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Riverhead schools: More students from downtown development could strain district

A student writes a letter to a member

A student writes a letter to a member of the Riverhead Senior Center during a session of the Butterfly Effect Project at the Peconic Community School in Riverhead, on Feb. 10. Credit: Linda Rosier

Any future development of housing in downtown Riverhead should not go forward without first considering how such housing could strain the Riverhead Central School District by adding more students, Riverhead school and town officials said recently.

The school district’s Board of Education passed a resolution at their meeting Jan. 26 which outlined and expressed their concerns about potential development within the district boundaries that could create an influx of students.

"We believe that all students in this community have a right to a complete education in our schools," said Laurie Downs, the school board president, in a statement after the meeting. "Nevertheless, we feel that we need help from the town of Riverhead and developers to ensure that our schools are right-sized for the population."

The school district currently has 5,411 students, according to the district.

A statement from the school district said it already faces increased demands for instructional space in each of the district’s seven buildings, and schools would face a "difficult financial situation" if they need to accommodate additional students.

Noting that continued development of housing within the district would be unsustainable, particularly in the downtown area, the board’s resolution calls on town officials to strictly enforce currently existing limits on the development of apartments in downtown Riverhead.

Furthermore, the resolution recommends that such development should not go forward without "feasible solutions to solve the fiscal costs of expanding instructional space in the district."

The board has started meeting with town officials to discuss how to achieve those objectives.

Town of Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said Thursday she supports the board’s decision. Aguiar added that previously proposed ideas to use overlay zoning and reusing abandoned box stores and major retail stores to create "micro housing" space in town should not involve housing designed for families, which Aguiar said would impact schools.

Riverhead Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the Town Board’s liaison to the school district, said Friday the district needs additional state aid funding to keep up with the costs of educating its large student body. Looking ahead, Kent said updating Riverhead's Master Plan, which would guide development in town, will be "an excellent tool for us to address school crowding."

"That would be a good tool for us to reach that balance, because our schools are crowded," Kent said.

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