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A community’s curious preference in Blue Point

The St. Ursula Center in Blue Point could

The St. Ursula Center in Blue Point could become the site of a new public library. Credit: Erin Geismar

When Blue Point residents learned that the Seafield Center wanted to put a 76-bed drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center for women at the St. Ursula Center, many were scared and furious.

These opponents managed to run off Seafield, which has operated a rehabilitation center in Westhampton Beach for 32 years, by assuring the company it wouldn’t get the zoning change it needed. Now the talk is that the Bayport-Blue Point Public Library might relocate to the 8.27-acre Middle Road site, which a dwindling order of nuns wants to sell.

The irony is that a library, while delightful, would likely cause more of the aggravations neighbors fear than a residential rehab for women would have.

When word of the Seafield proposal broke, community activists in Blue Point quickly requested a report of all police activity at the company’s Westhampton location for the past five years. But when the report showed a grand total of one arrest from 2013 to 2017, the facts did not lower the resistance.

Signs blossomed on lawns, and billboard trucks blasted the rehab plan. A petition warned that schoolkids might have to walk past the facility. Residents complained about traffic and crime, reduced property values and the loss of their way of life.

Residential addiction treatment centers for women, of course, don’t generally cause any of those things. The residents are not high, but in recovery. The traffic count is low because patients don’t leave, and staff members work long shifts. Visiting hours are few. There is not much hullabaloo.

Rehab centers are places where sick people stay while they work to recover from the deadly disease of addiction. It’s a disease that afflicts Suffolk worse than any other county in the state and Brookhaven worse than any other town in the county.

Libraries? Now those are another story!

The current Bayport-Blue Point library is open seven days a week most of the year, and weeknights until 9. Its many programs attract plenty of cars, but these folks stay an hour or so, not eight. Talk about traffic!

There are yoga classes, movies, musical performances, health seminars and more. But according to library director Mike Firestone, the current location, built in the 1950s and renovated in the 1990s, doesn’t have enough seating and meeting spaces to meet demand, so the new one would be even busier.

Firestone says a new location could have more computers, too. Do residents realize their neighborhood could soon play host to the kind of people who don’t have their own internet service and computers? You know . . . them.

Apparently not. Neil Foley, the Brookhaven councilman who represents the area and has been vocal in opposing the Seafield plan, said Tuesday the community wants the library to replace the convent. The only question is whether the $17 million bonding needed could pass in a public referendum.

Jason Borowski, a leader of the Blue Point Civic Coalition, also said no one seems to oppose the potential traffic and wide variety of people a library would attract, with its heat and air-conditioning and comfortable chairs and computers and books and bathrooms.

Unlike a treatment center, the library wouldn’t need a zoning change. But if the public doesn’t want it, it could vote no on the bond.

The site would actually be a wonderful library location, and the community needs a new one. It would also be a wonderful rehab location, and the community needs one of those, too.

But it’s amazing that people’s fears make them see downsides in a rehab that a library they covet is more likely to deliver.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.