The Riverhead train station hasn’t actually been a train station since 1972 and has been used only sporadically since then: as a soup kitchen for about a year, as a Business Improvement District office for a few days and, almost, as a taxi cab office, a plan that never came to fruition.
Riverhead Town is now negotiating with the MTA to allow the station to become an administrative office for the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a Riverhead Police Department substation.
“We desperately need space and that’s been the only thing the town has come up with,” said Keith Lewin, president of the ambulance corps’ board of directors.
The RVA is in the process of moving toward a third-party billing program under which the auto insurance carriers of people involved in accidents in Riverhead Town would be billed for ambulance service. To do so, however, it needs an employee to oversee the billing program and a place to store records to comply with privacy requirements.
“It’s impossible to do billing in the space we currently have,” Mr. Lewin said, referring to the Osborn Avenue ambulance headquarters.
That building would remain an ambulance garage, while the railroad station would house billing and administrative functions, under the current proposal, Mr. Lewin said.
“Right now, we have an office shared by 16 people,” he said, noting that some could be relocated to the train station.
“We will still be short on storage room and administrative room but it would be an improvement,” he said.
Larry Levy, chief of staff for Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, and deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti are working on the plan with the MTA and discussed it with the Town Board at its work session last Thursday.
“We all know that the train station has been vacant for many, many years and it’s created kind of a not-great element over there,” Mr. Levy said. “So we’re trying to occupy it and we’re trying to work with the MTA to put some police presence in there as well as the corporate offices for the volunteer ambulance.”
The plan also calls for fencing off the front and sides of the building to prevent loitering.
The town hopes to do a “license agreement” with the MTA. That would enable the town to occupy the building sooner, but would also allow the MTA to evict the town in 60 days if desired.
The town is hoping to pay $1 a year, since the MTA has been unable to find a use for the building for most of the past 44 years.
The other option that was considered is a lease agreement, which would require the MTA to seek bids for the building, have it appraised and charge a fair market rent, Ms. Prudenti said.
Under the license agreement, which the Town Board prefers, the town would take care of routine maintenance on the building, but major jobs like repairing the air conditioning would be the MTA’s responsibility, she said.
The ambulance corps wouldn’t need many parking spaces, but Mr. Lewin said the MTA has indicated it can make spaces available. The town has also proposed that the county bus stop at the train station be moved slightly south, to Cedar Street, although Mr. Walter said that request might be the most difficult to attain.
The Riverhead train station opened in 1845 and the current building dates back to 1910.
The Long Island Rail Road has a ticket vending machine at the station, but closed its ticket office inside the building early in 1972 due to low ridership.
The MTA did about $1 million in renovations to the Railroad Avenue station in the late 1990s and then leased it to the town at no charge in 2002, with a condition that it be occupied by a nonprofit organization.
Other than the Open Arms Care Center’s soup kitchen, which occupied the building from 2009 to 2010, the town never found a tenant for the station, even when it offered the space rent-free. The Riverhead Business Improvement District used it as an office in 2002, but pulled out after about a week because its executive director at the time was concerned about safety.
Photo caption: The Riverhead train station building has been mostly unoccupied since 1972. (Credit: Tim Gannon)