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

Riverhead Central School District officials are moving forward with the prospective purchase of the former Bishop McGann-Mercy High School campus.

After a presentation by the administration and district architects to the school board in an executive session Wednesday morning, board members agreed to present the proposal to the public at the next school board meeting Aug. 27, officials said.

District officials have been negotiating with the Diocese of Rockville Centre since last summer, according to documents obtained by RiverheadLOCAL through Freedom of Information Law requests, as reported here in February.

Last month, School Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said negotiations of “the terms of acquisition” remained ongoing. See prior story.

“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 June 3.

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

The purchase and any required improvements to the site would be funded by a bond issuance.

The district has had an environmental assessment of the campus completed and obtained an appraisal, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Law. The district declined to release those documents, citing ongoing negotiations.

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.

School board president Greg Meyer, who did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday, told the News-Review that the bond proposal to be put forward by the school board would include other facilities improvements in addition to the McGann-Mercy purchase and renovations. He told the newspaper details will be presented at the Aug. 27 school board meeting.

The Catholic 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, obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, 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.” He did not

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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.