By Lynn Hallarman
The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held a public work session on Tuesday, Oct. 24, to discuss re-bid proposals for replacement bleachers at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.
Concerns about the price of the bleachers voiced by some members of the public prompted the school board to call for additional bids with the hopes of receiving a “fiscally responsible plan to replace the bleachers,” board member Randi DeWitt said at the October 10 meeting.
The board also weighed the cost of pool repairs at the elementary school, discussed updates in the plans for the retaining wall project at the middle school and funding options for upgrading the HVAC system at the high school.
Present at the meeting to answer questions by the board were project leads — Facilities Director Robert Minarik, Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister and Architect John Grillo.
District voters approved $561,000 for replacement bleachers and $553,612 for pool repairs in May of 2022 as part of the 2022-23 budget.
The decades-old bleachers, while structurally sound, do not meet current safety codes or Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, according to Leister. However, initial bids for the bleacher project last spring estimated nearly double the cost, at $1 million for reduced seating of 650 from the current capacity of 750 seats.
This cost includes a new press box, a concrete base — the bleachers currently sit on bare ground — removal and disposal of the existing bleachers, press box removal and disposal, labor costs set by New York State and architect fees.
Board members reviewed six bids for the bleacher project at various price points and configurations. Proposal options included 450 seats versus 650 seats, and remodeling the existing press box versus installing a new one.
“We are using a new way to approach projects bids,” using a base price and add-ons if deemed affordable, Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan said.
The board has the discretion to move funds between the bleacher replacement project and pool repairs as they are part of the same line item on the budget. To meet the price tag for several of the six bleacher bids would require shifting money away from the pool repairs, according to Schmettan.
“My reservation is taking away from something that is an instructional space, like the pool, and putting it toward something that is a noninstructional space, like the bleachers,” school board trustee Ryan Walker said.
He added, “The pool is part of the curriculum, and the bleachers are not.”
Other board members expressed discomfort with not addressing the safety concerns of current bleachers cited by the school’s insurance carrier (NYSIR).
Mr. Grillo proposed a plan that stays within budget while preserving the pool repairs. He suggested a 450-seat bleacher with room for expansion with an open-air press platform as a temporary solution, keeping the possibility of a new press box in the future.
The board made no final decisions.
The meeting ended with an announcement about launching a new way the public can track projects on the district’s website “to increase the transparency of the district’s capital projects,” Schmettan indicated.
The next board meeting will be held on Nov. 14 at the Elementary School.