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This is the latest concept of how Sullivan West plans to finish its athletic fields complex. It was presented to the board last week.

Sullivan West contemplates massive drainage/fields project

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — October 15, 2010 — On Thursday of last week, the Sullivan West school board debated a major project that may ultimately go up for public vote.
In fact, the public may have a say as early as next week.
The completion of the athletic fields at the Lake Huntington high school, noted Supt. Ken Hilton, has been an unfulfilled promise for much of the past decade.
But some board members weren’t as convinced as Hilton that the promise needs to be kept.
“We are looking at 2012 looming ahead of us with possibly a 66 percent increase in pension contributions or better,” predicted Rose Crotty. “... We’re going to drown! ... Yet we’re going to have deluxe accommodations for less than 1,000 children.”
Though the district currently has over 1,200 students, Crotty based her prediction on SW’s continuing trend of declining enrollment. Indeed, it’s down 62 children this year over last, said Hilton.
Board member Angela Daley countered that the school’s population may not fall that far, but Noel van Swol pointed to a recent Sullivan County School Boards Association dinner where several speakers painted a frighteningly grim future for New York public education funding.
“I’m extremely worried whether or not we’re going to overextend ourselves,” van Swol commented.
Hilton pointed out that the figures he was presenting that evening on the project’s costs were deliberately high, though even at the maximum estimated cost of about $8.5 million, SW has enough money to do it all without borrowing or increasing taxes.
“Add this up,” he said, “and we’re still not spending all the money we have.”
Hilton actually has yet to officially recommend any options to the board, but it seemed clear that the superintendent favored finishing the athletic fields.
He detailed the field setup, newly revised from one presented in September. The current arrangement would retain the existing football field and add a soccer field, baseball field, softball field, three multipurpose practice fields, an archery area, three tennis courts and a basketball court.
The nearby parking lot would be expanded, and a small fieldhouse would contain restrooms, team rooms (sans showers), a concession area and storage space.
Using natural turf, the field completion would cost $5.3 million, rising to $5.8 million for artificial turf solely on the football field and jumping to $6.3 million for artificial turf on all the fields.
The more expensive options would allow some or all of the fields to be opened by 2012, said Hilton, as there would be no need to wait for grass to grow. The natural turf option, however, would likely not be ready until 2014.
Extending the parking lot by a third would be an additional $600,000, and it would feature crusher run, not pavement.
But all this must be preceded by a large-scale drainage project to correct water problems that have plagued the high school since it was first built seven years ago.
Hilton said $450,000 must be spent to dig a 12-foot-deep trench around the school building to install pipes and rocks to shunt water away from the structure.
Other drainage fixes may be in the works, as well, including $82,000 for the entrance area near Route 52, $30,000 for about a dozen ongoing roof leaks, $30,000 to remediate sinkholes around the flagpole, and $40,000 on the high school’s driveway.
There’s also talk of improving the high school’s air circulation for about $1 million, though the air-conditioning option – at $3 million – has already been rejected as being too expensive.
Hilton noted that voter permission is not required to undertake the drainage work, as it would be funded by $860,000 left over from the original $50 million used to build the high school.
The $4.1 million just obtained from a settlement with the high school’s architectural firm can also be used for any purpose without voter approval, said Hilton, but voters’ permission is required to dip into the $4.3 million in SW’s capital reserve fund.
As a result, Hilton is planning a public forum this Wednesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. inside the high school’s auditorium.
He’s hoping the entire community will turn out to listen to his presentation and then give him and the board direction.
He indicated the public questions and comments, in fact, will determine if the field setup remains, is changed, or is even abandoned.
Hilton will then craft an official recommendation to give to the board at its next meeting on November 4 (7 p.m. in the high school library). The board could vote to proceed at that meeting.
That would begin the project’s bidding and engineering phases, with a public vote tentatively scheduled for March.
“If we aren’t ambitious,” Hilton explained, “we lose a building season.”
The board generally seemed inclined to proceed, but members first want to see projections of maintenance costs and transportation savings.
Public participation was welcomed by the board.
“I think we at least owe it to our taxpayers to let them think about this,” agreed board member Rose Joyce-Turner.
And what if the public decides in March it doesn’t want to complete the fields?
Whatever monies can’t be legally kept in the fund balance (surplus) will be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a tax decrease.
“Unless it’s in a reserve fund,” acknowledged Hilton, “the money has to be spent.”

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