The feeling of joy that was in the air in June was palpable when the Bridgehampton School community gathered behind the main building to ceremonially break ground on an ambitious building project that would double the size of the school. Students and staff of the district, who have long toiled in subpar conditions, were finally going to get an addition that would meet their needs.
That excitement turned to concern just a few short weeks later when bids came in way over budget for the proposed $24.7 million project. Tomorrow, September 13, residents in the district will be asked to approve an additional $4.7 million in spending for the project.
The district’s consultants are confident the additional money will allow them to complete the expansion and renovation in its entirety, but judging from the reaction of the few people who turned out for a public forum on the topic last week, the public is not necessarily on board with the request for more money.
A lot of things have happened since voters approved the expansion in December 2016 — the most important being the announcement by the Ross School that it would close its elementary school on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton. Some taxpayers want the school district to buy that property and abandon or scale back its own plan. Unfortunately, it is seldom that simple for a school district to change direction once a project is in place, and buying a property a mile from the main campus would bring with it a host of other unforeseen challenges.
Others have already indirectly raised the old question of whether Bridgehampton’s enrollment is too small to support its own high school. Although enrollment has risen in the past decade, Bridgehampton is still a tiny school, with just 227 students in pre-K through high school. The high school might be small, but the desire to keep it open was expressed loud and clear in 2009 when three candidates who ran for the school board on a platform of closing it came in dead last in a seven-way race for three seats. Asking the school board to work contrary to the public’s wishes would be wrong.
Bridgehampton voters should do right by their school and vote yes. Approval would allow the district to eliminate portable classrooms, which have outlived their usefulness and pose security concerns, as well provide a proper library, gymnasium, auditorium, and much needed classroom space. Hard as it might be for some voters to justify the extra expense, they should focus instead on the vast improvements made at the school over the past decade and provide staff and students with the kind of facility they need to excel in the 21st Century.