Written by Daniel Offner Wednesday, 19 February 2014 00:00
News of the proposed development of 160 to 247 condominium units on the 11.3 acres of property occupied by the Karopczyc and Gallow schools, has stirred quite a commotion in the Island Trees schools community, as over 500 concerned parents, teachers, students, faculty and staff packed the high school auditorium last week for a community forum on the farmedge property.
“We’re just starting the conversation,” said Island Trees Board of Education President Ken Rochon. “It is your choice ultimately, but as a board we feel this a good deal.”
According to Rochon, the forum was held to gauge the public’s opinion on the proposed sale, which he feels would leave the district in better financial shape for years to come. The Island Trees Board of Education also acknowledged that it will put it up to a
public referendum, which will be held separate from the school budget vote in May, to determine whether or not the district can sell the property, not the proposed project itself. According to school officials, the developer can at any time change the project by petitioning the Town of Hempstead.
During the forum, accusations ran rampant, as public participants took turns lobbing questions and concerns at the Island Trees Board of Education about plans to relocate the library, enrollment, student safety and several other details.
“We’re being led blindly over a cliff,” said Bill Fitzgerald, a local parent and Island Trees library trustee. “You’re not being truthful with the community.”
Among the questions asked, several were given no response from the board, including, “who is the developer,” “how much does the school district stand to make,” and “why the sudden rush?” However, since the board has not approved any of the bids, it could not disclose information on the developer in question nor would it disclose the anticipated revenue as bidders are competing for the contract.
Unlike the typical procedure a school district would undergo to purchase goods or services, the Island Trees School District, last year, issued a Request for Proposal, a process which is not selected based on lowest resonable bid, but based on which contract bidder offers the greatest overall value.
For interested stakeholders, such as the Island Trees Public Library, the proposal still looked to be a step in the opposite direction. A diagram provided by the school district shows the space the district is offering the public library is smaller than the space it is currently allocated at Karopczyc.
“Moving to the middle school is a downgrade,” said Library Trustee Jerry Schmotzer.
Library Director Michele Vaccarelli said the Island Trees Public Library has moved a total of five times in the past 17 years and that since its last move—from the Memorial Middle School to Karopczyc in 1997—programs and services provided by the library as well as the library’s overall collection of books, have grown.
“It cannot just be a 5-to-10 year lease again,” Vaccarelli said. “Who is going to pay for the construction of the new facility [at the Memorial Middle School]?
According to Vaccarelli if the library were to be required to pay to move back to the middle school, the expense would be to great for the library to pay through its reserves.
Regarding safety concerns, school officials attempted to quell the fears of parents, still reeling from the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., by assuring parents that the library’s new facilities would have separate entrance to ensure that the public did not wander into the school, and that the district could potentially hire a secruity aid to monitor the library.
Diane Kirk, president of the Levittown Property Owners Association, asked the Board of Education if it has any plans to conduct a traffic study along Farmedge road.
Rochon said that the board did not currently have any plans to commit to any form of traffic or crime study yet, but that they do plan to perform them as things progress.
Another parent asked if the district can handle any future uptick in student enrollment if it should sell off the property. Island Trees School District Superintendent Dr. Charles Murphy explained that since the buildings in question are not being utilized as classroom space, sale of the property would not cause an impact to student enrollment.
“We can project that we can absorb any increase [in enrollment] over the next 7 years,” Murphy replied.
Murphy also said that apart from money made in the actual sale of the property, the district would save $200,000 in maintainance costs to keep Gallow and Karopczyc open.
“I’ve lived here the past 27 years and all that time we had BOCES money our taxes never went down,” said Carol Mikulin, mother of Island Trees Public Library Board President John Mikulin. “I don’t feel this is great for the community or that it will save us money.”
Island Trees resident and former school board trustee Carl Bonsignore proclaimed that based on the school district’s estimates, if it costs $200,000 to maintain the current facilities, it would amount to $30 more a year per household.
“It’s a small price to pay to take a little longer,” Bonsignore said.