Mineola reorganization plan postponed over resolution’s wording

The Mineola School Board delayed a decision to put a second school consolidation bond for $6.1 million up for a vote last Thursday night when what seemed to be a pro forma approval of a requisite resolution clearing prospective construction at the Jackson Avenue School became a stumbling block to putting the bond up for balloting.

The pro forma resolution, asserting that the size of a new multi-purpose room to the Jackson Avenue School did not require environmental impact review, became a point of contention when board member John McGrath pointed out a discrepancy in the size of those additions in supporting documents. One document described it as a 2,500-square foot addition, while another put it at 3,300 square feet. In combination with a 9,000-square foot addition for an eight-classroom addition to the school, that could mean the added space would exceed 10,000, potentially prompting an environmental evaluation.

“Because of the discrepancies, I have a hard time voting ‘yes’,” said McGrath, who said he was poised to vote against the bond vote anyway.

McGrath said he wanted an assurance from H2M, the architectural firm overseeing the project, that the size did not raise any environmental issues with the nearby Mineola Park.

Mineola Superintendent of Schools Michael Nagler pointed outs that the board had passed the identical resolution prior to approving the $6.7 million school consolidation bond proposal that recently failed.

“This is the same SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act] resolution that we passed six months ago with no challenges. I don’t understand what changed,” Nagler said.

McGrath moved to table the SEQRA resolution, board member Irene Parrino seconded it, and board president Terence Hale provided the third vote to support the motion 3-2. Board vice president Chritsine Napolitano and board member William Hornberger voted against tabling it.

Parrino said afterward that she would likely have voted against putting the $6.1 bond proposal up for a vote.

Before McGrath’s expressed his misgivings about the square-footage discrepancy, Nagler gave a summary of what the $6.1 million bond involved. He explained that the two-part proposition offered a first option of a $4.4 million bond for the expansion of Jackson Avenue and a second option of a $1.7 million bond to expand the Hampton Street School for grades pre-K through 2, eliminating the Willis Avenue School from the mix. Without the second option, the Meadow Drive School and Willis Avenue would house grades pre-K through 2.

Nagler explained that the second option would only be enacted if the first option passed, noting there would be no additional cost to keep the Willis Avenue facility, the district’s largest and newest building.

“We do have a perfectly good building here. You don’t have to spend $1.7 million to switch,” he said.

During a public comment period, a few residents said they favored the $1.7 million option, but didn’t like the idea of spending $4.4 million for the Jackson expansion. But that expansion would be needed to accommodate grades 3 through 5 at Jackson and keep eighth graders at the middle school. Many residents objected to the initial $6.7 million bond option because it would have shifted 5th graders to the middle school and 8th graders to the high school.

Ann Marie Regan, a member of the Community Committee on Consolidation, said that group’s preferences were not expressed in the options offered by either bond configuration.

“We said Willis was not a viable school for the children. We were told Hampton was a tight fit, but it would work,” she said.

Regan said the CCC has also favored clustering grades in common schools starting in grade three, rather than the first three elementary grades.

“I think we should only close one school,” one woman said.

But the meeting ended without definitive action on the intended business of formally putting up the second $6.1 million bond proposal up for a vote in February, toward the objective of closing two schools. But the non-vote will not delay a prospective February ballot on the bond proposal.

“I’m disapointed because I think we’re going to have the same answer as we did prior to this,” Napolitano said afterward, adding that additional space on the Jackson Avenue would not be an impediment to passing the SEQRA resolution.

The impact of the decision the school board took nearly a year ago, and the default option that would also close two schools – Cross and Hampton in that order over the next two years – still looms if the second bond proposition isn’t approved.

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Richard Tedesco

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