Saving the Noyac Schoolhouse

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Southampton Town recently budgeted $2.5 million to build a community center for residents of Noyac in 2011, but residents of the hamlet remain unsure where the center should be.

Civic groups in this densely wooded community of young families and retirees currently meet in the Noyac School House, a one-room structure built in 1796 that stands on an acre and a half of town land on the south side of Noyac Road. The building didn’t have heat until four years ago and it remains drafty, without hot water and in need of repair.

“It’s a sweet little structure. It’s been let go a little bit,” said Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who’s been working with members of the Noyac Civic Council to decide whether to build a new meeting place.

Ms. Graboski said that the town also added $100,000 to its budget next year for a hot water heater, paint and electric work in the schoolhouse, and for planning a new meeting room.

The Civic Council, which has over 500 members, shares the meeting space with the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee, the Noyac Environmental Task Force and the Boy Scouts. The schoolhouse is also a polling place.

During busy meetings and nights at the polls, the parking situation becomes dangerous. Roughly 10 cars can fit on the grass in front of the building, but any more must park on the grass along Noyac Road.

Plans for a new community center began in 2003, when Southampton Town included it as a recommendation in a hamlet study of Noyac. At the time, residents were considering what Civic Council President Chuck Neuman now calls “pipe dream” sites for a new home.

Waterfront sites, including the former Waterside restaurant on the edge of Long Beach, were abandoned as possibilities due to the high price of real estate. The site of an old motel not far from the schoolhouse, which was also considered, is now slated to become a subdivision.

By the time town officials last met with Mr. Neuman in late January, there were two options left: the current site and a 2-acre plot of land behind Trout Pond, off Ruggs Path and next to a 20-acre tract of preserved land and hiking trails. The town is currently appraising that property.

“We’re patiently staying engaged with the town,” said Mr. Neuman this week, adding that any plan would ultimately have to take into consideration the preservation of the schoolhouse.

At least one neighbor disagrees with plans to develop the existing site.

Patrick Witty, who lives next door to the schoolhouse, doesn’t want a new community center there. He began a letter-writing campaign to local newspapers two weeks ago and plans to organize a group of people to oppose the project.

His primary concern is the impact on the neighborhood if residents decide to build a 5,000-square-foot civic center toward the rear of the land the schoolhouse stands on. The town has not finalized a plan for the site, and may build an addition to the existing schoolhouse instead of a new building.

“That land was donated to the town by my father and grandfather with no covenant restrictions. They just did a good deed,” said Mr. Witty, adding that he believes that no one will take care of the schoolhouse if a new community center is built.

He also said that a separate community center was “way too big” for the site, which has only 75 feet of frontage along a dangerous stretch of Noyac Road.

“I’m a member of the Civic Council, and I’m the only one there who has a voice for preserving the building,” he said. “I don’t think the Civic Council represents Noyac.”

“I’m not against a community center. I personally don’t think I’d get much use out of it,” he added. “Do we need a polling place? Yes. But I don’t know if the town needs to spend the money.”

Mr. Neuman, however, thinks the consensus that he’s built in the five years since the plan was first floated speaks volumes about the support from the community for the project.

“It’s not like I have some snake oil and I’m going to snooker the old folks here,” he said. “I think we’ve been very respectful of the neighbors. Throwing rocks at each other doesn’t help.”

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