Bridgehampton Child Care Center Floats The Notion Of A Public Pool In Bridgehampton

A view to the back portion of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center property, beyond the new building, to where a new gym and pool will be constructed. KITTY MERRILL

A swimming pool at the Bridgehampton Child Care Center was just a dream for Executive Director Bonnie Michelle Cannon when plans for the construction of a new administrative building on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike site were crystallizing several years ago. But, there was a very big and very pleasant surprise in store, and Ms. Cannon calls it a dream come true.

As the 7,800-square-foot, $3 million building nears completion, an anonymous donor has stepped up and now the pool, and a basketball gym will, indeed, be part of BCC’s future.

Basketball is a big part of the center’s past, Ms. Cannon told the Southampton Town Planning Board on July 8 during a review of the new plan. Most people on the East End know about the champion Bridgehampton Killer Bees basketball team. The legendary champions have won nine state championships, the second most of any school in New York State.

Most of their players got their start shooting hoops at the center. They played, she said, “here on our court every single day.” In fact, Ms. Cannon hopes to entice New York State Basketball Hall of Famer Carl Johnson to take on the role of athletic director. As coach, Mr. Johnson led the high school team to four state championships, and as point guard, he brought the squad to another three.

With the rare distinction of winning state championships as both a coach and player for the same team, Mr. Johnson was on hand at the Planning Board meeting last week to offer support for the project.

Bill Chaleff of the Water Mill firm Chaleff & Rogers Architects provided planners with an overview of the proposal. The plan involves a 25-foot-by-75-foot Olympic-sized swimming pool, plus a 10,000-square-foot athletic building.

While most passersby are familiar with the 6 acres site, Mr. Chaleff noted that the property extends back to town land. There’s a ballfield at the back of the lot and beyond the field is where the new building would go.

On the first floor of the athletic building, there would be a regulation sized basketball court, locker rooms and bathrooms, with a track running around the perimeter on the second floor.

Huge sliding doors on one wall would be constructed to open up, allowing the court to serve as a proscenium for concerts or other performance events. Audience members could sit on the adjacent lawn to enjoy the show.

The issue to resolve is clearing. A 1894 aerial view shows the property was historically a working farm, though much of the once cleared land has been filled in with vegetation over the years. Current regulations allow for no more than 50 percent clearing, but the site could be as much as 70 percent cleared. Mr. Chaleff put forth that even a 2001 aerial shot shows very little growth had come up. The 2001 aerial is significant in terms of depicting historic conditions at the site, and underscoring the conditions were similar for decades.

Sliding the building in one direction could destroy space that was open field and pasture. Keeping the open field honors the historical use, Mr. Chaleff said. It also works best with recreation plans for the property.

Planners will seek a determination from the building inspector about the percentage of clearing. A waiver from clearing restrictions could be issued if the project results in bettering the overall resource, Assistant Planning Director Clare Shea pointed out.

Given the opportunity to describe the proposal’s potential impact on the community, Ms. Cannon explained, “we are historically a community-based Black organization, who serve all East End marginalized children and families.”

“A lot of Black and brown children do not swim, do not know how to swim,” she said, pointing out that youngsters whose families have lesser means can’t always access swimming lessons. Providing swim instruction will enhance the center’s offerings.

When it comes to a pool or gym, Bridgehampton has been “a village without a home,” Mr. Johnson said. “Having this facility would mean a great deal for the community.”

The Center broke ground on a new administration facility last fall. Approved by town planners in 2019, the facility will see a computer lab, separate executive offices, one classroom, and an outdoor porch on the first floor. The second floor includes another classroom, a multipurpose room, conference room, and additional offices. Added conference rooms will allow for staff to provide one-on-one tutoring.

The new building replaced a 1902 building that was serving as BCC headquarters. The Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreation Center was birthed on donated land during the 1950s, following a tragic 1949 fire that killed children of migrant workers who’d had to stay home alone while their parents worked.