Infrastructure took center stage at a Great Neck Board of Education meeting on Thursday night, both for projects conducted over the summer and a planned but controversial parking lot for North High School students.
Teresa Prendergast, the superintendent for the Great Neck Public Schools, said there were several projects undertaken across the district with paving, masonry fixes, bathroom reconstruction and an upgrading of the fire alarm systems districtwide.
This comes on top of the “tremendous amount of work” that goes into school openings, with maintenance and building staff scrubbing the classrooms “from ceiling to floor,” Prendergast said.
“It’s a long school year, but the summer is really and truly our busiest time of year when you think about the scope of the work,” Prendergast said.
At Saddle Rock Elementary School, Prendergast said, there are two “completely reconstructed bathrooms” with new plumbing and ongoing window replacement projects slated to be done by November.
Lakeville School, meanwhile, underwent a “major ceiling and lighting replacement project,” installing new light systems in the gymnasium and replacing tiles. The school also has an updated multipurpose space in the cafeteria, Prendergast said, as well as five reconstructed bathrooms, a repaved student playground area and patch-ups of the masonry.
E.M. Baker Elementary School, Parkville School and North High School also saw roof replacements and touch-ups to their facades, Prendergast said.
North High School so far has had 10 classrooms addressed when it comes to air conditioning, Prendergast said, as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the facilities.
The emergency access road by South High School and Middle School was also widened with new asphalt, which is important for student safety, Prendergast said.
Prendergast also mentioned that the school district has a web page, https://www.greatneck.k12.ny.us/construction, dedicated to construction updates, including capital projects related to the $68.3 million bond approved by voters in 2017.
One of those planned projects, a student parking lot for Great Neck North High School seniors, arose again at the meeting.
The planned 97-unit parking lot is part of a bond package approved by a vote of 6,299 to 1,925, which includes critical infrastructure repairs and school upgrades across the school district.
It would also involve paving over a soccer field, which Prendergast previously said is a muddy “breeding ground of mosquitoes” that has not been used “for any athletic contest for about 20 years.” The new parking lot at the corner of Beach and Polo Road will cost $591,700 and reconfiguring the Polo Road corner lot with it will cost about $60,000.
Annie Mendelson, an opponent of the parking lot who is also a Great Neck village trustee, argued that there has been “misinformation” sent out about the parking lot issue. She said the field in question does not flood, that the school district can still cancel the project, and that “the opportunity to speak [about the lot] would’ve been before the bond.”
Great Neck resident Bill Lin, who said he has spent most of his life in the corporate world, argued that the Board of Education did not go through “due process” on the parking lot and relied more on “anecdotal evidence” than “objective data” or any studies.
“This is very poor governance,” Lin said. “If you went in front of any investment committee in many organizations, they would laugh at you because you have not done any homework to justify this.”
Lin implored the board to reinvest the money in savings for other bond-related projects that may go over budget and other “much more pressing needs that would benefit the whole community” like air conditioning and campus security.
Additionally, Lin said, the community did not read all the fine print on the $68.3 million bond as it put “faith and trust” in board members.
Alisa Schiff, another concerned resident, expressed concerns about the ethics of the parking lot. She said it teaches children that “exclusivity counts” and that the district is willing to take money from many already pressed taxpayers and pave over a “beautiful large piece of land” to benefit a small segment of people.
“They cannot sustain the increase in taxes,” Schiff said. “What do we say to them if they were to find out that we were using their money to make a parking lot for 35 over-privileged children?”
She also said that she heard people are saying that the parking lot was needed to address a few angry people “keying” other children’s cars when they can’t get a close spot.
Colleen Bowler, a spokeswoman for the Great Neck Public Schools, said administrators followed up on these claims and found “no reports of car keying.”
In other news related to the parking lot, school board trustees said there will be a discussion regarding the results of a traffic study first approved in May at their next public action meeting on Thursday, Oct. 18, at JFK Elementary School at 8:30 p.m.