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Port Jefferson School District

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Lynn Hallarman
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.

Students from Earl L. Vandermeulen High School visit the LongHouse Reserve. Photo courtesy PJSD

Students from Port Jefferson School District’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School recently visited the LongHouse Reserve, a 16-acre reserve and sculpture garden in East Hampton, featuring works by Buckminster Fuller, Dale Chihuly, Yoko Ono and Willem de Kooning. Coordinated by high school art teacher Nancy Randazzo, the student-artists explored the marvelous creativity on the spectacular grounds across the site.

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Lynn Hallarman
By Nasrin Zahed

Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10, covering student achievements, recognizing the board’s local impact, discussing upcoming volunteer efforts, and continuing conversations over proposed bleacher costs.

To kick off the night on a high note, the board recognized students receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award. This award aims to highlight the importance of how an individual’s service positively impacts the community. The awards are broken down by age group, with the ability to earn at the bronze, silver or gold levels, depending on the number of hours students have spent in service to others.

Oct. 16 through 20 is School Board Recognition Week. Several members of the school district came forward to express their gratitude for BOE members’ public service, emphasizing the volunteer time and effort required for the role.

Kirsten, the student representative for the district, covered the upcoming spirit week festivities that will be observed districtwide, culminating in the homecoming game this Saturday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m.

The meeting went on to discuss how the Royal Education Fund will hold also Oct. 14 its 7th annual Jill Nees-Russell Power of One Family Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. The run/walk event will begin at the Port Jefferson Village Center, continuing through the village and ending at the high school.

Brian Walker, principal of Port Jefferson Middle School, came forward to discuss how they are furthering community service efforts in students.

He noted how the students are encouraged to participate in school-led efforts, such as the beach cleanup initiatives, fundraisers for ASL, letter and card writing for the elderly and veterans, senior citizen luncheons, as well as food and coat drives.

Discussion later moved to the district’s bleacher project, with the board presenting the public with new facts on the matter.

Randi DeWitt, member of the BOE, informed that the project has been put out for bid once again, with six different bid proposals all including variations of the project. This is in the hope of receiving a lower cost estimate than was initially received last spring.

Stressing the importance of following the bid process in order to most effectively find the appropriate licensed vendor for the job, she encouraged community members to attend the upcoming public workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 24, where they will review all of the plans for each bid. An architect will be in attendance for questions.

The BOE will reconvene on Monday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m.

The Port Jefferson Royals had their hands full when Mattituck (8-1-2) paid a visit in a League IX matchup Friday afternoon, Oct. 6, when the Tuckers took command of the game early and never looked back. Holding the Royals scoreless, Mattituck’s potent offense would spread the wealth peppering the scoreboard with a 6-0 shutout victory. Royals’ starter freshman goalie Sam Matvya made seven saves.

The Royals (now 0-10 in league) have four games remaining in the regular season in search of that elusive first win.

— Photos by Bill Landon

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. Photo by Lynn Hallarman
By Lynn Hallarman

The price tag for replacement bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School has prompted scrutiny from Port Jefferson Civic Association, which is seeking a full accounting of the project’s costs from the Port Jefferson School District.

District voters approved several capital projects in May 2022 as part of the 2022-23 budget, earmarking $561,000 for replacement bleachers.

During the Aug. 29 special meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan said the bids for the bleacher replacement project came in at nearly double what the budget had allotted — $1 million for downsized seating of 650 from the current capacity of 750 seats.

“This [cost] includes a new press box, erosion control, removal and disposal of the existing bleachers, press box removal and disposal of the concrete slab, cut-and-fill leaching pools, an asphalt walkway, reinforcement of the concrete bleacher plant and the bleacher rows, press box power and topsoil,” according to Schmettan.

The school district’s media liaison forwarded an email stating that the district “is in the process of re-bidding the proposed bleacher replacement project through a series of six different configurations, each at various price points,” noting that “no decision has been finalized.”

At the Sept. 13 meeting of the civic association, several members advocated for finding an alternative to the proposed bleacher replacement project with greater clarity over the school board’s vetting process for incoming bids.

“We are not against the safety of our students and fulfilling [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements,” civic board members said in an email to the superintendent. But, “this significant increase in expenditure has raised great concern among our members,” adding that PJCA members “still have more questions than answers.”

Civic president Ana Hozyainova said attention to district expenditures is linked to other worries among village residents, such as rising taxes amid an aging population.

The downtrend in student enrollment in Port Jefferson — a 25% loss between 2011 and 2021, according to a 2022 district report — is not isolated to Port Jeff but part of a nationwide phenomenon, with persons over 65 years of age predicted to outnumber children by 2030, according to the Census Bureau.

Retrofitting the existing 60-year-old bleachers was also discussed as a possible alternative during the August BOE meeting, though it is unlikely to save costs, according to Schmettan.

“While structurally sound, [the bleachers] present a liability risk because of gaps between the benches and must be brought to current code, including ADA compliance, if any modifications are made,” the superintendent said.

The BOE proposed that funds approved by the voters in May 2022 for pool deck repairs be put off until the next budget cycle and instead use current funds to cover the additional costs of replacement bleachers.

“The pool deck repairs won’t be able to be done this budget cycle anyway because the [Suffolk] County Board of Health hasn’t approved it,” Schmettan said.

