Joe May remembers his first day at Moriches' Little Red Schoolhouse, when he was so nervous he clung to his mother and wouldn't let go.
These days the Mastic resident clings to the hope that the nearly century-old edifice — slated to be razed to make way for a new branch of the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library — can be saved from demolition.
May, 74, said he has collected about 1,700 signatures on a petition to have the schoolhouse declared a local landmark.
"The public can use it as a community house, a museum," May said last week at a meeting of the Brookhaven Town Board. "It deserves a better retirement than a wrecking ball."
It's been years since classes have been held in the building, which is used by a nonprofit youth and family support agency.
The William Floyd school district, which owns the school, plans to donate the 9,000-square-foot structure to the library as part of the library's expansion plans.
School district spokesman James Montalto said in an email that the schoolhouse can’t be saved.
“As the Little Red Schoolhouse is nearing the end of its useful life, preserving and repairing this structure would require a substantial investment of many millions of dollars of taxpayer funds. … We are looking for alternative solutions for the use of this property that will benefit our residents,” Montalto wrote.
Residents are expected to vote in December on a $26.6 million bond proposition to renovate the existing library in Shirley and add branches in Mastic Beach and Moriches.
The plan includes $5.8 million for the Moriches branch. Library officials say the schoolhouse would be demolished and a virtual replica of the school would be built in its place.
“We were offered 3 to 4 acres in the easternmost portion of our district by the William Floyd school district, who owns the property," library board president Joseph Maiorana said. "It‘s sort of a condition of theirs that the building has to be removed. Even if we don’t take it down, they’re going to.”
A 2010 engineering report commissioned by the school district said the school "has continued to deteriorate" and estimated the cost of repairing and renovating the building could be as high as $1.775 million.
Replacing the schoolhouse would be more "cost-effective" than repairing it, Maiorana said, adding efforts by school district officials to landmark it were unsuccessful.
“We certainly appreciate the sentimental attachment” residents have to the building, he said. “We want to really honor the memories of our residents that they have of that building, so that’s why this design is reflective of what the building used to look like.”
Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico, who represents Moriches on the town board, said the town cannot landmark the school without the school district's cooperation.
“The town is always interested in preserving the history of the area, but we don’t own it," he said. "We don’t have the resources to buy it and restore it … It would really be up to the school district and the library, obviously with the community, to decide the best course of action.”
May, a retired Suffolk Police officer whose two children also attended the school, said he is circulating his petition on the change.org website. Most signers live on Long Island though some are from as far away as Arizona and Scotland. He said he is determined to save the school.
“Everybody in the community’s gotta bury the hatchet in some way," he said, "because that little red schoolhouse has to stay.”
The Little Red Schoolhouse in Moriches
8,920: Square footage
$1.775 million: Cost to repair deterioration to exterior, steps, parking lots (2010 estimate)
$5.8 million: Estimated cost of new library branch