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Riverhead Charter School withdraws its bid for Sound Avenue property

The Riverhead Charter School has withdrawn its bid to expand its proposed high school on 12.3 acres on Sound Avenue.

David Edwards, president of the Riverhead Charter School Board of Trustees, said in a letter to the community the charter school decided to pull back on the purchase of the Potato Acres, LLC land due to the project stirring “deep emotions” in Riverhead residents, which Mr. Edwards claimed has negatively impacted the charter school students.

“Recently those adult emotions have been directed at our students, causing them to feel as though they are not a part of this community,” Mr. Edwards said in his statement. “Due to the direct attacks on our students, which have threatened their psychological safety, we are making the tough decision to withdraw our bid on Potato Acres.”

Mr. Edwards continued by saying the decision to step back from the property bid was made with “heavy hearts,” but the charter school is determined to find a new space to expand to.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard said he first heard about the move on Monday. 

“Basically, I agree that that was the wrong location,” he said in an interview. “I think there are other locations that might be better suited for that kind of build-out.”

Mr. Hubbard said the “town will assist the charter school in finding a new location that could accommodate their needs.”

The Riverhead Charter School was founded in September 2001 as a K-6 school. At the start of the 2022-23 school year, they opened a high school campus at the refurbished Old Northville School House on Sound Avenue. Last year, the school’s charter was expanded, allowing for the addition of 11th and 12th grades, and expanding enrollment to 1,244 students. Prior to that, students in grades 9 and 10 shared the building at the school’s campus on Middle Country Road in Calverton with K-8 students.

On Nov. 30, the charter school’s board approved the use of $4.5 million from its reserve fund for the purchase of two properties on Sound Avenue: one vacant 12.3-acre parcel that would be used for the construction of a new school building and outdoor athletic facilities and a 59.5-acre property that can be used only for commercial farming. 

While some opponents accused the school of building on protected farmland, charter school officials said they planned to use that land to educate children in agriculture. The Riverhead Central School District Board of Education publicly criticized the charter school as well, claiming it takes money away from public schools.

In February, more than 50 people — both supporters and opposers of the charter school expansion — packed a Riverhead Town Board meeting, even though the charter school had yet to file an application and the proposal wasn’t even on the meeting agenda at the time.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Additional reporting by Ana Borruto.