East Hampton Town’s plan to build some form of affordable housing on Route 114 in the Wainscott School District is still in its infancy, but residents of the district found a flier in their mailboxes this week posing an ominous question: “Is the end in sight for the Wainscott School?”
David Eagan, president of the Wainscott School Board, asserted on Tuesday that should affordable housing bring an influx of new students in the primary grades, the district would have two choices: Build a full-fledged elementary school, or shut down its two-room schoolhouse, which opened in 2008. Before that, the district had a decades-old one-room schoolhouse.
“We must work together to preserve Wainscott,” says the flier.
“As a board, we felt we needed to inform the taxpayers of Wainscott of what’s going on with our school,” Mr. Eagan said. “We really are facing a crossroads as a district.”
He said the current schoolhouse was built for a capacity of 24 students. Next year’s projected enrollment, he said, is 33. Wainscott, he said, is “producing students at an extraordinary rate,” much greater, he said, than its neighbors in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton.
“It seems like Wainscott, in the last four years, has become a more dense place,” Mr. Eagan said. “We’re not complaining about that. We’re not passing judgment on that. We’re saying there’s been a change, and we want people to know about it.”
In 2015, a proposed 49-unit affordable housing complex on town-owned land off Stephen Hand’s Path met so much resistance from residents and from Wainscott School officials that the town abandoned the plan.
The new effort to “preserve Wainscott” bears similarities to the district’s previous argument that it could not absorb a large number of young students if an affordable housing complex was to be built there. Mr. Eagan said school officials were not afraid of accusations of discriminating against minorities, because, he insisted, that was not the case. He pointed to the diverse nature of the Wainscott School’s existing student body, 40 percent of whom, he said, are “English-language learners,” meaning English is not their native language. The flier also says the district has stu dents from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Our opposition to the project stems solely from the fact that we can’t physically accommodate further population growth in our grade [kindergarten through three] student population,” it says.
Mr. Eagan said school officials did not want to change the grade levels offered in Wainscott. “If you start peeling off grades, you start defeating this purpose,” he said. “In the four years we have these kids in Wainscott, we really give them a good foundation. We want to provide the best continual, impactful, economical education for our students.”
Town officials, he maintained, have not asked the district to take part in the affordable-housing planning process. “The town board has never said one word to us,” he said. One such official, Councilman Jeff Bragman, responded this week that closing the Wainscott School was not a foregone conclusion if an affordable housing complex is built.
“I agree that Wainscott School is unique and important, and I also think that creating affordable housing is imperative,” said the councilman, who is the town board’s liaison to the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee. “I don’t believe that the creation of affordable housing will present the end of the Wainscott School.”
The school’s flier called upon residents to contact the East Hampton Town Board with their concerns. Mr. Bragman said he had already received one letter supporting the school.
Mr. Eagan said the district did not send the flier out to “alarm people.”
“I think the facts are stark,” he said.