As enrollment increases, Peconic Community School seeks expansion

Editor’s Note: The Riverhead Planning Board postponed discussion on this proposal Thursday.

Peconic Community School in Aquebogue has proposed expanding into a vacant retail building at Verderber’s Nursery on Main Road in Aquebogue to accommodate an enrollment boom, according to Liz Casey-Searl, who founded the private school 10 years ago with her sister, Kathryn Casey-Quigley.

Ms. Casey-Searl said the school’s enrollment was about 60 last year and is up around 100 now.

The school enrollment runs from early learners, who are about 3 or four 4 old, through seventh grade.

Ms. Casey-Searl describes the school as an “experiential, hands-on, project-based, play-based school in which nature is a huge part of the curriculum.”

She attributed the rise in enrollment to summer visitors who have decided to enroll their children on the North Fork amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of people decided to stay,” she said. “There’s been an increase in people looking to spend at least a year out here, if not longer. And they want to have their children in an open and in-person school.”

The school enrollment is not big enough to the point where they would have to remote or virtual learning, she said.

“Our enrollment is low enough that we can still be in-person and practice social distancing, have outdoor learning, and wearing masks and just being safe and cautious,” she said. 

The 3- and 4-year-old students will be housed in the expansion building, and the rest will stay in the main building that used to be the Our Redeemer Lutheran Church School, also on Main Road in Aquebogue.

So far, Peconic Community School appears to have one of the largest enrollment increases among North Fork schools.

How long they will need the second building could depend on how long the pandemic lasts.

“Some families have a plan to stay here and others are thinking of it as ‘do one year and see what happens afterward,’ such as if there’s a vaccine discovered for the pandemic,” Ms. Casey-Searl said. 

“We did see some attrition from the prior year with families who left, but we made up for it with the new families that came,” she said. 

The expansion into the new building will need site plan approval from the Riverhead Town Planning Board. That application will be on the agenda at the Planning Board’s Sept. 17 meeting, which starts at 3 p.m. (The public is not permitted to attend, but can see it and comment on items virtually using Zoom, or by watching it live on the town’s website, or channel 22 for Riverhead Town residents with Optimum cable.

The application calls for changing the use of an existing 2,552-square-foot retail building to an elementary school use.

It is located on a 19.8-acre parcel at 359 Main Road across from Union Avenue. The property is zoned Rural Corridor, and schools are a permitted use in that zone, according to the Town Code.