Riverhead Town is now “officially in contract” with Peconic Bay Medical Center for the purchase of the hospital’s West Second Street campus, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced in a press release before the holiday weekend.
The site, originally developed by Suffolk County National Bank, includes a three-story, 36,000-square-foot office building, a two-story office building, a bank branch currently leased to M&T Bank and a two-story wood frame house on Griffing Avenue that has been converted to office space. It also includes a large parking lot on the corner of Railroad and Roanoke avenues, which has more than 160 spaces, and would provide additional municipal parking in the downtown area.
The town has not released the contract of sale and the press release issued late Wednesday afternoon did not disclose the acquisition price, but the Town Board on Aug. 1 authorized the purchase for $20 million. The board also authorized bonding to fund the $20 million purchase as well as an additional $1.5 million to fund improvements needed to renovate the site for the town’s use.
The acquisition of the property creates an opportunity for Riverhead to develop a new town hall central to the town’s overall revitalization plan, according to the press release.
The town plans to relocate and consolidate offices now spread among three town-owned properties, including: town council and town supervisor, town clerk, tax receiver, tax assessors, building and planning, code enforcement, town attorney, accounting, community development, human resources, purchasing, information technology, and town historian. The new Town Hall will also include a meeting room.
The press release did not state the expected closing date of the transaction, but said “the transition is expected to begin within three months and will take approximately one year to complete.”
Once offices are relocated from Town Hall to Second Street, Riverhead Justice Court will be relocated to the current Town Hall building and the Riverhead Police Department will then expand its headquarters to occupy the entire building a 210 Howell Avenue, next to the current Town Hall. Firm estimates of the cost of renovations required to complete the relocation of the court and changes to police headquarters have not yet been publicly discussed. Riverhead architect Martin Sendlewski, in a presentation to the Town Board at a work session in May, estimated the cost to convert the the current Town Hall into a new justice court at $4.3 million and the cost of improvements to the current police-court building at $1.2 million. Sendlewski at that meeting presented a plan for construction of a new three-story Town Hall on Howell Avenue that he estimated would cost $24.9 million.
Town government has been grappling with a space crisis for a long time. The Town Board has commissioned and considered several expansion plans over the past two decades, but declined to act on any of them, citing costs and the impact on property taxes.
A State Office of Court Administration assessment of the Justice Court facility in 2006 found the town court did not meet safety and security standards. The recommendations of that report have mainly gone unaddressed, even as town justices, led by the late Justice Allen Smith, a former town supervisor, pressed board after board to address the problems, to no avail.
Among the plans was the relocation of the police headquarters and justice court to the former state armory building on Route 58. The Town Board sought and received title to the vacant armory site in 2011 specifically for those purposes, but plans prepared by architects and engineers hired by the board were rejected as too expensive.
The armory building sits largely vacant, though it and the rear parking lot are being used for storage purposes. Town Board members have discussed alternative uses for the site, but would likely need approval from the State Legislature, since the deed the legislature authorized mandates its use for “police department, justice court, public safety and recreational programs developed and operated by the town of Riverhead police department.” If the property is not used for those purposes, title is to be transferred back to the state, according to the deed.
The sale of the Second Street campus will provide Peconic Bay Medical Center with cash to help “enable us to expand our medical infrastructure and services to the community,” according to a quote from PBMC Executive Director Amy Loeb in the town’s press release. PBMC Foundation purchased the Second Street property in 2017 for just under $11.5 million.
Among the planned infrastructure expansions is a near-doubling of the hospital’s busy emergency department. PBMC is currently seeking state approvals for a $20 million emergency department expansion that will add more than 7,400 square feet to its existing 10,000-square-foot space, Loeb said in an interview earlier this month. The expansion will focus on critical care and will include direct access to an on-site MRI.
Loeb said PBMC is still developing an overall plan for the McGann-Mercy campus, a 24-acre site adjoining PBMC’s main campus that the hospital purchased from the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2020.
The acquisition provided immediate relief for the hospital’s parking problems, allowing hospital employees to park on the adjoining property.
PBMC is currently working on relocating offices now housed in the 4 West Second St. building to the former junior high school building on the McGann-Mercy campus. The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals at its last meeting approved the conversion of the use of that building from classrooms to offices.
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