Herricks High School fixes central to $29.5M capital plan

The Island Now

Herricks High School’s cafeteria, football stadium and a science lab would get makeovers in a $29.5 million package of building projects the district is pitching to residents.

The plan also includes a brand-new fitness center at the 58-year-old school, along with smaller fixes across the district’s seven buildings, the assistant superintendent for business, Lisa Rutkoske, said at Thursday’s school board meeting.

Residents would have to approve a $24.5 million bond in December to fund the plan, pared down from $80 million worth of work identified in a survey of the district’s buildings last year, Rutkoske said. 

The rest would be covered by $5 million in spending from the district’s capital reserve fund, which voters must also approve, she said.

“This is not just a one-time initiative,” Rutkoske said. “It is a journey that I know you guys started last year, and it will continue for many years to come.”

Some 61 percent of the package is “health and safety” upgrades, including new asphalt and sidewalks, new interior doors, renovations to select bathrooms, ventilation improvements, and electrical and plumbing fixes, at Herricks’ seven buildings — the high school, middle school, three elementary schools, Herricks Community Center and the Shelter Rock Academy.

The high school would get 51 percent of all the work, with about 39 percent accounting for the “modernization upgrades” there, Rutkoske said. That building needs updates the most because of its age and the fact that all students end up using it, she said.

The school’s grass football field would be replaced with a new synthetic turf field on which multiple teams could practice at once, Rutkoske said. New bleachers, bathrooms and lights for the field’s running track would also be built, and electrical infrastructure for full field lights would be installed in case the district wants them in the future, she said.

A brand-new 2,400-square-foot fitness center added to the front of the building would provide more space for student athletes and the school’s academic fitness programs, Rutkoske said.

The cafeteria would get a full renovation, making it more open and adding new furniture and device charging stations, architect Fred Seeba said.

“We want it to be an inviting place where the children go, that they want to stay on campus, that they want to interact and socialize and have a place to go to,” Rutkoske said.

The last of the school’s science labs would also be renovated, and the building’s emergency generator would be replaced, Rutkoske said.

The plan would also replace hundreds of windows in the building for $4.1 million, Rutkoske said. That includes $700,000 to totally replace a false-front “curtain wall” at the school, as discussed in June and recently recommended by an engineer, she said.

The district hopes to finalize plans by Oct. 6 to set a bond referendum for Dec. 6, Rutkoske said. Some light work, such as door replacements, could start next summer, with larger packages of projects to come in the following two summers, Seeba said.

The bond would not cause taxes to rise because the district would take on the new debt as it pays off existing debt in the 2021-22 school year, Rutkoske said.

Administrators will tweak the plan according to feedback from residents and the school board at two more meetings on Sept. 15 at the Herricks Community Center and Sept. 27 at Herricks High School.

While he likes the capital plan as a whole, a resident, Marc Zisselman, said the district should include field lights at the high school in this package rather than wait to undertake another large project.

“It’s just not the right way to do it,” Zisselman said. “Either you do it the right way or you don’t do it at all.”

But some parents say the lights could keep students at school longer in the evening and disturb the houses near the field, school board Trustee James Gounaris said. Some schools with high-end fields don’t have lights, and most that do turn them off at 8 or 9 p.m., district Superintendent Fino Celano said.

“If the majority of the people don’t want lights, they vote the whole bond down, none of this happens,” board Trustee Brian Hassan said.

By Noah Manskar

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