Although there was a nearly 10-year age gap between Drew Harvey and Michael Semkus, the two were good friends, traveling to Mashashimuet Park in their hometown of Sag Harbor, often incorporating playground equipment into their workouts.
So when Semkus, 28, died of a drug overdose in 2016, Harvey couldn’t think of a better way to honor his friend than with a memorial workout station at Pierson Middle School, where Semkus was a soccer coach and substitute teacher.
“It is our hope that this memorial will not only inspire each proceeding generation toward leading a life of fitness, but to also encourage the youth of this community to pursue their ambitions,” Harvey told the Sag Harbor School Board when he first presented his project on June 17. “Likewise, it can be used as a teaching tool to highlight the very real dangers of addiction and drug abuse.”
At its July 2 organizational meeting, the board voted to explore the next steps toward bringing Harvey’s idea to life, with costs not to exceed $12,500.
There was one dissenting voice. “I think it should be a bigger number,” board member Chris Tice said. “We don’t have a meeting for eight weeks. I’m worried that time is of the essence . . . I fear that this is going to derail the project. I would hope that we can find a way to move forward on this, because I think it’s valuable to our community and our students for many, many reasons.”
The other board members offered to put up half the potential price, hoping Harvey would hold a fundraiser to match the district’s contribution.
The former lacrosse player said architects working with his nonprofit Dawgpatch Bandits estimated the project to cost between $7500 and $12,000, adding licensed professionals involved with it could provide a three-dimensional rendering within 24 hours to alleviate costs to the district. He has already purchased materials for the station, like parallel bars and pull-up bars, which he did with half the funds from a 3300-mile cross country bike trip to raise awareness about the opioid-abuse crisis. A rock has also been donated by East Hampton Masonry with a memorial plaque.
“We’d like to see the vote happen, or we will, unfortunately, look to other areas for the project,” he told the board prior to the decision to move forward. “We’d like to see that vote happen so we know the school board is in support of this project.”
“Hopefully the rest of the community wants to get behind it so we can make it happen,” board president Jordana Sobey said.
But Superintendent Katy Graves said while the district would not need approval from the New York State Department of Education since it is site work, the school’s insurance company and attorney would likely turn down architectural plans due to liability issues. Board member Brian DeSesa asked Graves to see if school architects could look over the plans as a way to save money. The superintendent agreed to ask, with no guarantee of a go-ahead.
The board will immediately put out request for proposals or put it out to public bid for more competitive pricing following authorization of a design plan, according to Graves. She said obtaining a construction contract could take two weeks, with RFPs taking another two, and construction one to two.
“I would hate to wait to the end of August,” Tice said. “If the board wants to proceed, the summertime is a great time to do it, while the kids aren’t out there.”
Regardless, the board members were in consensus with board member Yorgos Tsibiridis’s statement that the project is something meaningful to the school and the students.
Harvey said it shows what his friend meant to everyone he encountered.
“Mike Semkus devoted his life to giving back to the local community from which he came,” Harvey said. “Tragedies like this cannot be swept under the rug. Rather, they must be brought into the light for each proceeding generation to learn from.”