Katonah-Lewisboro school board members expressed a continued interest in a public referendum for six tennis courts coupled with a new turf field and track on the John Jay campus, although some colleagues have raised various concerns about doing so.
The possible referendum was discussed at last Monday's board meeting, the first since the issue was last discussed in June. It was also the first time that new board members Jeffrey Holbrook and Richard Stone got to discuss the matter as elected officials.
Michael Jumper, assistant superintendent for business, gave a recap of the board's initial interest in proceeding, which came after learning that the John Jay Boosters Club had raised about $400,000 for the courts. However, about $250,000 for preparation and drainage work is being considered for the referendum package. It would be coupled with estimated $875,000 for replacing the turf and track on the campus' contest field - that figure is subject to change, Jumper explained - and $50,000 for an another building project. The smallest number would allow for the package, totaling an estimated $1,125,000 to qualify for state aid of more than 25 percent of the cost, or $285,000 and payable over a long-term period.
Board member Stephanie Tobin said she is "very comfortable" with taking the issue to a referendum. She noted that the public would be deciding and felt that there would be an “awful lot” for the amount of money involved.
Board President Charles Day offered similar sentiments, saying that “we're being a offered a large gift here” and wants to give the community a chance to decide whether to accept it.
Day also felt that the contest field is in need of a replacement.
“That field needs to be redone.”
Without getting into details, colleague Peter Treyz also said he is for a vote, while Holbrook supported having the referendum include two parts: one for the field and another for the courts.
Stone was skeptical of the merits of having a referendum due to the cost of the project, saying that “maybe we should kind of throw this up in the air and rethink the whole thing.” He also felt that they are being asked to put up money to “basically to get free tennis courts" and added, “But we have tennis courts.”
Currently, John Jay tennis players play at the Fox Valley park, it was noted at the meeting.
Fellow board member Marjorie Schiff was concerned about the timeline, saying that she feels "a little troubled" by it and talked about where the district stands now with another issue coming up this year.
There is a catch, however, to the existing funding. If the project is not completed by Dec. 31, 2014, then donors have been promised refunds for their money, a point of contention that came up.
Stone, when told by Tobin that the $400,000 would not be available in future years, felt that it does not mean donors would not come back in another year or two.
“Nothing else will change.”
Tobin recapped the refund language and appeared skeptical regarding Stone's outlined scenario.
December Referendum a Possibility
Going forward, according to Jumper, the architecture firm of KG&D, which is based in Mount Kisco, will work on pre-referendum information. This includes developing an environmental assessment form (EAF), which must be filed with interested and involved agencies for the review process: New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), because the campus is near its drinking water supply, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Additionally, some neighbors on Route 121 would get notice of the EAF.
“And that needs to be rooted out and figured out prior to the board of education making a decision to put forward a referendum," Jumper said.
KG&D is also doing an analysis, Jumper said, and an architect from the firm would come with an update to the board at its Aug. 26 meeting. At that meeting, Jumper explained, the board would be slated to declare its intent to be lead agency for the project, meaning that it would oversee its environmental review.
A required 30-day waiting period would follow, and at its Oct. 3 meeting, the board would be expected to vote on a determination of significance, or whether the project would have a significant environmental impact.
If the board decides it does not have a significant impact, then the board could schedule a referendum, which then requires a 45-day waiting period from the scheduling vote. Jumper believes that early December would make sense to hold one, since following the minimum number of days would mean having a vote near Thanksgiving.