By Kathryn G. Menu
The Gersh Academy, a school with a focus on special education for children on the autism spectrum, hopes to take over operations of the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons and open its own kindergarten through 12th grade program, including a summer camp, at the Wainscott facility, beginning this June.
On Tuesday, the school’s founder, Kevin Gersh, approached the East Hampton Town Board with his proposal for the site. Mr. Gersh and his attorney, Steven Latham of the Riverhead law firm Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo LLP said Gersh Academy was close to signing a contract with the trustees of CDCH, which closed its doors in June 2016. However, the town board must approve any new uses at the facility, which was built on town-owned land on Stephen Hands Path with CDCH holding a long-term lease for the building since 2002.
“The purpose of this lease and the use of that property is very limited,” said Mr. Latham, noting the property was specifically meant to provide children with disabilities on the East End a school where they would have access to services like speech language pathology, occupational social therapy, and psychology and social work services. “You need a special kind of operator to come in and I think we have found that in the Gersh Academy, and that is very exciting for the East End,” he said.
This is not the Gersh Academy’s first effort to work out of the CDCH building. Before CDCH closed, the academy was in talks with the school to take over its operations as CDCH — the South Fork’s only charter school — faced potential loses of $350,000. After three months of negotiations, Gersh Academy withdrew its offer to partner with CDCH to keep the school afloat. According to Mr. Gersh, the new contract would have the Gersh Academy as the sole operator of the school.
While CDCH offered an educational model where children with special needs were educated alongside traditional learners, Gersh Academy specifically caters to students on the autism spectrum or in need of other special services. Mr. Gersh said the academy was prepared to offer a complete kindergarten through 12th grade education, but would tailor its program to the needs of its students. While there are special educational services available in local school districts, Mr. Gersh said they were unable to accommodate the needs of all students.
“I met a mother who has a child with multiple disabilities who is travelling two hours to school,” he said. “That child should not be on a bus four hours a day.”
While the school would operate as a day school under the current proposal — anticipating roughly 60 students during the school year, and as many as 150 for summer camp programming — Mr. Gersh said there was a need on the East End for residential facilities for students with special needs.
“That building is not designed or approved for that,” noted Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
“We would need a lot more … but I do know there is not a facility like that available on the East End,” said Mr. Gersh.
According to Mr. Latham, the Gersh Academy is “99 percent” done with its contract negotiations with CDCH, and just needs town approval to move forward. On Tuesday, Supervisor Cantwell asked town attorney Michael Sendlenski to review the contract and advise the board before it considers the proposal formally.
Hopper Ridership Strong, Finances Weak
East Hampton Town, with the aid of a $100,000 state grant, started a pilot program this July and August in Montauk, offering free rides via the Hamptons Hopper in an effort to reduce congestion in the downtown during the busy summer season.
On Tuesday, Derek Kleinow — the owner of the Hamptons Hopper — said in terms of ridership, the first season was a success, resulting in 20,715 rides between the 15 stops scattered throughout Montauk between June 28 and September 4.
“It is a number we are really happy with considering we had a short amount of time to put this all together and promote it,” said Mr. Kleinow. “We certainly think there is room to grow, but we are happy with that number for the first year.”
“Now for some of the not-so-good news — the financial results,” said Mr. Kleinow, telling the board the company projected a loss of $10,250, but actually incurred a loss of $51,000. The primary reason, he said, was advertising failed to materialize to support the venture. The company had hoped to secure $25,000 in advertising revenue over the course of the summer, he said. Part of the reason for the poor result, he said, was how quickly the Hopper had to pull the service together, with many advertisers already committed elsewhere. The Hopper also did not pursue companies that sell beer or other kinds of alcohol, said Mr. Kleinow, although many expressed interest and would have pursued a “drink responsibly” marketing strategy.
He also suggested a long-term contract with the town, as opposed to an annual contract, would enable to company to better manage its budget.
“We were fortunate to have the state underwrite a grant for us,” said Supervisor Cantwell, noting State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle had indicated funds would likely be available for next season as well. He suggested the board consider a three-year contract and put its request for proposals out earlier as well. Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said the board could also revisit its limits on advertising.
“This is a model,” said Mr. Cantwell. “I don’t know when it might be able to be expanded in the future, but this is a model that worked.”