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Coronavirus has Baldwin rethinking $158 million bond issue vote

Shari Camhi, Baldwin schools superintendent, takes a moment

Shari Camhi, Baldwin schools superintendent, takes a moment to welcome 4-year-old Alani Pierre Philipp into the district after she registered for kindergarten last August. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The Baldwin school district is rethinking plans to hold a Wednesday referendum on a $158 million bond issue that would expand space throughout the district for science and technology programs, performing arts, sports and other programs.

The district’s website stated Monday night that the long-planned bond vote would be held from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Baldwin Senior High School. But Mary Jo O’Hagan, vice president of Baldwin’s school board, said the district “will be sending out a notice [Tuesday] morning to the community” announcing whether the referendum was still scheduled.

O’Hagan did not elaborate.
The proposal, dubbed Innovation 2020, is the product of more than three years' planning, and would include extensive renovations of school structures more than 100 years old, district officials said. Annual costs for typical homeowners will range from about $238 to $476, once work gets underway, the district estimated.

The 4,500-student Baldwin system, like all others statewide, is shut down until April 1, as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. Shari Camhi, the district's superintendent, had said late Saturday no cases had been reported in local schools, and that the bond proposal reflects widespread support for improvements in the community where the project has been under discussion since 2016.

"The process has been community driven," Camhi said in a statement sent to Newsday. "Our administrative team and Board of Education have produced a plan that respects the community's wishes and is financially viable."

Camhi added that more than 350 residents participated in fall discussions when the community was asked, "What would you like to see in our facilities and grounds?"

Major features of the project include:

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  • New "state-of-the-art" elementary classrooms for instruction known as STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
  • Enlarged kitchens capable of providing hot lunches in the district's five elementary schools.
  • An expanded performing-arts center at Baldwin Senior High with double the capacity of an existing facility, along with a new gym and media center/library.
  • New turf fields and tracks at both the high school and middle school. 
  • Air-conditioning in classrooms districtwide with restrooms properly equipped for persons with disabilities.

Some residents have voiced misgivings. About two dozen residents crowded a district meeting in January, with many expressing concerns about potential tax hikes or about specific expenditures they considered unnecessary, according to a report by the LI Herald. 

Elsewhere in the Nassau-Suffolk region, other substantial bond propositions have been submitted to the public with mixed results.

Cold Spring Harbor won approval of a $33.2 million proposition Nov. 19. South Huntington voters rejected a $115 million plan Oct. 7, while Glen Cove voters turned down two bonds totaling $78 million Oct. 22. 

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