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Christian school eyes town building at Stotzky Park in Riverhead

Riverhead Country Day School

The former site of Riverhead Country Day School, which closed at the end of December after 23 years, is being eyed as a possible location for East End Christian Academy, a nonprofit multi-denominational school that has been looking for a home for the past two years.

But Riverhead Town, which owns the building on Columbus Avenue, may have another use in mind, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

Catherine Meade, board treasurer and developer for East End Christian Academy, made requests to lease the building, which is adjacent to Stotzky Park, during a December Riverhead Town Board meeting and again last Wednesday. The EECA has state education department accreditation as a K-12 school and has been prepared to open since September, but it has been unable to secure a location, Ms. Meade told the Town Board last week.

School officials had originally planned to build a 15,000-square-foot facility on 2.68 acres of donated property at Manorville Community Church. That site lies within the core of the state Central Pine Barrens region, where development is restricted for environmental purposes. Last May, the Pine Barrens Commission denied EECA’s request for a waiver to build there.

Ms. Meade said officials from Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven towns told her at Pine Barrens meetings that they would work to help find the school a home. But since then, she said, none has identified a suitable location.

“When we heard that Riverhead Country Day School was set to end their lease last month, we begin to wonder if we may have found a public building on our own,” she said.

“I don’t think we’re leasing the property again,” Mr. Walter said. The town recreation department plans to make a presentation for use of that building at the Town Board’s Jan. 12 work session, which starts at 10 a.m.

Since the recreation department rents space from the Riverhead School District for some of its programs, Mr. Walter said, it would make more sense to let them use the Columbus Avenue site.

“We understand there may be others who have interest in leasing the Stotzky Park building, but we would like to stress that we at EECA be more seriously considered as a tenant because the building is already designed as a school,” Ms. Meade said. “Though the town may find that the building is useful for other purposes, we would like to suggest that a building with a playground be best used by children.”

Mr. Walter welcomed Ms. Meade to attend the Jan. 12 work session.

EECA purchased the former Northville Public School building on Sound Avenue in 2007 but was unable to open due to financial constraints and eventually decided to sell the structure. It revived its efforts to open about two years ago.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the Stotzky Park building can only accommodate about 66 students. Ms. Meade said it’s unclear how many children would attend East End Christian Academy since most parents won’t commit to sending their child to a school until it has a location.

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Photo: The former home of Riverhead Country Day School, which closed last month due to declining enrollment, is being sought by the East End Christian Academy and by the Riverhead recreation department. (Credit: Tim Gannon)