Four-year-old Madeline, eyes bright and happy and with a smile as big and infectious as only a little girl can muster, danced and clapped with her classmates during her favorite activity of the week: an arts and crafts class offered by the Children’s Museum of the East End, or CMEE, at the Riverside Rediscovered offices in downtown Riverhead.
Thanks to local families and community advocates, this class will soon be one of many when CMEE opens up its new 2,000-square-foot satellite location at Ludlum Avenue Park in Riverside, offering permanent, full-fledged, year-round enrichment programming for kids. The new location, which is the result of a partnership between CMEE, the Town of Southampton and others, could open as soon as next year.
“This is a community victory,” said Riverside Rediscovered community liaison Siris Barrios. “The goal is to be able to provide early childhood programing in the morning and then do after-school programming for older kids.”
Barrios added that the new CMEE “will have a lifelong impact on kids and in the community. To have a building where we have quality programming that is free, accessible and is people-oriented will be the anchor that this area needs.”
Lifelong Flanders resident and Riverside Rediscovered assistant community liaison Angela Huneault said that as a mother of two, she always had needed to go to other towns to look for kids’ activities and that this new satellite location will not only provide programming for children and families, but also will put the Flanders, Riverside, Northampton area on the map.
“This building going up tells the community that the town does listen, that they care about us and our voices are being heard, that we are being acknowledged. It is bringing a lot of happiness and joy to the area,” she said.
The new Southampton Town-owned facility will consist of two 1,000-square-foot modular structures that will feature two big classrooms with an accordion-like divider in the middle so that it can also be used as one big space. The building will also have a common area, a kitchenette, sinks to wash after an arts, science or gardening project, storage, restrooms and an outdoor deck space for garden beds and other activities, said CMEE’s executive director Stephen Long.
The modular structures will not only allow for the museum to expand further — up to two more modules, or an additional 2,000 square feet — but it is also more cost-effective in the long run, according to parks and recreation director Kristen Doulos.
The funding for the facility has come from different sources, Doulos said. The town board passed a resolution to establish a capital budget for the project last July, and now funding has been approved.
About $150,000 will be provided through a grant from the State and Municipal Facilities Program and the remainder, about $193,000, will come from the Community Development Block Grant Program. Both are reimbursable programs, meaning that the town has to provide the money up front and then get reimbursed back within a period of three years.
After the town receives the property survey, it will submit a design for the facility’s sanitary system to the county for approval. Next, the town will begin bidding for buildings and a construction timeline will become clearer. The town feels confident that by the fall of 2018, the building will be up and running, according to Doulos.
One of the museum’s future goals for its new satellite location is to add exhibition space in addition to the classrooms.
“It was very important for us, as part of the revitalization efforts in Riverside, to have cultural resource availability and engage the community,” Councilwoman Christine Scalera said. “The new building will not only benefit the local community but also will bring a new audience from other communities by bringing the arts west of the Canal in a very visible way.”
Additionally, because of its location in Ludlum Avenue Park, the museum will be close to Philips Avenue School.
“The museum would take the leadership in programming, but we are looking forward to have a lot of different partners involved,” Long said. “There will be opportunities to collaborate with local schools and there are others like the Southampton Youth Bureau and the Parks Department that have also expressed interest.”
CMEE’s vision is to provide an array of programming, where not only local parents and kids participate in the activities, but where Riverside becomes a cultural hub for other communities as well.
“This will be a place where kids will have a safe and fun indoors space,” he said.
Long also suggested that CMEE could serve as a meeting place for local civic organizations, where members with children could have their kids attend a class while the grown-ups meet.
“We have a model with the Retreat where parents do counseling sessions while the kids are busy with different programming,” he said, referring to an East End non-profit that provides shelter, safety and education for domestic abuse victims.
CMEE education coordinator Liz Bard explained how important it was for parents and children to come together and share experiences.
“It’s hard and messy and everyone is going through it together,” she said.
“I remember one of the families from the Retreat, there was this boy with a younger sister with Down Syndrome. They had gone through so much as victims of domestic violence already. He told me that this was the only place he could come and feel as a kid.”
The idea for the facility was born after Riverside Rediscovered and the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association did door-to-door and online surveys asking for input from the community about the types of programming that local residents were lacking and would like to see more of in the area. After canvassing residents thoroughly to find out what kind of cultural and economic assets they felt were needed, the most popular answer was children’s programming.
Riverside Rediscovered approached CMEE four years ago, according to Barrios. She said they knew CMEE had had great success partnering with the community of the South Fork and had well-established children’s programming.
“We thought they would be the perfect partner and the community would greatly benefit,” she said.
The museum had long been interested in a satellite location, but it was important for the museum to know how much interest the community had in the classes offered and how much demand there was. A partnership was born and the first set of seasonal classes was established in 2013-2014.
To everyone’s delight, the classes turned out to be not only well-received but a huge success by all accounts and have exceeded all involved parties’ expectations. Within 48 hours, all spots were taken and classes were full, said Long.
“I lived in Southampton before living here,” said Jennifer Holmes, Madeline’s mom and a Flanders resident. “They had a lot of programs to do for kids – and I realized there wasn’t much until I heard about this.”
Barrios said that the success of the classes made patently clear the need for a more permanent program somewhere better suited — so far, the small Riverside Rediscovered offices had served as a meeting place — and Barrios, in conjunction with others, decided to approach the town in the fall of 2016 about a new CMEE satellite location in Riverside.
“They came on board almost immediately,” said Barrios.
Holmes said that in the past, she had sometimes driven the 25 miles from Flanders to CMEE in Bridgehampton just to take her daughter to an arts class and that the new, closer facility would be a great asset to the community.
“I love the idea of the new building, this will be amazing for the community. CMEE’s staff has been great so far, they treat the kids like they are one of their own” she said.
“We were very excited and very happy to be here and to be so well-received, this is an amazing community. It feels like a home away from home,” said Bard.
Meanwhile, Madeline keeps enjoying her classes, playing and learning with her friends.
“There’s nowhere else she’d rather be on Tuesday nights,” Holmes said.
Editor’s note: This story has been amended to correct an error that incorrectly stated the location of Ludlam Avenue Park.