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Aug 13, 2019 1:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Possible Expansion Of Head Start In Riverhead Could Mean Permanent Home For Children's Museum Of The East End

FRNCA President Vince Taldone. VALERIE GORDON
Aug 13, 2019 4:53 PM

The Children’s Museum of the East End likely will get booted out of its satellite location in the Long Island Head Start offices in Riverhead at the end of the summer, according to the organization’s president, Stephen Long.

On Tuesday, he explained that the Bridgehampton-based organization has been using the space — provided free of charge by Head Start — since July 9 for programs such as “Mommy and Me” classes, and “Tot Spot,” a weekly program designed to help develop toddlers’ emotional, language and motor skills.

Additional activities include dress-up, painting, and arts and crafts stations, according to Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Community Association Vice President Angela Huneault, who called the summer program a “huge success.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Long said that the Head Start location is not large enough to accommodate CMEE during the school year, because its own programs will be starting. So the CMEE programs are expected to cease as of August 20.

“They don’t have classes during the summertime there,” Mr. Long said of Head Start. “It’s been great to have all of the space.”

Originally, the Southampton Town Board was working with FRNCA and CMEE to build a 4,000-square-foot facility in Riverside’s Ludlam Park. However, according to FRNCA President Vince Taldone, the town “pulled the plug” on that plan in June after cost estimates came back much higher than anticipated.

A potential backup plan, discussed at the association’s monthly meeting on Monday, is to expand the Head Start building to provide year-round programming space for the CMEE, at least temporarily. “Let CMEE exist there until a white knight comes along,” Mr. Taldone said, expressing his frustration with the Town Board.

Mr. Long was a little more lenient with the town, calling it a “hiccup” in the process.

“I think that’s certainly understandable,” he said of the change of plans, adding that, based on several recent conversations with board members, they “remain completely committed to the project.”

Speaking to the possibility of expanding the Head Start building, Mr. Long said that it would be “an ideal location.”

“It ‘s a great partnership. They’ve really been helping us serve families that need us most in the community,” he said. “I just think it would be amazing synergy.”

He continued, however, that the Town Board is in the process of discussing several other potential buildings in the Riverside and Flanders area that CMEE could use. He declined to identify any of them, however. “It’s too premature to indicate which properties we’ve been talking about,” he said.

However, Mr. Taldone said the clock is ticking. Based on the conditions of a $150,000 Empire State Development Grant, which was awarded to the organization in December, the town has two years to begin construction.

“If the town doesn’t come along and see the light … we are really under the gun,” he said, adding that he feels the Town Board members have been less than transparent in discussing their plans.

However, Mr. Long did not share Mr. Taldone’s concerns. “I am confident that we’ll be able to accomplish that based on the conversations that I’ve been having with town officials,” he said.

He did, however, stress the importance of moving quickly.

“Ideally, we don’t want a project that’s going to be a decade out — the community has been waiting for decades,” he said. “Having a children’s museum was really a priority.”

To illustrate the success of the two-month summer program, Ms. Huneault said that she has seen enrollment grow from a few select students per week to 15 to 20 students per activity. “I’m looking forward to the Children’s Museum being here as a permanent structure,” she said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Long added that a Riverside or Flanders location would not only serve those communities, but also the communities of Riverhead, Westhampton, Hampton Bays and even Calverton.

“Being able to have a space in Riverside where we can draw from the North Fork and South Fork, it really enables us to truly fulfill our mission of serving all children on the East End,” he said.

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