Only between 10 and 14 percent of the students at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside scored with proficiency in math, and between 20 and 24 percent of the school’s minority population — 90 percent of the student body — achieved proficiency in language arts for the 2018-19 school year, according to the website Public School Review.
Located in the northwestern section of the Town of Southampton, it ranked 4,068 out of New York States 4,228 schools. At least 50 percent of the students come from economically disadvantaged homes, with, according to elementaryschools.org, almost 70 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
This is why the members of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association have pushed for years to give the children in Riverside and Flanders the enrichment they desperately need.
And why Vince Taldone, former association president and board member, told fellow members recently that they had reason to celebrate what he called “a great first step.”
Southampton Town officials announced a $120,000 grant award that will be used to provide space in the town-owned facility on Flanders Road for the Children’s Museum of the East End. The move is the fulfillment of a six-year promise, stated in the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan adopted by the town in 2015.
“We’ve been working on bringing them to Riverside for about 10 years,” Taldone said.
The Bridgehampton-based CMEE has been providing limited, free programming in Riverside for years. It used a storefront office space provided by Riverside Rediscovered on Peconic Avenue in Riverside. The programs offered by CMEE in Riverside were very popular, but because of the limited space, offerings were limited and registration was constrained.
Next, consideration was given to building a facility on Ludlam Avenue near the school and park. Back in 2019, the Southampton Town Board worked with FRNCA and CMEE on plans for a 4,000-square-foot facility in Riverside’s Ludlam Park. FRNCA lined up close to $700,000 for the new building and received grants for the design.
However, according to Taldone, the town “pulled the plug” on that plan after cost estimates came back much higher than anticipated.
A potential backup plan, discussed back then, involved expanding the Head Start building to provide year-round programming space for the CMEE, at least temporarily. Museum officials began to work on an agreement to allow use of the building year round; they had been using it during that summer.
That was in 2019. The current plan would have the Head Start program, which serves the same 3-to-5-year-old audience, co-occupy the facility with CMEE.
After prolonged talks, a two-phase solution arose.
The first phase called for some internal renovations that would create approximately 1,000 square feet of space dedicated entirely to the CMEE programming. With those renovations complete, CMEE expects to begin programming in January 2022.
In a release announcing the grant, town officials related that the biggest challenges CMEE faces with expanded programming involve finding staffing. But acting director Liz Bard said she was confident that January 2022 is a realistic start date.
The second phase uses the $120,000 grant funding to enclose an existing courtyard adjacent to the space created by phase one. The expansion will add approximately an additional 1,000 square feet, giving CMEE a bit over 2,000 square feet of exhibition and programming space.
The $120,000 grant provided through New York State Empire State Development will fund 20 percent of the total cost of the expansion project.
“Head Start and CMEE are two wonderful programs for children. The town is very pleased to be able to support both in Riverside,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman in the release.
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni added, “Having the Children’s Museum of the East End move in with the Head Start Program is a benefit to the Flanders and Riverside community. We anticipate that both programs will complement each other and thrive. The town is proud to upgrade the facility to make this opportunity possible.”
The state grant is not new, Taldone noted. “FRNCA applied for several grants to help offset costs for CMEE at Riverside, and we got both this one and a much larger $400,000-plus award from the New York State Council on the Arts for this project.”
That the facility would be located across the street from a planned park is a good thing, he said. Although the space will be small, it’s much larger than the 600-square-foot office that was used in the past.
“I’m glad they are moving forward,” Taldone concluded. He praised CMEE for its long-term commitment to the under-served children: “They’re really doing heroic work.”