Sisters accept library offer
An exterior rendering of the Blue Point convent after being converted into the Bayport-Blue Point Library.

Photo from BBS Architects, Landscape Architects & Engineers, P.C.

Sisters accept library offer

Story By: NICOLE FUENTES
10/11/2018


After months of frustration over selling the decades-old St. Ursula Center convent in Blue Point, the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk have officially accepted a $3.65 million offer from the Bayport-Blue Point Library to convert the space into a 28,000-square-foot library.

The BBP Library board last night announced an approximate tax increase for the average Brookhaven resident of about $19.11 per month, while Islip residents will see an average increase of about $18.88 per month, both over an 18-year bond. According to library director Michael Firestone, those numbers could be about 10 to 15 percent lower once the existing library building, assessed at about $2 million, is put up for sale and subsequently sold. 

The sisters listed the property for sale last year, referencing the aging population of nuns living there and the high cost for care. Earlier this year, after community opposition, the Seafield Center, originally slated to purchase the property for $5.2 million, retreated from building an inpatient treatment facility at the site. Seafield ultimately pulled the deal, recognizing the opposition. Earlier this year, John Haley, COO of Seafield Center, told the Suffolk County News that the decision was up to the sisters; if not for them, he said he would still be going forward with sober housing.

The nuns, according to sister and province leader Joanne Callahan, have owned that property since 1935, which, in its heyday operated with about 100 sisters on-site. That number has since dwindled due to their aging population, making costs to maintain the property too high to keep up. Callahan said the remaining 14 or 15 nuns were placed in nearby assisted living facilities run by fellow sisters. 

“We are very pleased we reached a deal and we hope that the people of Bayport and Blue Point recognize this wonderful opportunity to have our building become a library,” she said. “The potential for the future of the area and all ages will really be a wonderful addition to the community.”

Though the offer accepted was considerably lower than the original Seafield offer, Callahan said they decided to accept it. “More money would have, of course, helped us. It’s pure numbers,” she said, referencing the need for retirement but also saying she is happy to see the building used for and by the community.

According to Brookhaven Town councilman Neil Foley, the usage of the library on that site is conforming, being that all libraries, schools and places of worship are zoned A-1 Residential.

Library district residents will decide whether to approve a $16.85 million bond referendum in December to acquire and renovate the over-eight-acre site on Middle Road. The final offer was accepted about two weeks ago after the library originally made an offer in May and upped it later in June. If approved, the library would move less than a mile, about two blocks south of their current Blue Point Avenue location.

“Should our residents approve this referendum, we believe we will be able to provide a very fine library facility that can be utilized by our entire community,” said board president Ronnie Devine Jr.

The existing library building, according to Firestone, was built for the library in the 1950s and has since been built out and renovated a few times, including the last expansion in the 1990s. Prior to that, the library’s original location was in a preexisting building north on Blue Point Avenue now occupied, in part, by a liquor store.

Back in 2007, controversial plans to expand the library to the south, possibly acquiring a private home, were denied by the community. Firestone came to the library as the director in 2011 with new plans for expansion.

Plans were made up last year to expand the existing library to the south and rebuild the front children’s section with a second story, for a total of about 23,600 square feet, as well as plans to purchase and renovate the convent, which would total over 28,000 square feet. The current library has just about 10,000 square feet of usable space, deeming it one of the smallest libraries in the area, he added.

Plans to stay at the currently limited site, he said, would have cost more, being that it would entail new construction, renovations and require the library to rent a space while work was being done, ultimately costing over $13 million plus rent. Instead, last week the board decided to move forward with purchasing the convent, which would allow the library to stay at their current site while renovations are being done. Plans would require no new construction, rather renovations and a slight buildout for a wheelchair-accessible entrance and additional parking. The entire building would be ADA compliant, something the existing building lacks.

The turret, or current entrance, at the convent would be repurposed into a much-needed teen department, which is virtually nonexistent at the current library site, and the most-used children’s department, which is currently too small, would be dedicated the entire west wing of the convent, including an office space for librarians and community rooms for children’s activities outfitted with their own bathrooms and parent access from the parking lot.

Additional community rooms would be located on the first and second floors to accommodate groups who currently want to utilize the library’s spaces but are limited, Firestone said. The adult section would be retrofitted in the main chapel, staying with the sanctity of what the room always was. “A quiet study,” he said. Upstairs will also feature a mezzanine overlooking the adult section and offices. The main floor will also add a café and computer rooms.

Outside will virtually see no change, he assured, referencing the need for some additional parking, a new front entrance and cleaned up and expanded existing walkways in the rear.

“When people drive past the facility, they will see what they always remembered. That’s home and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

The cemetery will remain, as well as an existing home once rented by a nun, which, at some point, will be repurposed by partnering with an outside organization. The gardens will also be cleaned up to promote outdoor activities.

“There is so much more we can do outside here; there is a lot of property,” he said, referencing the over-eight-acre site. “This is for the life of zip codes 11715 and 11705. We would never need anything more.”

Jason Borowski, president of the Blue Point Civic Coalition, who led the efforts as a spokesperson against the rehab center, said he and his group were thankful to the sisters for accepting the library’s proposal. Each household will have to decide whether the proposed increase is worth the value of the new facility, he said.

“When the proposed deal was announced, there was a general sense of excitement in the community,” Borowski said. “It not only maintains the existing zoning of the property, but represents an opportunity to undertake a project that would have a multigenerational impact on both Blue Point and Bayport.”

The vote will take place at the library on Dec. 6 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. A community meeting will be held prior to the vote on Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at the library and Firestone said he is also available to meet with any interested groups individually. 

“This is a win-win. We will be saving a piece of property in the community and making a better public library/community center,” added Firestone.