It seems surreal to read about it today. Some might find it impossible to even believe. But it was proposed; it really was proposed.
The Huntington School District’s long history is filled with fascinating tidbits. Some make little sense today, but at the time there was a reason for every twist and turn.
Where would the district be today without Woodhull Intermediate School? Nearly 500 students are educated in the building on any given day. It will house grades five and six in 2017/18 before expanding to grades 4-6 in September 2018. But 35 years ago, the public was asked to approve the sale of the school.
Originally scheduled for completion in September 1967, Woodhull Elementary School opened many months ahead of schedule on Monday, January 30 of that same year. It cost $1.325 million to erect. The bond that funded construction was paid off during the 1994/95 school year.
Roosevelt Elementary School, which was located on Lowndes Avenue to the south of the current Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, closed for good on Friday, January 27, 1967. All of its students, faculty and staff moved over to Woodhull the following Monday. Robert Fitzgerald was Roosevelt’s last principal and Woodhull’s first.
But, we are getting diverted. Back to the surreal story. Only a few years after Woodhull opened, the Huntington School District was hit with an order to desegregate its schools. The state education commissioner found that the schools located north of 25A and those south of that state road had drastically different enrollments racially. The district was also entering a long period of decline in its enrollment, which peaked in the 1973/74 school year.
After establishing new attendance zones for each building to achieve the racial balance the state required and considering current and future enrollment patterns, the district found it could do without both Village Green and Woodhull Elementary Schools. Both buildings were closed.
Village Green was located on Park Avenue, southwest of the intersection with Main Street. The building is now owned by the Town of Huntington and used by the Cinema Arts Centre and for senior citizen and other community programs.
The buildings sat vacant for several years. Woodhull was evaluated for use as a nursing home and Village Green was considered by the county for community college classes and by the state for offices and Dept. of Motor Vehicle operations. The town also analyzed how it could use the building and grounds for its programs.
The grounds of the two building sites were contiguous and measured approximately 33 acres, with Woodhull consisting of 23.9 acres and Village Green totaling about 9.25 acres.
The two buildings were jointly marketed, before the district pulled Woodhull off the market and tried to sell Village Green by itself.
In March 1982, the Huntington School Board finally voted to sell the Woodhull/Village Green complex and authorized a community referendum. A public hearing on the sale was held on Monday, April 19, 1982 at 8:30 p.m. in the Huntington Elementary School auditorium. (The school is now known as Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School.)
“The developer, Klein & Eversoll of Hauppauge, plans to build from 80-160 residential, cluster housing units on the site,” stated a special edition of the district newsletter that was mailed to residents. “Their plan calls for the demolition of the Woodhull School. The Village Green School and nine acres of land will be offered to the Town of Huntington at no cost.”
The selling price for the two-school complex was set at a range of $1 million to $1.6 million contingent on the number of housing units approved for the site. “For each unit below the maximum of 160 units, $8,200 will be deducted from the sale price, to a minimum sale price of $1 million,” according to the 1982 newsletter.
The final sale of the complex was dependent upon passage of the referendum on May 5, 1982, approval by the town of a zone change and town authorization of at least 80 units of housing.
The special edition newsletter that was sent to residents about the sale featured a question and answer format. It sought to address the issues on the mind of the voting public
“Does this plan involve low-income housing?” states the newsletter. “No! The developer plans to construct private family housing on this site. The specifics will be the result of negotiations with his own land planner in conjunction with various governmental agencies.”
Residents were told there would be a “financial benefit” to the district. “The school district will benefit in several ways,” states the newsletter. “First, the district will be compensated for the sale of the Woodhull/Village Green complex. The total amount of compensation will depend on the number of units constructed. Additionally, this private housing will then be placed on the tax rolls with the school district and other government agencies receiving substantial tax revenue.”
The contract’s terms stipulated the district would sell Village Green to the developer, which would then make the building and nine acres of land a gift to the town. Klein & Eversoll would go on to develop the Woodhull site, demolishing the building and erecting as many as 160 units of clustered housing on the remaining 24 acres of property.
Residents were told the district didn’t expect the new housing would result in a dramatic enrollment increase. “Our experience, and the experience of surrounding school districts indicates that this particular type of housing, at the planning sale price range, will attract few families with school age children,” states the special edition newsletter sent to voters. “We do anticipate a small increase in our school population, but this small number will not adversely affect us.”
Klein & Eversoll had worked in the area for several years and had recently developed Timber Ridge complexes in Selden, Holbrook, Kings Park, Stony Brook, St. James and Huntington.
District executives, school board members and Donald M. Eversoll were all in attendance at the public hearing on April 19, 1982. The auditorium as filled to capacity.
Residents went to the polls on Wednesday, May 5, 1982 and approved the 1982/83 budget by a vote of 1,373 to 1,047. Board president James C. McDermott and trustee Richard M. Oehmler were re-elected and Kathleen Barnhart was elected to what would be the first of several three year terms. A proposition to install new oil burners at J. Taylor Finley Junior High School, Flower Hill, Jefferson, Southdown, Washington and Huntington Elementary schools sailed through by a vote of 1,405 to 916.
Residents overwhelmingly rejected the sale of the Woodhull/Village Green complex by a vote of 1,619 to 824. A short time later, Woodhull was put back in service. For many years it housed Huntington’s central administrative offices and was known as the Woodhull Early Childhood Center, educating the entire kindergarten population. It was also the site of the first School Heritage Museum, in which school board meetings were held.
The Village Green School was eventually sold to the town for $250,000. At 52,000 square feet, it featured the same amount of space as Woodhull. The sports fields to the front and rear of the building were lost forever to the district’s athletic teams.
Where would the Huntington School District be today without Woodhull School? School officials would also surely love to have the Village Green School back. It could be used for pre-kindergarten classes, regular school day alternative education, daytime adult education, administrative offices and countless other programs. The gym could be used by middle school and high school sport teams and the fields would once again be filled with blue and white uniforms and cheers from the crowd.