Things have come full circle for Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley now that the sisters have set out to purchase the former Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church campus in Cutchogue as the new home for the Peconic Community School.
“Liz and I were two of five children,” Ms. Casey Quigley said. “And we used to bike around the North Fork and with our brother kind of dreamed of this place, where we would create this community center. There would be progressive education and really wonderful educators; there would be arts opportunities, there would be information about science, science activities, nature-based activities, and it was all just sort of superfluous ideas, which eventually came into fruition as a school.”
The sisters co-founded PCS in 2012 with nine students. The school quickly outgrew its rented space at East End Arts and Music School in downtown Riverhead, and moved to its current home in Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on Main Road in Aquebogue, where it has been for 12 years. With 60 students in pre-K through 8th grade, an additional 40 children were enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday night, they presented their plans for the 10.2-acre property they intend to make the school’s permanent home to a packed room of over 50 people at the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library. The meeting served as the launch of the Cutchogue Civic Association.
The meeting went on for about an hour. The excitement from the community for both the school in the hamlet and the start up of the civic association was palpable.
“For the Cutchogue Civic Association, to have this turnout for their first meeting, it is absolutely joyful,” said Mary Eisenstein, who moderated the event. “And now every hamlet has a voice.”
The Cutchogue Civic is one of three associations to have formed in hamlets across the North Fork this year. The Southold Peconic Civic Association formed this spring as well as Heart of Riverhead Civic Association. Dave Bergen is the Cutchogue Civic’s interim president. Mr. Bergen is also part of the North Fork Civics Association, a coalition of associations from hamlets across Southold Town.
“So now Cutchogue has a voice at the table…,” he said.
The meeting started with Mr. Bergen introducing himself and some of the key members who helped make the new group possible. The Cutchogue Civic Association has eight board members, according to its newly launched website, cutchoguecivicassociation.org.
They plan to meet the third Thursday of every month at the Cutchogue New Suffolk Library, according to Mr. Bergen.
“Our goal here is to inform and educate the community, learn from the community, what their desire, aspiration, whatever it is, what their issues are, and add to their voices with the town leadership as they start looking to amend the code,” he said.
Among community members in attendance was Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who shared community members’ enthusiasm for the project and the new civic organization.
“It’s such a great community and it’s so encouraging to see the community engaged and things that are going on here,” Mr. Krupski said.
Mr. Bergen reported they got over 47 new members at Monday evening’s meeting. The next Cutchogue Civics meeting will be January 19. Mr. Bergen said that meeting will be devoted to the battery storage facility application from Key Capture Energy for Oregon Road.
Ms. Casey Searl and Ms. Casey Quigley made their presentation and took questions from the audience. They also encouraged the community to reach out to them by email with ideas or input of what they would like to see at the property by emailing [email protected] and [email protected].
The sale of the property includes the former Our Lady of Mercy Regional School, Sacred Heart church, the house which currently serves as the rectory, the garage or “carriage house” behind the rectory and woodlands stretching north of the campus. Some of the possible plans for the property include creating walking trails in the wooded area of the property, creating a performance space in the former church, and an art studio with a community kiln in the carriage house.
A five-year capital campaign program with a monetary goal of $5 to $8 million dollars will be launched in the near future, they said. Those funds would go towards renovations on the property. They declined to disclose the price of the purchase. They hope to close on the property by February or March of 2023 with plans to open by September 2023.
“Our hopes and dreams for the property are, first and foremost, to respect it and respect the character of Cutchogue and charm while updating and enhancing the property for long term use,” Ms. Casey Quigley said. “And we want to design a property where the whole community feels welcomed and connected.”