By Claire Walla
When The Sag Harbor United Methodist Church made plans to construct a new church on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, the congregation always intended to include space on its ground floor that could be used by another organization, like a pre-school.
Now, after a full year of Sunday services in its brand-new spot, the church is finally hoping to bring a pre-school on-site.
According to Amber Cariglio, a parent at Our Sons and Daughters pre-school in Bridgehampton, the 12-student school hopes to relocate to the United Methodist Church as early as next September. Currently housed at the Hayground School on Butter Lane, she said the school is looking to obtain a bigger space so it can have the room it will need to grow.
The Waldorf-based curriculum is run by teachers Maggie Touchette and Andi Pascaio, who offer programs for children ages 3 to 6. With a bigger space, Cariglio said the program will hopefully be able to expand to include a kindergarten program for 6- and 7-years-olds.
Last week, the Southampton Town Planning Board held a pre-submission hearing on the property to consider changing the churches zoning district from residential to commercial, in order to accommodate another business.
The only voice of dissent came from the church’s Caroll Street neighbor, Pam Wright, who objected to the noise and traffic that might incur from daytime operations.
However, the church’s pastor, Tom MacCleod, said when he knocked on neighbors’ doors to explain what the church was hoping to do, he didn’t seem to face any opposition. He further explained that the biggest impact would occur during pick-up and drop-off hours (8:30 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m.). He also emphasized that, because of the way the church has been built, the pre-school is virtually shielded from view from Caroll Street.
The potential for noise and traffic “is not something we won’t be able to work around,” MacCleod continued. He added that he’s open to hearing any other concerns that might exist within the community.
“We want to be a good neighbor and we want to be able to provide assistance and have knowledge of anything that’s not right,” he added. “Because we know — we live in the neighborhood, too.”
MacCleod emphasized that the church is not physically expanding, or adding any structural additions onto the church building itself. It’s merely seeking to obtain a variance from the town that would allow it to rent out its 6,776 square-foot basement floor.
The idea of partnering with a pre-school program is not new for the Methodist church. When it was located in its old building on Madison Street in Sag Harbor, the church rented space to the Rainbow Preschool. The school relocated to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s meetinghouse on the Sag Harbor Turnpike when the old Methodist Church building was sold to a private owner.
According to MacCleod, the church is hoping to get the variance as soon as possible. The application is now open for a 30-day public comment period, after which Southampton Town Planner Claire Vail will draft a pre-submission report. Only then will the church be able to move forward with an actual site plan and, if all goes according to plan, obtain a variance.
Because roughly 80 percent of the building is currently unoccupied, MacCleod said this would make better use of the new facility. He also said that, in addition to covering the increase in utility costs, any income generated from the preschool program would go directly into the church’s outreach endeavors.
“It would go straight back into the community,” he said.
In the end, MacCleod explained that the church’s efforts to bring Our Sons and Daughters on-site has mostly to do with helping others.
“We know that one of the greatest issues in the Hamptons now is finding affordable space,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more apparent. It’s our reality. So, how do we impact our community?
“We see that this is a need,” he continued. “[Our Sons and Daughters] believes that there’s an opportunity for them to grow. And what we’re trying to do is be of help to the community.”