By Tessa Raebeck
Four months after it was disclosed that the former Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor was on the market, the Sag Harbor School District has announced that it is seeking an appraisal of the site.
The board of education and district administrators have discussed the property at a number of executive sessions that are closed to the public since the property’s availability was announced, and are now taking the first step toward a public discussion of a possible purchase.
“At this point, we aren’t making any decisions of how we would utilize the property,” said Superintendent Katy Graves. “This is just a first, very initial step to take a look at the property and gather information about the property.”
The .74-acre property is listed for $3.5 million. It is zoned for offices or classrooms and owned by St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, a parish of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The one-story building is 32,234 square feet. The site is less than a mile from both Pierson Middle/High School and the Sag Harbor Elementary School.
“The Board of Education is in the process of engaging the services of appraisal firms for the purpose of gathering data. Once the firms have been hired and all of the facts, figures and use viability of the building have been gathered, the board will share the information with the Sag Harbor community for their full participation. Any decision regarding the property will involve strategic engagement with all stakeholders in the community,” the district said in a press release Tuesday.
Ms. Graves said the ultimate decision of whether or not to purchase the property “would really have to go to a vote” for district residents.
Although the purchase is far from a sure thing, the superintendent floated some ideas of how the property could be used.
“We do send children out for services elsewhere—some of our student population goes elsewhere at a very high cost to be serviced in other areas, so we’re always interested in keeping our children as close as possible,” she said, adding, “Those are all things we want to kind of analyze and share, but we don’t want to get our hopes up—this would only be if it really worked best for the community and it worked best for the school district.”
Specifically, some of Sag Harbor’s special needs students must travel to schools up-island to get the services they need, and students enrolled in career and technical education courses must go to BOCES facilities up-island. Ms. Graves said that in addition to the financial burden of transporting students to other schools and enrolling them elsewhere, not having those services in the district comes with the added cost of not having all of Sag Harbor’s schoolchildren close to home.
While technical education would likely remain at BOCES, special needs services could potentially be provided in-house if the district acquires more land. Other schools in the area are also sending special education students to far away schools, and Ms. Graves suggested that the acquisition of the Stella Maris property could be a way to explore sharing services with other districts—and thus saving costs.
“This is the initial, initial stage, but New York State is demanding of us now that we secure every opportunity for sharing services, that we find every opportunity under the tax cap to explore sharing personnel, explore every opportunity for cost saving,” said Ms. Graves. “In our community, we’re going to garner the services of appraisal firms to look at that property and get feedback that we can share with our community.”
“We aren’t making any moves as far as education without—we’re doing it hand in hand with the community and our stakeholders,” she added.
With an influx of students who pay tuition to attend Sag Harbor schools and a student population that has grown steadily over the past six years, the school district now has over 1,000 students, as well as over half a million dollars in revenue from tuition paying students.
In operation as a school for 134 years, Stella Maris was Long Island’s oldest Catholic school when it closed its doors in 2011 due to a $480,000 deficit. Parents at the school tried to fundraise to keep the school open, but were unsuccessful. Since the school closed, its building has been used occasionally for fundraisers and village police training, and has seen two unsuccessful attempts to open preschools on the property.