The Bridgehampton School community gathered under a huge tent on the school’s back lawn on the afternoon of Friday, June 8, to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new, nearly $25 million addition that will more than double the size of the school.
“This is the same building that has been here educating students in this community for 88 years,” Superintendent Robert Hauser told a crowd that included students, staff, and many other community members. “That’s a lifetime for most of us who are under this tent.”
Hauser said the only improvements to the building since it was built in 1930 were a new roof, new windows, a new heating system, an elevator, and renovation of a classroom into a cafeteria, most of which were completed in the last decade. Over the years, when space has been needed for expanded services, be it special education classrooms or separate space for middle-school students, the district has relied on an assortment of temporary buildings that have been in service long beyond their intended lifespan.
Before a group of dignitaries, which included school board members, elected officials, and current and past administrators, took shovels in hand to break ground on the project, Hauser took a few minutes to tell the current student body what it could look forward to in 18 months, when the addition is expected to open. The 35,000-square foot addition, which will extend out the south side of the existing building and wrap around the west side, will include a library, regulation size gymnasium, music and chorus rooms, an auditorium, and fitness center.
“How wonderful it will be that we won’t have to have treadmills and weights on the stage,” Hauser said.
The superintendent’s description obviously unnerved at least one little boy in the audience who asked what would become of the playground during construction. “We are going to do everything we can so you can use that playground,” Hauser assured him.
Dr. Lois Morrow Horgan, who spearheaded the effort to get an addition approved by district voters in 2016 before retiring last winter, noted that the school’s population has increased significantly in recent years.
She said the school’s staff was largely responsible for that uptick in enrollment. “It is that commitment, dedication, and professionalism that led to an increase in a small, but mighty, school community by more than a third, which finally provided the momentum that was needed to encourage the Bridgehampton community to join us in ensuring a new addition to this very special building.”
Enrollment at Bridgehampton, which educates children in prekindergarten through 12th grade, remains low, at 205 students. But that figure has grown from about 150 just a few years ago and is expected to continue to increase now that Mercy High School in Riverhead and the Ross School lower campus in Bridgehampton are closing. Hauser said Bridgehampton is also seeing interest from students who attend other private schools on the East End.
In the early 1980s, enrollment at Bridgehampton dwindled. A 1985 vote to close the school failed, but the damage was done, and the school’s reputation sank with its enrollment, although those who remained committed to it would gladly sing its praises to anyone who would listen.
“As with most who entered the halls of Bridgehampton, I fell in love almost immediately with the dedicated staff and the amazing students,” Morrow Horgan said.
“We have all heard some sort of spiel the last 30 years — do we want to keep this school open or not?” said school board president Ron White. “We have spoken. The community has spoken. We said, ‘We want to keep it open; we want to keep it alive.’”
That will require hard work on the part of students and their families, he told the audience, encouraging students to continue to raise the bar and their parents to get involved in school activities.
Two students, Constantine Reilly, a fourth grader, and Aziza El, a high school junior, spoke for the student body.
Reilly described Bridgehampton as “the best school in America” and said he looked forward to the opportunities the expanded building would provide.
“It will literally change our lives forever and give both the students and the entire school community the opportunity to show off all the great work that is accomplished here,” said El.
The school’s marimba band and choruses also entertained the crowd during the event.