by Christopher Cameron and Joshua Pietzold
The Farmingdale school district approved a plan to build Long Island’s first community-focused public school sports complex on October 25, after residents approved a $36 million bond for the project 1,610 to 1,390.
The complex will be emplaced at Weldon E. Howitt Middle School, near Main street in Farmingdale Village.
“It’s part of a bigger beautification project that Farmingdale is doing. We saw how great Main Street has gotten and we wanted to continue that,” Jeanne Berkoski, director of physical education for the Farmingdale school district, said. “The community is very athletic and it’s as much for them as it is for our students.”
With the vote close to being a 50/50 split, residents had a mixed reaction to the new project.
“The new athletic fields seem like a good idea, but I don’t think they need to be so large. So, scale it back a bit and budget-wise too, of course,” Jennifer Smith, a Farmingdale resident, said.
The new complex will have an aquatic center with both competitive and community pools, a competitive track and new synthetic turf baseball and football fields. It will also come equipped with stadium lighting for night games and events, according to the Farmingdale school district.
“I think our athletes need the best of the best. I have three kids that went through the Farmingdale school district and I graduated from there myself, so I think anything that gives them an edge is great,” Jay Boyle, another resident, said.
The athletic facilities for the school district, especially the pool, needed an upgrade.
“The facility here at the high school has been here since 1970. It’s nearing 50 years old and it’s showing it,” Randall Corcoran, the swimming coach for Farmingdale High School, said. “The dive tank is only ten feet and the first two lanes are only 3 feet. We can’t even dive off the wall.”
The budget for the project is one of the main reasons many residents were hesitant about approving the complex.
However, the $36-million-dollar bond will not affect school property taxes, according to the school district. The school will retire a larger debt at the same time that the new plan would begin, according to a flyer related to the proposal.
“The average homeowner is paying now about $130 to $140 into the school maintenance bonds. This type of bond, the $36M, will cost the average homeowner about $80,” Ralph Eckstrand, the Farmingdale Village mayor, said.
The debt incurred from the construction of the sports complex will not be added to the school district’s budget until the 2021/2022 fiscal year, with the current debt retiring in the same year.
The district added in its press release that residents will actually save $71 in taxes with the proposal. But many residents remain skeptical.
“I don’t think you can spend that much money and still be saving residents their tax money,” John Neverka, Farmingdale resident, said, “It’s like deciding to re-mortgage when interest rates are low.”
School board members say that work will begin on the new fields in April, according to News12. The plans for the aquatic center still need approval by the state, which officials are expecting sometime next year.
The entire project should be completed within two years, says Eckstrand.