The Riverhead Central School district is in negotiations with the Diocese of Rockville Centre about purchasing the former McGann-Mercy campus.
Both the district and the diocese are tight-lipped about the status of negotiations. The district acknowledges “ongoing discussions,” while the diocese only acknowledges that the district “has expressed an interest in the property.”
School district officials first reached out to Bishop John Barres two months after the diocese stunned the East End Catholic community in March with its announcement that it would close McGann-Mercy in June.
In a May 10 letter to the bishop, Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez and Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider said they wrote on behalf of the board of education to express the district’s “great interest” in acquiring the property from the diocese. It would help the district cope with its increasing student enrollment, they wrote. (See letter below.)
“We have the financial resources and educational need to make excellent use of the property and we hope that you will review our request,” the officials wrote.
The May 10 letter and subsequent email correspondence between the district and the diocese were obtained by RiverheadLOCAL through a Freedom of Information Law request filed with the school district.
The documents reflect discussions between school and diocesan officials through the summer and fall last year, when Schneider arranged a walk-through of the site by district representatives and an appraiser, as well as an inspection and environmental testing by the school district’s engineer. The correspondence indicates that in September, Schneider and Christopher Venator, the district’s lawyer, were scheduling a meeting with diocesan representatives at the request of the school board to begin “the negotiation stage” with the diocese.
In an Oct. 18 email, Schneider asked a diocesan official if the diocese had “any update to the offer that we made to the Diocese on October 5.” No written reply to that email was provided by the district in response to RiverheadLOCAL’s FOIL request.
The last document provided to RiverheadLOCAL by the district was an Oct. 30 email from Schneider to a lawyer for the diocese concerning the district’s request for an inspection by an environmental engineer.
“We are looking to start this testing process as soon as possible in every effort to keep things moving,” Schneider wrote to attorney Christian Browne.
District officials declined to answer questions about the current status of the matter, except to say, the district is “engaged in ongoing discussions regarding the property,” according to an email from the superintendent.
“Beyond that we are unable to comment,” Henriquez wrote this morning.
The diocese didn’t even go that far.
“It is true that the School District has expressed an interest in the property,” Diocese of Rockville Centre communications director Sean Dolan wrote in response to an email requesting comment.
A group of McGann-Mercy parents and alumni sought a deal with the diocese to allow the junior-senior high school to continue to operate as an independent Catholic high school. Representatives of the group, Friends of East End Catholic Education, met with the bishop in April to pitch the idea and said they were encouraged by his response. They developed a business plan for the school and hoped to be able to open it in September.
But the group said they were unable to get a second meeting with the bishop. According to a spokesperson for the group, they were informed by diocesan officials at an Aug. 13 meeting that the diocese had already finalized a deal to sell the property for over $10 million. The diocese declined to identify the buyer to the group. Dolan did not return messages at that time seeking comment.
In an Aug. 15 email to Schneider, the chief operating officer and general counsel for the diocese, Thomas Renker — whom the group identified as one of two officials it met with on Aug. 13 — wrote that “news reports [about the meeting] are full of inaccurate information.”
The Diocese of Rockville Centre purchased the 24.8-acre site on Ostrander Avenue from the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Brooklyn in January 2006 for $3.76 million, according to public property records. The site is improved with a two-story school building, a converted former convent, athletic fields and tennis courts.
Any purchase of the site by the school district would almost certainly require a bond issuance, which would need the approval of Riverhead school district taxpayers in a referendum.
It is unclear whether or to what extent the buildings, which date back to the early 1960s, would require renovation before they could be approved by the State Education Department for use by the school district.
RCSD Letter to Diocese of … by on Scribd