Update: Leaky Toilet Caused Delay in Stella Maris Closing

Sag Harbor School - Stella Maris
Father Peter Devaraj, Sag Harbor School Superintendent Katy Graves and business administrator Jennifer Buscemi following the closing sale of the former Stella Maris Regional School. Courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

By Christine Sampson

A leaky toilet that caused water damage at the former Stella Maris Regional School also led to a three-month delay in the Sag Harbor School District’s formal closing on the property, which the district acquired as part of a $10.23 million bond project approved by the community last May.

The damage then had to be fixed, and the school district officially took ownership of the property on December 22, after the St. Andrew Catholic Church’s insurance company paid the bill for the repairs, according to Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves. The district then did its own inspection, testing for mold and other quality issues before the closing could be scheduled.

“The insurance company had to come in and do those renovations because we had agreed to come in and buy the property in the condition it was in at the point of contract,” Ms. Graves said Tuesday. “It wasn’t a big thing . . . but it was enough that some ceilings and walls had gotten wet, and so they had to bring it up to the standard it was in.”

The district and the church initially had scheduled a closing in September. Another factor contributing to the closing delay was a court authorization that St. Andrew needed to obtain before it could sell the property. That did not materialize until October, Ms. Graves said.

She said the school attorney had advised the district that such delays are “not uncommon for such a complex real estate transaction.”

“When we’re looking at a not-for-profit entity like the church and a municipality like the school, it’s not unusual,” she said.

The district spent $3.3 million for the Stella Maris property itself. The December 22 closing came about seven months after residents voted, 736 to 595, to purchase, renovate, and outfit Stella Maris for preschool classes and early childhood special education services. The closing took place in the offices of the St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church, with Ms. Graves, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi, School Attorney Michael Vigliotta, and the church administration present.

The district plans to relocate its business offices there, and with the space that subsequently becomes available at Pierson Middle High School, officials say they plan to build what it has referred to as an authentic middle school wing. The Stella Maris gymnasium and stage will also be upgraded for event space, and district officials say they plan to move its pre-kindergarten program there as well, contracting with a registered daycare provider in an effort to provide full-day child care options for its youngest students. Currently, pre-kindergarten classes are only a half-day, with no additional care offered for working parents. Ms. Graves has also discussed bringing evening adult education classes and workshops to the new school building.

“We’re very excited to be at this point,” she said Tuesday.

The district’s next step is hiring an architect. From the firms that answered the district’s call for architectural proposals, she said, “six to eight companies have responded in a competitive fashion.” An interview committee will narrow the decision down in the coming weeks.