Bid to Preserve Park for North Haven Bolsters Campaign to Re-Site Old Schoolhouse

A rendering of the old North Haven schoolhouse relocated on the Village Hall property, which Susan Edwards showed during the July 7 Village Board of Trustees Zoom meeting. A member of the village’s Board of Architectural Review and the committee that developed the schoolhouse relocation plan, Ms. Edwards continues to favor its move to the Village Hall site.

North Haven’s plan to move its 19th-century schoolhouse from the corner of Payne Avenue and Ferry Road to the Village Hall property to serve as a museum and learning center remains on track.

But two members of the village Architectural Review Board — its chairman, architect David Sherwood, and member Glenn Lawton, a landscaper designer — continue to argue that the small frame building should be relocated instead to a park they envision linking the old cemetery on Ferry Road to Ryder Pond on Sunset Beach Road.

They say the schoolhouse will clash architecturally with Village Hall and that locating it in the proposed park would be more scenic and historically correct.

If the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown had not disrupted the schedule, the schoolhouse probably would have been moved by now, according to Trustee Dianne Skilbred, who led a committee that developed the relocation plan over the course of two years. The North Haven Village Board approved it more than a year ago. Ms. Skilbred said this week she hoped the move finally will take place in September.

“We realize our timing was terrible,” Glenn Lawton said last week of his effort with Mr. Sherwood to see the village hold off on the long-planned move in order to consider the alternative site.

Mayor Jeff Sander briefly discussed their proposal at the Village Board’s monthly Zoom meeting on July 7, but most Trustees agreed with the mayor’s assertion that there was “no reason to change direction,” although Trustee David Saska said he liked both ideas. The mayor added that the park concept was a big topic and shouldn’t be considered until after the schoolhouse move takes place.

But Mr. Lawton added new energy to his push this week, urging in an email circulated among residents and village officials that the village pursue the public acquisition of the 4-acre Lovelady Powell property on Sunset Beach Road, just north and across the street from Ryder Pond, through the Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund (CPF). The property is adjacent to his and Mr. Sherwood’s proposed promenade park on already preserved land; it would bring the total area to more than 25 acres.

Ms. Powell, an actress, singer and model who was co-proprietor of Glad Hand Antiques in Sag Harbor, died in February.

“We need David Sherwood’s formal request to ‘pause’ the efforts to relocate the schoolhouse to be fully considered now,” Mr. Lawton wrote in a widely copied addendum to his email on July 27, “as the village officials and higher-minded residents consider the potential of honoring and designating 25-plus acres as [an] Historic Enclave to host the Park Land Link, and the School House!”

Many email recipients have replied that they support the Powell acquisition, among them recently appointed Trustee Chris Fiore, who wrote that he is “very supportive of pursuing preservation status for the Powell property. It’s a prime candidate for this kind of effort.

Coupled with a current discussion of parkland connecting Ferry Road with Sunset Beach, it would be a stunning addition to the village.” On the schoolhouse question, Mr. Fiore supported its move to the Village Hall property during the July 7 Zoom discussion.

Mayor Sander said on Monday he had been “pursuing the acquisition of the Powell property … for some time” and that the town’s CPF committee would be considering it as a candidate for possible purchase at its August 19 meeting.

He said “it would be a great acquisition” but whether or not it happens is “very uncertain and will take some time …” He added, “I don’t think this acquisition should have any bearing on our decision to move the schoolhouse near Village Hall,” which he said a majority of the board supports.

It was Mr. Lawton who first wrote Mayor Sander and the trustees on June 10, urging them to consider creating “a park land link/pedestrian promenade” out of the village-owned land that runs between the cemetery and Sunset Beach Road. It features an alleyway of aging Norway maples that run alongside a wetland. Mr. Lawton, who said it could become “the heart of the community,” wrote that “we would hate to see money spent to move the schoolhouse … without considering the park as a much more exciting and appropriate location.”

On June 30, Mr. Sherwood followed up with a letter to the board supporting Mr. Lawton and asking “you all to hit ‘pause’ on the schoolhouse relocation project …”

He wrote there would be a “visual tension” if the schoolhouse and Village Hall were on the same property and it would “crowd the feeling of openness” behind the site.

“Placing the schoolhouse in an open setting alongside a tree-lined promenade” would give “an historical authenticity to the relocation and create an opportunity to interact with that tract of village-owned land … It would look like it has actually been there since the 1800s.”

But as Ms. Skilbred reiterated at the July 7 Village Board session, her committee supported the move to the Village Hall site because it has parking and restrooms and it draws visitors because of its recreational facilities.

Joe Zaykowski, the village historian, served on the schoolhouse planning committee. In an email exchange with Mr. Lawton, he wrote that siting the schoolhouse in a field would make no sense historically.

“The only schools located out in open fields that I am aware of were in the Midwest prairies, not in built-up villages like Sag Harbor, nor North Haven, which never had any of its three different schools built in an isolated field.”