Port Jefferson residents will also vote on a plan to replace...

Port Jefferson residents will also vote on a plan to replace the grass football field at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School with an all-weather crumb-rubber surface. Credit: Bob Sorensen

Port Jefferson school officials are asking residents to approve $25 million for school building upgrades and a new artificial surface at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School football field.

District residents will vote on Dec. 12 on a pair of 15-year bond propositions: a $23.1 million proposal to improve bathrooms, heating and ventilation systems and music classrooms, and add accessibility for handicapped students at the district's three schools; and a $1.9 million plan to replace the grass football field with an all-weather crumb-rubber surface.

The football field plan will not pass unless voters approve both propositions, officials said. 

The first proposition is a slimmed-down version of a $29.9 million bond that voters overwhelmingly rejected in December 2017. Residents voted 374-1,355 against that plan.

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan told Newsday in an email Friday the bond "focuses on renovating and restoring our existing facilities, many of which were original dating back to the 1960s." She said the rubber turf would replace grass that requires year-round patching and repairs.

"The increased playability will prevent our student-athletes from being transported to town parks to use turf when our grass field is not playable," Schmettan said. 

The first proposition would hike taxes on a home assessed at $5,000 by $564 annually, district officials said. The second bond would increase taxes on the same home by an additional $46 annually. Percentage increases were not provided by district officials.

District officials expect state aid to cover about 22.5% of the costs.

The plans face opposition from some residents who question whether the upgrades are necessary.

Charles Backfish, who lives across the street from the high school, said he is undecided on the first proposition but plans to vote against the second because he has concerns that the artificial material might release toxins into the groundwater. 

"That I think would have serious consequences, not only with people in this area that abuts the field, but the village at large because of the environmental effects,” Backfish told Newsday.

Studies have found a "low potential for chemical exposure" from crumb-rubber turf, but "some uncertainty remains due to study limitations," according to the state Department of Health website.

Drew Biondo of Port Jefferson told Newsday he plans to vote "no" on both plans.

"I object to the process," he said, adding a citizens advisory committee found little support for artificial turf. "Fix the buildings, [but] have the vote when everybody votes for the regular budget [in May]."
District officials have scheduled public tours at the high school to answer questions about the bonds. Tours will be held at 5 p.m. on Oct. 18; 9 a.m. on Oct. 29; and 7 p.m. on Nov. 17.

Voting will be 6 a.m.-9 p.m. at the high school.