Great Neck schools present plans for $85.9 million bond

Great Neck school district officials and architects from Patchogue-based BBS Architecture on Monday made their second presentation to the community on a proposed $85.9 million bond issue that would address the district’s capital needs and educational enhancements.
Last month, officials outlined where $51.7 million would be going toward the district’s capital needs. At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, they told how another $43.86 million would be spent on educational and school building improvements.
“We’ve had many opportunities at the building levels, as well as at the board level, to identify potential projects that were identified from building-based, site-based committees talking about educational building enhancements for consideration as part of our bond,” Great Neck Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast said.
John Powell, the district’s assistant superintendent of business, said school officials looked at a mix of internal and external financing to “keep the cost of this bond as low as possible.”
Powell said the proposed $95.56 million in spending, for the $51.7 million in capital needs and $43.86 million in educational and building enhancements, would come from a bond issue of $85.9 million and about $9.66 million from reserves.
For taxpayers living in a $500,000 home, he said,  taxes would increase by $157.50 annually.
Taxpayers living in a $750,000 home would see an increase of $236.25 per year and those living in a  $1 million home would see an increase of $315 annually, Powell said.
Many of the “areas of focus” that were detailed by Fred Seeba and Joe Rettig, architects from BBS, were related to renovated science labs and library and media centers, auditorium renovations, bathroom renovations and improved air conditioning and infrastructure in the district’s schools.
Seeba said the goal was to update the school facilities to the “21st century.”
“You have a great educational program here in Great Neck. It is well known on the island, it is well known in New York State, it is well known throughout the country,” he said. “What we’re trying to look at is now bringing your facilities up to the level of that program.”
One of the biggest upgrades as part of the proposed bond would be the creation of a $6.58 million early childhood center, where children across the district would be offered a pre-kindergarten education, at the district’s Adult Learning Center on Clover Drive.
The district currently has a universal pre-kindergarten program at Parkville Elementary School, but the location is more convenient for students living in the southern half of the district.
Prendergast said the transformation of the Clover Drive facility into an early childhood center would offer pre-kindergarten for students zoned to begin kindergarten at E.M. Baker Elementary School, Saddle Rock Elementary School and Lakeville Elementary School.
As the facility currently houses the Adult Learning Center, Supportive Environment for All Learners and Pupil Personnel Services programs, the district is proposing to construct a building at the Cumberland Adult Center to relocate those programs. The proposed building would cost about $9.8 million.
Prendergast said the early childhood center would also help alleviate overcrowding at E.M. Baker.
“That would be an ideal situation to resolve some of the overcrowding issues that are here while still being able to make sure that every single child on the north side of town has the opportunity for a pre-K experience in our public school setting,” she said.
Donna Profetta, a kindergarten teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, said she was in favor of an additional universal pre-kindergarten program because it better prepares children for the next level of education.
“When 4-year-olds are exposed to a number of the letters and shapes in pre-K, it’s just going to lead them to be more successful in kindergarten,” Profetta said. “It makes my job so much easier, it makes their learning so much more pleasurable.”
Prendergast said that if the bond is approved, the early childhood center would ideally open by September 2018, though that was not a final date.
Another of the biggest expenses of the proposed bond is an approximately $6.9 million project to construct a new school auditorium and expanded cafeteria at E.M. Baker.
Rettig said the space at E.M. Baker was undersized for the number of students at the school.
Board President Barbara Berkowitz said the district would  send out a brochure to residents detailing the proposed bond issue and she will  make efforts to inform other people in the community.
Berkowitz also urged those who attended the meeting to educate others in the community, who may not be up to date on the bond issue, on what is going on at the district.
By Dec. 12, the board needs to adopt a state environmental quality review act determination for the projects and a bond referendum resolution to move forward with the plan.
In January and February 2017, there will be further bond referendum presentations and informational meetings.
The district has scheduled a vote for Feb. 14 on the proposed bond issue.

By Joe Nikic

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The Island Now

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