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Sewanhaka schools to try again to get bonds OKd for building upgrades

Sewanhaka Central High School District officials will try again to win approval to upgrade seven aging school buildings and several sports fields, after voters rejected a $99.51 million bond referendum last year.

The school board Tuesday night unanimously approved holding an $86.61 million bond referendum vote on May 20, the same day as the school budget vote in order not to incur additional voting costs.

"I understand this is a large sum of money, but these are five aging buildings and the time is now to try to get as many of our capital needs met as possible," board president David Fowler said.

He said the improvements are necessary for the health and welfare of students and staff of the all-high school district, which serves Floral Park, Bellerose, New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Franklin Square and Elmont.

The proposal calls for funds to renovate two vocational buildings and five high schools: Sewanhaka, Floral Park Memorial, Elmont Memorial, New Hyde Park Memorial and H. Frank Carey. Upgrades include renovations to auditoriums, as well as improvements to athletic fields costing about $16 million, school officials said.

Those improvements drew criticism. "If this bond issue is about repair to the buildings, why does the school board continue to include massive amounts of money for athletics facilities and the remodeling of school auditoriums, plus many unnecessary renovations?" said Milton Brush of Floral Park, who was heckled by some in the crowd.

Under the plan, the district would not install air-conditioning in the five school auditoriums, or electronic signs, and would reduce the size of gym additions to all the schools except Elmont Memorial, which would get a $2 million gym, school officials said. All this work and other options were included in last year's rejected bond proposal.

"That's a significant amount of work across the board to try to reduce the overall number," said Superintendent Ralph P. Ferrie.

The approved projects would be carried out and financed in phases over a period of three to four years. About 47 percent of the debt issued would be paid through state building aid, officials said.

"We need to see the numbers," said Christine Grincato of New Hyde Park, referring to potential tax increases. "I want to know how much this is going to cost."

If the bond referendum loses, there could be further cuts in programs and staffing to pay for building repairs, Fowler said.

"The time to do the bond is now," said Jennell Horan, who has three children who attend Floral Park High School. "The work has to be done. With a 2 percent tax cap, a bond is the only way we can do it."

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