Supporters of the Bridgehampton School looked on anxiously Thursday night, September 13, as election clerks tallied piles of paper ballots on a table in the corner of the gymnasium. Although the early tally looked bleak, judging solely from the thickness of the “no” pile, in the end, the district’s request for $4.7 million more in funding for a major renovation project was approved by a 132 to 98 margin.
“Let the construction begin,” said Superintendent Robert Hauser. “I’m looking forward to the excitement of a new future for this school. The community is going to see this place dramatically changed.”
District voters, in December 2016, had originally supported a $24.7 million, 35,000-square-foot construction project that would have more than doubled the size of the school. The project called for a new library and classrooms, a new gym, locker rooms, and fitness center; the conversion of the existing gym into an auditorium; and the elimination of several modular buildings on the district’s campus that have been in service long beyond their anticipated lifespans.
But by the time the New York State Education Department issued a building permit for the project this summer, the economy had picked up steam and the cost of construction had risen to the point that two separate bid solicitations came in way over budget.
District officials said they could not reasonably scale back the plans without changing scope of the project so much that it would require submitting a new bond issue to the voters. They instead sought the additional funding, which they believe will provide them with a sufficient cushion.
Hauser said the bids will be advertised as early as next week, allowing the school board to award contracts in early October with an eye toward a November 1 groundbreaking. The district expects the project to be finished by the summer of 2020.
The superintendent said district officials and their construction representatives were confident that prices would not have risen so much in the 120 days since the first bids were received to put the project in jeopardy again. He added that since June is typically a very busy time for construction projects, the district might actually receive slightly lower bids this time around.
The Bridgehampton School serves students in prekindergarten through high school. Enrollment has grown from 150 to 225 in the past decade. Although the district remains one of the smallest on the East End, there is a need for more space allocated to providing a broad range of educational services for students.
Besides being the bond vote, Thursday was also Back-to-School Night. Teachers sat at tables set up around the gym meeting with parents, while voting took place on the other side of the room.
School board president Ron White said he was relieved the bond vote passed, but said he was troubled by the large number of “no” votes. “We still have more work to do,” he said. “We have to convince them of how special and important this school is.”
Hauser, who said he was “overwhelmed” by the successful vote, was busy texting the results to John Grillo, the district’s architect, and others involved in the project.
“Wow,” responded Grillo. “Congrats. Now, let’s get to work.”