The Kids Need a Space

Walker Bragman, 28, is spearheading a rally against drug addiction

Tonight, Walker Bragman has promised, “the town board will be delivered a strong message.” 

Mr. Bragman, 28, is spearheading a rally against drug addiction called The Kids Need a Space, to be held at 6 this evening in front of Town Hall, half an hour before the East Hampton Town Board begins its regular Thursday-night meeting there.

The message, on behalf of the nonprofit group East End New Leaders, is simple: The Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter must revert to its original purpose and provide young people with a place to go after school. 

Mr. Bragman, who grew up in East Hampton and frequented the RECenter as a teen, argues that since the Y.M.C.A. took over stewardship of the facility in 2011 it has been turned into a for-profit, taxpayer-subsidized gym, with minimal focus on providing teenagers with a space of their own. 

The campaign to make the RECenter more accessible and relevant to teens began in the summer of 2015, he said during a phone interview. “We thought this would be a noncontroversial issue. Who could possibly deny the importance of having a place for teenagers to spend time with their peers, other than in a party house?”

No one, except the town board, according to Mr. Bragman. “They have totally denied the community’s young people from having a space of their own by turning the RECenter into a for-profit business.” 

Under its current operating license with East Hampton Town, which owns the RECenter building, the town provides the Y.M.C.A. with $590,000 each year for operating expenses at the facility and is responsible for capital improvements to the building.

Under the contract, the Y.M.CA. is allowed to retain 10 percent of the income derived from operating the facility as an operating fee.

Once annual operating expenses are met, any revenue beyond that must be returned to East Hampton Town for a capital improvement reserve fund. Last year, $29,000 was returned to the town, and in 2014, approximately $27,000 was returned.  

In the face of a rising drug epidemic on the East End, Mr. Bragman, a law student, journalist, and activist, said there was an urgent need for teens to have a place to go and engage in self-directed activities. He acknowledged that while a space of their own is no cure-all, it would be a step in a positive direction. 

In an email to Mr. Bragman in September 2015, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the town board liaison to the Y.M.C.A. board of managers, countered Mr. Bragman’s demands and outlined a list of improvements the Y was planning to implement that fall, including a computer lab, learning labs, two 40-inch flat-screen televisions, Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and Netflix; interactive tablets, a performance stage, visual and audio arts capabilities, and D.J. equipment.

“I knew most of those things would never materialize,” Mr. Bragman said this week. “There are no tablets, and the TVs look like they’re from the 1960s.”

A post on the East End New Leaders Facebook page features photographs of the Y’s new teen center, showing a Foosball table and a collection of books for very young readers. “Looks pretty barren,” says the caption, “more like a nursery for parents who want to work out. Our guess: Most kids don’t go there because they don’t want to hang out at a gym. . . . We can do better.”

At tonight’s rally, Mr. Bragman said, the group, which recently received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, plans to “speak out and let [the town board] know we’re not going to tolerate their false promises any longer, and that if they do renew the existing contract in 2018, there will be political consequences.”
Correction: This article has been updated to include details of the town's licensing agreement with the Y.M.C.A. that were not part of the original article that appeared in print and online.