Written by Victoria Caruso-Davis Friday, 04 December 2009 00:00
Last summer, the Westbury Village Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved SCO Family of Services’ (SCO) request for a special use permit to operate a school out of St. Brigid’s vacant convent. But in December 2008, SCO announced it would not be moving forward with its application in Westbury and instead planned to explore other possibilities, including utilizing agency-owned property in Suffolk County.
Those plans, however, fell through and last month Westbury Village announced that St. Brigid’s and the Glen Cove-based nonprofit Catholic, non-sectarian human services agency had entered into the lease agreement approved last year. As it currently stands, SCO will rent the convent for the sole purpose of operating Westbrook Preparatory School, New York State’s first-ever co-ed residential school for teenagers and young adults ages 14 to 21 with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome.
Last Tuesday, the village sponsored an informational meeting in an effort to refresh residents about the project. The meeting, said Mayor Peter Cavallaro, enabled “members of the community to re-acquaint themselves with the SCO project.” At this time, Westbury officials joined Father Ralph Sommer, pastor of St. Brigid’s Parish, and Robert McMahon, executive director of SCO, to discuss the project.
The agreement, which includes cost of living increases over the course of the 10-year lease, will bring much-needed funds to St. Brigid’s parish, which has not seen rent income from the convent since February 2007. It was at this time that Nassau County, in an effort to consolidate, relocated the police department’s satellite office that had been operating out of the convent for 15 years. Since then, the parish has been without some $200,000 a year in rental income.
On Nov. 24, the same day as the meeting, the Diocese of Rockville Centre granted SCO the green light to move forward with Westbrook; as of press time, however, funding for the project was still awaiting approval from the New York State Department of Education. According to McMahon, the project cannot move forward until the state agrees on SCO’s proposed spending plan, which includes tuition as well as electricity, rent, quality and safety standards, among other items.
“We have sent [the state] a proposed budget and they will have to approve it. We hope to have an inkling by the middle of December,” said McMahon, adding, “We will start nudging them next week.”
Once the state gives the go-ahead, internal renovations on the St. Brigid’s Lane building can begin. The overall goal, said McMahon, is have the school up and running by September 2010; enrollment is determined by the special education committees from a children’s respective school district.
“Westbury is a special community and St. Brigid’s is a special parish. There is a real belief in and appreciation for diversity and inclusion,” said McMahon. “We think it is important for our young people to feel included and not made to feel different. We like Westbury.”
Cavallaro added, “I am very proud that our village has welcomed SCO and Westbrook to the community, and I am confident that Westbrook will be a good neighbor and have a positive impact on the neighborhood. The village board and I are committed to making sure that the concerns of our residents, which are legitimate, are addressed and that the facility is properly operated by SCO and monitored by St. Brigid’s and the village.”