In 2016, even before the East Hampton Housing Authority broke ground on the Gansett Meadow affordable housing complex in Amagansett, questions and contentions arose over the number of students from the new housing development who would ultimately enroll in the local school.
Back then, the housing authority predicted a total of 39 new students, a number the district challenged. A consultant hired to study the situation concluded that as many as 72 school-age and younger children would eventually live at Gansett Meadow with their families. A number of parents and others in the community expressed alarm that the school's resources would be overwhelmed, and there was a groundswell of opposition to the affordable housing complex itself.
Fast-forward to 2021: Almost all of Gansett Meadow's 37 units are now occupied, and the actual number of new Amagansett students is lining up with the East Hampton Housing Authority's original projections.
According to District Superintendent Seth Turner, on Dec. 21 there were 12 new children in prekindergarten through sixth grade at the school, plus six new middle and high school students. Five infants will eventually age into the system, for a total of 23 new students.
And, said Katy Casey, executive director of the housing authority, there are still three three-bedroom apartments unoccupied, "so there will be more children, but not that many more. We have a pretty good idea of how it's shaping out."
Two one-bedroom apartments are vacant as well, but they will not be rented to families with children.
"We took a look at our existing properties and waitlist, and we know that not every secondary bedroom has a child. It could be an adult child, or a grandmother," Ms. Casey explained. "That's how we came up with our original 39."
The Amagansett School's total enrollment as of Dec. 4 was 131 in prekindergarten through the sixth grade and 53 in middle and high school. The school only goes through sixth grade, and pays tuition for its older students who attend East Hampton Middle and High Schools at a rate of $24,397 per general education student and $67,718 per special education student.
The Amagansett School had just 75 students in the 2019-20 school year. It has seen a large influx of students who relocated here with their families during the Covid-19 pandemic and enrolled in the school.
In a Dec. 21 email to The Star, Mr. Turner said the district is "always happy to have new students to help enrich the school atmosphere, and we welcome the children from Gansett Meadow."
"We've grown quite substantially as a school, but it has been absolutely wonderful," the superintendent said on Tuesday. He declined to comment on the debates of the past but said, "While there were a lot of unknowns, Katy Casey did her very best to always keep us up to speed as to where they were in the process and when to expect students would be enrolling. There has been, over the last couple of years, some pretty good communication related to this, and that has helped smooth the transition. We still haven't seen the full influx yet."
The East Hampton Housing Authority, which is tax-exempt, will provide payment in lieu of taxes to the Amagansett School District each year. In 2017 that amount was negotiated at $25,000, with a built-in 2-percent increase each year. According to the agreement, the first payment will be due six months past the 75-percent occupancy mark, which Ms. Casey estimates will be in May.
Rona Klopman, who is the new chairwoman of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, said this week she was glad to hear how things are turning out at Gansett Meadow. She recalled heated debates at the beginning.
"Every kid is entitled to an education . . . I love to see kids moving in. I think what we have is a very exclusive club in our school," Ms. Klopman said. "I'm an educator going way back — I taught for 30 years. To me, the more variety you have in the school, the better it is."
Jim MacMillan, the previous committee chairman, remembered this week that "in the beginning, people were a little nervous about the tax increase and the ramifications on the quality of the school. And then they realized the importance it would have for the community. It was really not an issue after a while."
To Mr. MacMillan, Gansett Meadow feels out of character visually with the rest of the hamlet, particularly since it is located so close to Montauk Highway. "They weren't sensitive to the community with the siting, but the apartments are needed by the community," he said.
The demographics of the complex's new residents underline the need for more affordable housing units in East Hampton Town, Ms. Casey said — single-family units, apartment rentals, accessory apartments, condominium ownership, and others.
"It's overwhelmingly being populated by applicants from eastern Southampton and East Hampton," she said. "We've received many applications from Montauk and Sag Harbor, which is an indicator to us that housing availability is more dire in those areas. Looking toward the future, maybe we need to find a property in that area."
"In terms of occupation and age and any other relevant demographic, it's a broad spectrum," