee to explore the future of two buildings the district owns but no longer uses for classes.
The district closed the Kellum Street School in 1983 and Edward W. Bower Elementary School in 2011 due to declining enrollment. In a 2016 referendum, voters rejected a $5.5 million offer by a developer to build senior condos on the Bower site.
Kellum currently houses the Just Kids Early Childhood Learning Center and Suffolk BOCES, while Bower has one tenant, SuperKids Christian Day Care, which is preparing to leave, and the Lindenhurst Academy, a program for district students who require more learning support.
According to documents provided by the district, Bower stands to be in the red by $487,656 this year while Kellum is projected to lose $280,606. Records show that in the past 10 years, Bower has lost between $134,000 to $509,000 annually due to debt, operating and custodial costs. Kellum, on the other hand, has grossed between $137,000 to $247,000 annually after operating costs until this year due to bond debt.
The district bonded for $27 million to make building repairs in 2017, including $5.7 million for Kellum and $885,000 for Bower.
At a January community forum, several residents expressed concerns about the money being invested in the two buildings.
“You can’t keep saying we’re going to keep [Kellum] open and we’re going to pump $6 million into it to protect our investment,” said John Lisi, who requested the formation of an advisory committee. “If we are losing money it would have been easier to kick the tenants out and save the $6 million and put it into the schools that house our children.”
Board member Michael DiGiuseppe expressed similar concerns.
“If Just Kids moves out of that building at Kellum after we put $6 million into it, we're going to have a building with new windows and a new roof and no one in it,” he said.
In a statement, district Superintendent Daniel Giordano, who will be on the committee, said district officials are limited in who they can allow to rent Bower.
“The State Education Department will not approve the district’s renting the space to any entity that does not serve an academic function unless the district invests in a costly fire-sprinkler system,” Giordano said.
Installing a fire-sprinkler system could cost upward of $600,000, he said.
The decision to bond for Kellum “was made out of necessity” to replace windows and the roof after no work was done on the building in more than 10 years, Giordano said in the statement.
“As landlords, we have a fiduciary duty to keep the building in functional order whether the District personally uses it or rents it to a tenant,” Giordano said.
Giordano said the bonding cost for Kellum will actually be about $2 million less than estimated.
The purpose of the advisory committee is “to gain input from stakeholders in the community regarding the status, use and possible uses” for Bower and Kellum, he said.
Along with Giordano, the committee will include four board members, the district's assistant superintendent for business, the director of facilities, health and safety, and three community members.
Once formed, the committee is expected to meet not “more than twice monthly” according to the district.