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Jul 15, 2009 5:28 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Opinions are mixed about needs to expand East Quogue school

Jul 15, 2009 5:28 PM

Alexis Gersten, a parent who chairs the East Quogue School District’s Health and Wellness Committee, said she worries that her elementary school cannot accommodate the physical education needs of all of the hamlet’s students.

For starters, she does not like the fact that some students at East Quogue Elementary School must spend their recess time after lunch in their classrooms during the colder months, as the school’s gymnasium cannot always accommodate the school’s 451 students.

“There wasn’t enough room built in for recreation,” said Ms. Gersten, whose 9-year-old son, Jackson, will be a fourth-grader at the school this fall. She also has a 3-year-old son, Bennett, who will start kindergarten in 2011.

“Kids have recess in their classroom,” she continued. “I don’t think that that’s appropriate.”

But school officials, including East Quogue School Board Vice President Kathy Tureski, explains that the crowding situation at the elementary school is not nearly as dire as it was 12 years ago, when taxpayers approved a $6.9 million expansion project that added 12 classrooms, a cafeteria and an auditorium to the school, which originally opened its doors in 1956. The new wing opened in 1999.

Ms. Tureski said that in 1997 space was extremely tight at the elementary school. She noted that the building lacked a cafeteria before the last expansion, meaning that students usually had to eat their lunches at their desks.

“It is not as critical as it was years ago,” Ms. Tureski said about the school’s space situation. “Now we still have space [in the classrooms].”

Still, other district parents, such as Parent Teacher Association President Jennifer Tiska, have aired complaints about overcrowding issues during public meetings, stating that the facilities do not meet the needs of all students. Some noted that a part-time speech teacher occasionally holds sessions in the school’s hallways, while others said the building simply does not have enough common space to accommodate school-sponsored events.

Despite the concerns of some parents, East Quogue school officials announced last month, following the release of a study, that it will be at least another five years before the district breaks ground on any kind of expansion project.

East Quogue Superintendent Les Black explained during a recent interview that while space is fairly tight at the Central Avenue school, the findings of a recent enrollment study, conducted by Dr. Jonathan Hughes of St. John’s University and presented to the East Quogue School Board in late June, determined that the building was not in need of an immediate expansion.

“Our class sizes are what I would call reasonable,” said Mr. Black, adding that the average class size is about 20. “It’s not like we’re jamming 30 youngsters into every conceivable space.”

Mr. Black said he is still looking into how many students the school can legally accommodate, adding that the building is well below its maximum capacity. Southampton Town Fire Marshal Cheryl Kraft said her office does not keep such information on file and referred the inquiry to the New York State Department of Education. An official with that office said it is the responsibility of individual school districts to determine and keep tabs on building capacity.

According to Mr. Black, it will take several years of planning before any type of expansion project could be reviewed by the East Quogue School Board and approved by the public. “We are not looking at anything within the next year or two,” he said.

Though he stressed that a final decision about expansion has not been made, Mr. Black said the School Board has been informally discussing a number of options, including possibly purchasing a 1-acre property that is located directly south the elementary school. The land, which now features a single-family house, could potentially be used to accommodate expansion. That land is listed for about $400,000.

The superintendent explained that while portable classrooms are on the list of potential options, district officials would prefer to invest taxpayer money in the construction of a bricks-and-mortar building.

In December, the School Board hired Dr. Hughes, a professor at St. John’s University, which has a campus in Oakdale, to determine if the district must expand its elementary school to accommodate future population growth in the hamlet. East Quogue only has an elementary school that currently serves 451 students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. At the present time, East Quogue’s middle- and high school-age students, who now number around 367, attend Westhampton Beach on a tuition basis.

Dr. Hughes explained that while the elementary school’s enrollment has increased over the past few years, it should now decrease each year, at a rate of about 12 students per year, before stabilizing at 390 students in 2013. He said the drop-off is due primarily do a decline in local birth rates. At the same time, the district’s secondary and high school student enrollment numbers are expected to increase over the next five years.

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in nyc the rooftops are used for outdoor gyms-
maybe an enclosed rooftop playground would be easy & effective...
By p (5), southampton on Jul 16, 09 9:07 PM
So, there is no reason to expand the E.Quogue elementary school other than that some students must go to a classroom during recess? Moreover, the elementary school population will decline over the next few years.

Under these circumstances, would the parent who wants to increase the size of the school still advocate it if she were payng more than a nickle on the dollar for it.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 18, 09 2:14 AM
1 member liked this comment