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What’s next for Briarcliff Elementary School?

More than three years after Briarcliff Elementary School closed, the future of the historic property in Shoreham remains uncertain as district taxpayers continue to foot the bill on operating expenses.

Despite the estimated $95,000 in annual expenses related to the school, which closed in 2014, residents urged the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education to retain the building, which board members said has no projected use in upcoming years due to lowering enrollment. Many residents cited emotional reasons and memories of their children attending the school.

“The administration has been advised no instructional use of the school has been seen for the future,” Board President Robert Rose read in a statement. “Enrollment trends do not indicate future needs to reopen the building as enrollment has declined steadily over the last 10 years, and is not projected to increase within the next decade.”

He went on to say there is no need for additional office space, and if a pre-kindergarten was introduced to the district in the future, the board is confident it can find space in current buildings. An appraisal was conducted last spring, but the value was not disclosed to protect future negotiations.

“The district has not formalized any plans at this time and recognizes the importance of input from the entire community,” Mr. Rose said.

Community members were hopeful that one day enrollment will increase, and the school can use the building despite future projections. A few also suggested that the property be used for senior housing.

“If a district owns a property, then someday they are going to need it and they shouldn’t sell it,” said Shoreham resident Bob Sweet, who lives nearby the former school. “Don’t sell that. Think of something you can do with the property. I’ve talked to other villagers, many of them are in favor of turning to this into condos especially for retired village members.

Students and parents outside Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham in 2014. (Credit: Cyndi Murray, file)

Debbie Lutjen, a teacher at Briarcliff for 10 years, asked the district to hold onto the property, but explore the option of moving the public library that is currently attached to the school to Briarcliff to open space in the high school.

“The building is a special place, it was like working from home with a big family,” she said. “When they opened the public library here at the high school, I believed it created several security problems. One of my ideas is moving the North Shore Public Library to Briarcliff.”

David Madigan went to Briarcliff himself, and was also the first class in the Miller Avenue School, and suggested the school should try to make it a landmark status and get grants to preserve it.

“I think it should be kept in the public purview for education purposes,” Mr. Madigan said. “It is a valuable historical asset to our village.”

About a dozen people spoke at the hearing and one spoke against keeping the building.

“I think that it’s an old building,” said Jessica Licata of Shoreham. “It’s got a lot of failing parts to it, one of the reasons they first started talking about closing it years ago was that there was so many repairs that it needed.”

She said she attended Briarcliff as a student, and her four children attended the school, but she does not see the value in putting money into the property. Responding to those who said it has historical value, she said it is not the district’s place to declare that.

“I feel like if the village wants to do something historical, then the village maybe should buy it,” she added. “I don’t think a school district should be making a historical landmark.”

Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, outlined the history and costs of running the building. He said in an interview before the meeting that the building has not been used at all in the past three years, with one exception this summer when it was used for storage during renovations.

Mr. Arcuri gave projections of operating costs for the year based on actuals from previous years. Utilities cost the district $37,000; insurance is approximately $10,000 a year; maintenance and grounds staff, including snow removal, building checks, groundskeeping and general care is $48,000 a year.

The property has a rich history; the 15-room Norman-style mansion was built in 1907, according to the school district. In 1950, the school was sold to Shoreham-Wading River for $30,500. An additional $42,000 was laid out to transform it into a public school.

Residents can email concerns or suggestions to the Board of Education and a public discussion will be held at the Feb. 13 board meeting.

Photo caption: Bob Sweet addresses the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education Tuesday night, asking them to consider keeping Briarcliff and to explore other options for the property. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

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