The vacant circa 1917 building was erected as a schoolhouse following the merger in 1911 of the East Northville and West Northville school districts. Photo: Peter Blasl

The Riverhead Charter School is pursuing a special permit to convert a vacant Northville building on Sound Avenue into a high school. 

Representatives from the school, architects and the school’s lawyer, Kimberly Judd, discussed the permit with the town board and planning aide Greg Bergman during the board’s work session Thursday. 

The 4,690-square-foot, two-story building, erected in 1917 as the Northville School — dating back to a time before the establishment of the Riverhead Central School district in 1956, when there were 15 small, separate school districts in the town. The site today is located in the Agricultural Protection Zone district and requires a town board special permit to be used as a school. The property spans 3.9 acres.

“This is hopefully the culmination of a two-year odyssey that the charter school has had trying to look for a location for its expanded student base,” Judd said. The charter school currently operates at its campus on Middle Country Road in Calverton for grades K-10, and plans to add grade 11 in the 2022-2023 school year and grade 12 in 2023-2024.

Riverhead Charter School Superintendent Raymond Ankrum told the board the Northville schoolhouse will hold 106 students and add eight new teaching jobs. Ankrum said the students attending the high school will be students already enrolled in the charter school and will not be “poaching” kids from the school district.

Conversations around the charter school’s expansion of student enrollment and into secondary education received heavy scrutiny from residents and Riverhead school board members during a public hearing in February 2020.

The Riverhead Charter School is currently authorized by the State Board of Regents to enroll 850 students in grades K-10. The school draws students from 16 school districts in Suffolk County, with the bulk of its student body coming from the Riverhead Central School District, the Longwood Central School District and the William Floyd School District. The home school district of charter school students pays per-pupil tuition to the charter school. Admissions are decided by lottery.

“Aside from addressing a couple of minor issues in this report, it just seems like it’s certainly an appropriate location for the type of school they’re proposing,” Bergman told the town board.

The charter school still needs to present a bus circulation plan and an updated site lighting plan. Judd asked the board to schedule a public hearing on the special permit at its next meeting so the school can pursue applications for required approvals with the State Education Department and the Riverhead Planning Board.

The town board showed support for the proposal.

“I do have to say, I am excited to see one of the old schools used,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who mentioned that she attended school in the Baiting Hollow schoolhouse.   

“I think you guys did a very good job,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “I think it’s an exciting project.”

“Makes perfect sense to me to have a filter for your existing students,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said.

Schools are only allowed in nine of the town’s 37 zoning districts, Judd said, which has limited the charter school’s search for viable buildings. Aguiar directed Bergman to have the planning department address that zoning code in the town’s comprehensive plan update.

Correction: This story has been amended to correct a misstatement of the size of the property on which the Northville schoolhouse building is situated.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]