The Diocese of Rockville Centre revealed it’s close to finalizing a sale of the property that had been home to Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead for six decades, according to Bob Terry, who met Monday with diocese officials.
Mr. Terry and Shawn Leonard, representing the organization The Friends of the East End Catholic Education, had planned the meeting to discuss a comprehensive plan to open an independent Catholic high school at the site. Mr. Terry said that Thomas Renker, the chief operating officer and general counsel for the diocese, informed them that the diocese had received an offer for the property in excess of $10 million in June.
They did not reveal the potential buyer.
Officials from Peconic Bay Medical Center next door and the nearby Riverhead Charter School both denied involvement in the purchase.
Mr. Terry said Tuesday it was “very disappointing” to hear that the diocese would be moving forward with a sale.
“I don’t really know how to respond yet,” he said. “I’m so shocked. We were told the property was available. It sounds like in June they changed their mind and neglected to tell us.”
A message left for Mr. Renker was not immediately returned Tuesday and Sean Dolan, director of communications for the diocese, could not be reached.
A group of parents, alumni and community members came together in the days and weeks following the March 12 YouTube announcement from the diocese that Mercy would be closed at the end of this school year.
Disappointed that there would be no Catholic high school on the East End, they began working on a plan that would allow them to open a STREAM school in the former Mercy building. STREAM stands for science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics.
Mr. Terry said the group had been trying to secure a meeting with Bishop John Barres for months and were finally able to secure a meeting with the diocese for Monday. The bishop, however, wasn’t in attendance. Thomas Doodian, the chief financial officer for the diocese, and The Rev. Edward Sheridan, also attended Monday’s meeting, Mr. Terry said.
They were told during the meeting that the diocese’s education corporation makes the decision, but weren’t told who was on it. Ultimately, they were told, the bishop has the final say.
“They did acknowledge at the end of the day it comes back to the bishop. He is the one that calls the shots and makes the decisions,” Mr. Terry said. “He’s been unavailable. He told me ‘my door is always open’ and I believed him.”
Mr. Terry said he and Mr. Leonard were not told who made the offer.
They then asked if they still had a chance to establish an independent school and were told that the sale could close soon.
“We asked them why they didn’t give us the opportunity to buy it and could we and they said ‘well, I guess but it’s more than $10 million and it could close very quickly. There is a scenario where it could close within 24 hours.’ ”
The property at 1225 Ostrander Ave. is 24.81 acres, according to online records.
Raymond Ankrum, the executive director and principal of the Riverhead Charter School, said he has not had contact with the diocese.
“We reached out, no one ever got back with us,” he said in an email.
In March the school received approval from the New York State board of Regents to offer ninth and 10th grades starting in 2020-21 and the long-term plan is to add grades 11 and 12.
Andy Mitchell, the president and CEO of PBMC, said in a statement that “at this time, we are not aware this property is (or was) for sale.”
Last week, the Riverhead Town Board unanimously approved a resolution to change the sewer rent calculation for the property for the 2018-19 tax year. It rescinded a 1991 resolution that had stated “Mercy High School shall not be charged for sewer usage based upon water consumption applied toward irrigation of the sports fields.”
A spokesperson for Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the supervisor was unaware of any details related to a sale of the property.
Mr. Terry is the oldest of 10 children, all of whom attended Mercy. He also sent his three children to Mercy, the youngest graduated last year.
He said it was important to the group to keep Mercy open as a Catholic school because it is the only Catholic high school in eastern Suffolk. The other nine Catholic high schools are out west, with the most eastern being St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. The partnership with Mercy and the Diocese of Rockville Centre began in 2002 and the school was officially renamed Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in 2003.
He and Mr. Leonard met with the members of the group who are trying to preserve the high school last night after their meeting with the diocese to deliver the news. He said the group has no plans for the future as of yet.
“We’re all kind of shocked,” Mr. Terry said. “We’re still reeling from the news. It’s almost like the March 12 YouTube video of the Bishop telling you he’s closing the school. It’s strange.”
Photo caption: McGann-Mercy High School pictured in March. (file photo)