Port Jefferson’s $25 million bond proposal to fund school improvements faces opposition from some residents

Port Jefferson school officials are asking residents to approve $25 million for school building improvements and a new artificial surface on the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School football field.

District residents will vote Dec. 12 on a pair of 15-year bond proposals: a $23.1 million proposal to improve bathrooms, heating and ventilation systems, and music rooms, and add accessibility for students with disabilities. at all three schools in the district; and a $1.9 million plan to replace the grass soccer field with an all-weather shredded rubber surface.

The soccer field plan will not pass unless voters approve both proposals, officials said.

The first proposal is a scaled-down version of a $29.9 million bond that voters overwhelmingly rejected in December 2017. Residents voted 374-1,355 against that plan.

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan told Newsday in an email Friday that the bond “focuses on renovating and restoring our existing facilities, many of which were original and date back to the 1960s.” She said that rubber turf would replace grass that requires patches and repairs throughout the year.

“The increased playability will prevent our student-athletes from being transported to city parks to use grass when our grass field is unplayable,” Schmettan said.

The first proposal would raise taxes on an appraised home by $5,000 by $564 annually, district officials said. The second bond would raise taxes on the same home by an additional $46 a year. District officials did not provide percentage increases.

District officials expect state aid to cover about 22.5% of the costs.

The plans face opposition from some residents who question whether the improvements are necessary.

Charles Backfish, who lives across the street from the high school, said he is undecided on the first proposal but plans to vote against the second because he worries the man-made material could release toxins into the groundwater.

“That I think would have serious consequences, not only with the people in this area that abuts the field, but with the village in general because of the environmental effects,” Backfish told Newsday.

Studies have found a “low potential for chemical exposure” from shredded rubber turf, but “some uncertainty remains due to study limitations,” according to the state Department of Health website.

Drew Biondo of Port Jefferson told Newsday that he plans to vote “no” on both plans.

“I oppose the process,” he said, adding that a citizens’ advisory committee found little support for artificial turf. “Repair the buildings, [but] have the vote when everyone votes for the regular budget [in May].”
District officials have scheduled public tours of the high school to answer questions about the bonds. Tours will be held at 5 pm on October 18; 9 a.m. on October 29; and 7 p.m. on November 17.

Voting will be from 6 am to 9 pm at the high school.

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