Some civic members objected to this approach to cover the bleacher replacement’s additional costs.

“We live on an island, surrounded by water in a harbor, and a lot of kids go swimming and fishing,” PJCA member Gail Sternberg said at the August meeting. “I don’t think [the pool repairs] should be less of a priority than the bleachers.”

PJCA has formally requested through the state Freedom of Information Law to examine the complete, itemized bids received by the district for the bleacher replacement project to better inform its members about the potential costs.

Port Jefferson had its hands full when the Royals hosted the Tornadoes of Harborfields Sept. 21 in a League III matchup where they found themselves down two goals at the halftime break. Harborfields’ junior Alexandra Fiumara found the right corner of the net off a rebound within four minutes followed by Lila Porzio at the 22-minute mark.

The Royals struggled to keep the ball upfield in the second half when Harborfields’ seniors Meaghan Fealy and Alanna Ratti both found the net to close out the game with a 4-0 victory.

Port Jeff goalie Rose Meliker-Hammock had 13 saves on the day and Harborfields’ keeper Keira Collins stopped 3.

The win lifted Harborfields to 5-2 on the season while the Royals fell to 1-5.

– Photos by Bill Landon

Port Jefferson school district aims to expand summer programs for drone technologies. Photo from Metro Graphics
By Nasrin Zahed

The Port Jefferson School District held its second Board of Education meeting of the 2023-24 school year Tuesday, Sept. 12, highlighting the success of districtwide summer programs and the expansion of year-round enrichment opportunities.

Jodi Cahill, director of special education, presented a detailed recount of the Extended School Year Summer Program. It is a 30-day program geared for students K-8 with moderate to severe disabilities to maintain skill levels acquired in the previous school year and prevent summer regression. This program is recommended to students based on their individualized education plans, known as IEPs.

Cahill emphasized that while this program is tailored as a continued learning opportunity for students to carry skills from last June into the following school year, it is still fun and engaging. Weekly curriculum themes, stimulating activities and field trips were in place to maintain and encourage student engagement.

Michael Caravello, music and fine arts director, took to the floor to discuss the Summer Music Camp, congratulating the program on 21 years of operation. The camp caters to students at all levels of musical talent to both prepare them for entrance and continued participation in band and orchestra programs. It also offers ukulele classes and a NYSSMA jumpstart program.

Caravello added that the camp aimed to provide students with a relaxing and open atmosphere to begin or continue their exploration of music while teaching the importance of collaboration and problem-solving among peers.

Adam Sherrard, director of health, physical education and athletics, presented on the success of the Athletic Summer Camps’ second year of running. With 20 camps advertised to students, the total offerings doubled from the program’s initial rollout in 2021-22. Over 80 student volunteers aided coaches and instructors in facilitating these programs, some even being recent graduates who took pleasure in participating. 

The camps served as forums for students to be active, work on personal health and form connections between older and younger peers.

The summer programs ebbed to a close with the Summer Academic Enrichment Program. Two camps were offered to students grades six to 12, introducing them to the world of coding and drones. The drone camp was made possible by a grant proposal to the Port Jefferson Royal Education Foundation, providing $2,000 for the district that was used to purchase 10 drones for student use.

Robert Neidig, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that the hope is now to expand summer programs to create more opportunities for students from the elementary level and beyond.

He stated that the district has applied to the state to use Title IV federal financial funding to create enrichment opportunities throughout the academic school year, with approval pending. 

The Board of Education will reconvene on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

From left, Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Christopher Smith, Ava Romonoyske, Joshua Kwon, Evan Monaghan, Andi Kelly, Mari Fukuto, Marco Puopolo, Kay Moran and Michael Caravello. Photo courtesy PJSD

Members of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s music department paid tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, by giving a moving performance during the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s annual 9/11 memorial service. 

The students, led by Michael Caravello, director of music and fine arts, performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America” and taps.

Port Jefferson school district students in cheer camp. Photo courtesy PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District athletic department recently concluded its summer athletic camps. The camp program doubled from 11 camps during its inaugural year last summer to 22 camps this year, offered from May through August, with 454 enrollments.

Varsity coaches ran the camps, assisted by the varsity student-athletes. The camps allowed students to remain active, develop their love of athletics and enhance athletic ability, all while making connections with high school athletes. The athletic department looks forward to creating more opportunities for students to engage in healthy activities in the future.

Port Jefferson school district teacher Robert Farenga, with seventh graders Milo Gugliucci, left, and Dean Zaltsman. Photo courtesy PJSD

Port Jefferson school district hosted an inaugural summer coding camp for Port Jefferson Middle School and Earl L. Vandermeulen High School students. The five-day camp, which took place at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, was supervised by Robert Farenga. 

Students were encouraged to hone their skills in educational tools such as Scratch, a block-based visual programming language, to more advanced 2D and 3D cross-platforms, such as GDevelop. The attendees also learned to create animation, PC and mobile games on the open-source game engine. 

Farenga was excited to engage the students in the stimulating environment while advancing their critical-thinking skills. As he oversaw two students working together on a basic drop-coding project in Scratch, he was brainstorming lessons in writing code to advance the fundamentals in their coding skills, readying them for high school computer science courses.