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Jun 14, 2019 3:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Children's Museum Of The East End Looks Elsewhere For Permanent Location In Riverside

Ludlam Avenue Park in Riverside was the original proposed location to construct a new building for Children's Museum of the East End programming. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Jun 18, 2019 3:55 PM

Plans to construct a building in Ludlam Avenue Park in Riverside to use as programming space for the Children’s Museum of the East End and Southampton Town fell through after cost estimates came back much higher than expected, forcing officials to look for alternate locations in the hamlet.

At the latest Flanders, Northampton and Riverside Community Association meeting, the group’s president, Vince Taldone, announced that the town has stepped away from the Ludlam Avenue Park project—which his group spent three years helping to plan—and was unsure of its current status.

He shared frustrations about the lack of communication from town officials and asked why the town spent more than $200,000 that was meant for the project on other improvements at the park, which is on Ludlam Avenue off Riverleigh Avenue.

“My members have been asking me, ‘When are they going to build that new building for the Children’s Museum in the park?’ And I know it’s not happening, because the town has already told me, so I let them know,” Mr. Taldone said in a later interview.

On Wednesday, he said that he had not received an update in weeks and was worried that the project was a lost cause. He was led to believe that the town was no longer supportive of the project after reading comments from Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman in a recent news article—comments that the supervisor later clarified.

Steve Long, president of the Bridgehampton-based Children’s Museum, or CMEE, confirmed that the project is still moving forward and said that the excessive cost estimate was only a “hiccup” in the nonprofit’s plans to expand into Riverside.

The organization is currently searching for a viable location at other town-owned properties, as well as privately owned existing buildings. One spot on the table is a 5,000-square-foot space in the brand-new commercial building at the Riverside traffic circle, Mr. Long said.

Southampton officials also made it clear that the project was not dead. The Town Board authorized CMEE this week to sublease a multipurpose room in the Long Island Head Start building in Riverhead for July and August as a temporary solution until a permanent home is found.

Mr. Schneiderman said that the town still supports the project and hopes that CMEE can find a suitable location. But when the town’s consultant informed them that the Ludlam Avenue Park building would have cost $2 million—about four times what they had anticipated—he said that it was not feasible for the town to continue pursuing that plan.

Councilman John Bouvier and Councilwoman Christine Scalera have been the town representatives working to find alternative options for CMEE. “You can’t get what you want all the time, but I pledge to continue to work to find a permanent home for them,” Mr. Bouvier said.

The town accumulated about $400,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds since 2013, and a state grant, and intended to use it for the new building, according to Diana Weir, the town’s director of Housing and Community Development. But when officials decided to change course and abandon the park location idea, Suffolk County told the town that it had to use those funds this year, she said.

The funds were technically filed as being for “improvements at Ludlam Park,” so the town was able to use them for other park upgrades, Ms. Weir noted. The Town Board voted unanimously in recent months to use the funds—minus about $100,000 for architect fees—for a new playground and upgrades to the sidewalks and bathrooms.

Mr. Taldone said that FRNCA was not given any explanation for those changes, and that the project actually had, in total, about $1 million from various funding sources that could have been sufficient if a construction bid came back low enough. In that figure, he included an award of more than $500,000 from the state’s Regional Economic Development Council last year to CMEE for its Riverside expansion project—an award that Mr. Long said will still be given despite the plan changes.

If the nonprofit decides to move into the new commercial space at 20 Riverleigh Avenue at the traffic circle, Mr. Schneiderman said that the town would likely provide grant funding to support programs at that location, as it does for CMEE’s Bridgehampton location.

Moving closer to the heart of the hamlet, where the traffic circle is, was actually a more favorable option, Mr. Long said, because of its greater accessibility to local residents who rely on public transportation as well as other Southampton Town residents who expressed interest in using their services.

“I think there’s a lot of good reasons to have moved on from Ludlam Park,” Mr. Long said. “Talking to several members of the community, they love the idea of having it being more in the center of Riverside. If we can make that happen, I think that’s going to be a big win-win-win for everybody.”

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