The current school board at its organizational meeting July 2. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

The presentation by Riverhead school district architects on space and capital construction plans, originally set for Tuesday, Aug. 27, has been postponed to Sept. 10, the district announced yesterday. The presentation is anticipated to include plans detailing how the district would utilize the McGann-Mercy High School campus, should the purchase of the site be approved by the board of education and district taxpayers.

The regular school board meeting will take place as scheduled Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the high school, according to a press release issued by the district’s public relations firm. The press release did not state a reason for the postponement of the architects’ presentation. Sept. 10 is the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting.

District administration officials and BBS Architects presented plans to the school board at a special closed-door meeting of the school board on Wednesday morning, July 24. The reason the discussion took place in an executive session, which is not open to the public, was that the board would be “discussing the potential acquisition of real property.” The “proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property” is one of eight enumerated purposes for executive sessions under New York’s Open Meetings Law. (N.Y. State Public Officers Law, Article 7)

The school district has been negotiating since last summer with the Diocese of Rockville Centre to purchase the former McGann-Mercy High School campus, according to documents obtained by RiverheadLOCAL through Freedom of Information Law requests, as RiverheadLOCAL reported in February.

In June, 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 area 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.

In February 2010, district voters overwhelmingly rejected a $123.9 million capital facilities proposal that would have added 53 classrooms across six of the district’s school campuses. 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.

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. An effort by McGann-Mercy parents to keep the high school open as an independent Catholic high school was rebuffed by the diocese, according to the parents, who said diocesan officials told them the diocese had already finalized a deal to sell the property for over $10 million. The diocese refused to comment.

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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.