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Acquiring new Town Hall building opens path for much needed expansion of Justice Court, officials say

Riverhead Town’s proposed acquisition of Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Robert Entenmann Campus as a centralized Town Hall site will allow for the much needed expansion of the Riverhead Town Justice Court, which officials have long said is too small and unsafe.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said creating more space for the Justice Court is “the catalyst” for what the Town Board is doing in proposing to move to a new Town Hall on West Second Street.

The justice court would move into the current Town Hall building on Howell Avenue under the proposal, he said.

“They won’t have to work out of portable trailers like they are in the back now where the justices are,” he said. “If you had a chance to be in justice court, you’ll see boxes stacked to the ceiling. It’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s a lack of storage. There’s so many things, I could go on and on.”

Town Board members spoke highly about the proposed move at Thursday’s work session, one day after the news about the potential sale was announced publicly. They said this move will be more cost effective than building from scratch, a proposal that had been up for discussion as recently as May.

A resolution that the board will likely vote on at the Aug. 2 Town Board meeting gives an estimated cost of $20 million for the acquisition of the property, which includes four buildings. The resolution to authorize the issuance of a $20 million bond is subject to a permissive referendum, where residents can submit a petition challenging the sale and force a public vote on the issue.

“Finally after years of surveys and planning and discussions, we have a viable plan with minimal cost to the taxpayers,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.

Mr. Hubbard said the new building, which has served as an administrative headquarters for PBMC, is
close to “move-in ready.”

The town would acquire the main building, formerly home to Suffolk County National Bank, as well as a two-story annex building to the west. The Town could potentially rent that building, Mr. Hubbard said. The sale also includes the current People’s United Bank building, as the bank currently leases that building from PBMC.

“It’s also income generating by leasing these properties out,” Mr. Hubbard said. “At the end of the day, the dollar price to purchase that will be somewhat cheaper than building new on this campus.”

The sale would also include the town acquiring 214 Griffing Ave., a two-story house officials said could be ideal for the town historian.

Town Board members said the location for the new Town Hall is “perfect” as it’s centrally located in the downtown area near Main Street.

“There’s a ton of parking which means there’s tons more municipal parking that we can make available that’s not private parking owned by somebody else,” Mr. Hubbard said. “That’s a big help for us.”

He added that the Town Board had previously considered the site when it was for sale back during the Sean Walter administration, but at the time there’s wasn’t support from the board to bond for the cost.

Amy Loeb, PBMC’s executive director and president of the PBMC Foundation, said the property was not on the market, but they were “open to opportunities.”

“There was some interest expressed in the property and in evaluating that it was definitely a great opportunity to work with the Town, help the Town and an opportunity for us to take advantage of the former Mercy property which we had purchased after we had purchased the Entenmann property,” she said in an interview Thursday.

She said the plan is to move the current operations from the Entenmann campus to the junior high school building. She said they plan to maintain the Entenmann name.

“We’ll definitely continue to honor the legacy of the Entenmann family,” Ms. Loeb said.

Councilman Bob Kern said the process has moved quickly and in a “very professional business way.”

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said the location is ideal as the town works on the Railroad Avenue redevelopment among other downtown projects.

“The newer building is going to really offer a lot to us,” he said.

The Town Board will also vote on a separate resolution to authorize a $1.5 million bond to cover costs of improvements and renovations to the buildings it will acquire under the deal.

The police department headquarters would remain in its current space and would be expanded.

Board members thanked the staff at PBMC and the PBMC Foundation.

“We all had a mission. We worked quickly and this is the result of it,” Ms. Aguiar said.

PBMC plans to reinvest the funds from the sale into its emergency department expansion, women’s health services and further ambulatory expansion.

The new town hall will provide space for the tax receiver, town clerk, assessor, community development, code enforcement, building and planning, town supervisor, council members, town attorney, IT, accounting, human resources, purchasing and more.