The former Bishop McGann-Mercy campus on Ostrander Avenue. File photo: Peter Blasl

The Riverhead Central School District and the Diocese of Rockville Centre
“continue to negotiate the terms of acquisition” by the district of the former McGann-Mercy campus, School Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said today.

“When the contract is finalized, it will be presented to the Board of Education for their approval at a public meeting,” Henriquez said in an email.

“Once that happens, it will eventually go to the voters for their approval.”

As reported by RiverheadLOCAL in February, the district and the diocese have been discussing a possible purchase by the district since last summer. At the time of that report, neither the district nor the diocese would provide specifics on the negotiations, though the district at the time acknowledged negotiations were taking place.

A Freedom of Information Law request filed with the district by RiverheadLOCAL revealed that negotiations were ongoing. The FOIL request produced correspondence between the district and the diocese that referenced an offer on the property made by the district and an upcoming inspection by an environmental consultant for the district.

In response to a subsequent FOIL request in March, Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider acknowledged that the district had an appraisal of the McGann-Mercy property but declined to provide a copy of the appraisal “because if disclosed, it would impair present negotiations with the diocese.”

Asked today if an agreement has been reached, Henriquez did not answer yes or no directly, but framed her answer in terms of a proposed contract being “finalized.”

The Riverhead Charter School and the Riverhead Town officials have also both expressed interest in acquiring the site. The charter school is looking for a site for a high school it plans to establish, while the town government is looking for suitable space in which to consolidate its offices.

The diocese shocked the East End Catholic community with the announcement last March that it would shutter McGann-Mercy at the end of the school year.

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. See prior story. 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.

Riverhead, unlike other school districts, has seen an increase in enrollment. The total enrollment in the district increased from 4,816 in 2009-2010 to 5,595 in 2018-2019 — an increase of more than 16 percent.

A decade ago, the district sought to renovate, upgrade and expand school district facilities with a plan that would have added 53 classrooms across six of the district’s school campuses. But in February 2010, district voters overwhelmingly rejected the $123.9 million proposal. In Oct. 2011, voters approved a scaled-back plan that carried a $78.3 million price tag. The second plan added some classroom space but the middle school and high school were soon struggling under space constraints again.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.