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Ex-Catholic school in Sag Harbor to house pre-K, day care

The former Stella Maris school on Division Street

The former Stella Maris school on Division Street in Sag Harbor on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The Sag Harbor school district recently bought the property for $3.3 million, with plans to use the facility for prekindergarten classrooms and business offices. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

What was once Long Island’s oldest Roman Catholic school — closed six years ago amid declining enrollment and rising debt — will be revitalized as a facility for the Sag Harbor school district.

Officials plan to house prekindergarten classrooms, business offices, a licensed day-care provider, and a new early intervention service at the former Stella Maris Regional Catholic School, which was first opened in 1877.

The district paid $3.3 million for the facility, closing on the sale in December. Residents in May approved a $10.23 million bond to purchase and renovate the property, in a 736-595 vote.

Katy Graves, Sag Harbor superintendent, said in a recent interview that the district’s population has remained steady and that “parents want to bring our students here. We’re doing very well academically.”

She said the district has been “very, very land-poor” and “constrained by size.” The plan frees up space occupied by business offices and prekindergarten classes in the middle school wing of Pierson Middle/High School, and provides more room for middle school classes located in the district’s high school wing.

A new early intervention service to be added to the facility comes after the closure of the Child Development Center of The Hamptons in Wainscott last summer.

“If we can get those services early, it’s an early investment in our children,” Graves said.

Graves said the district added a primary school special-needs class in fall 2015 that “inspired this movement to provide services for 3- to 4-year-olds.” That program will remain at Sag Harbor Elementary School.

District officials hired an architectural firm, BCK-IBI Group, in December and the firm is expected to brief the school board on a design and construction calendar at the March 20 meeting.

District officials also have plans to host evening classes, theater and athletic events at the former Stella Maris building.

Longtime community residents and parents lamented the school’s closure in 2011. Michael Garabedian of Sagaponack said his daughter was among the last students to attend preschool there, and is now a student at Sag Harbor Elementary School.

“She’s very happy, and so there are no regrets,” Garabedian said. “It was just sad in a way to see Stella Maris go, because it was such an institution in the community.”

He added, “I did not want that going into private hands or being developed, or being torn down. I think it really fits well with the school district.”

April Gornik, an artist and activist who lives in the community, said, “When it closed, it seemed sad ... I felt a weird pang seeing it not being able to stay alive.”

However, she said, “this is a community that doesn’t like to see any empty buildings. It’s a very active, healthy, thriving community, so when something is vacant for a while, we all kind of feel it. It’s great the Sag Harbor school district is able to make use of it.”

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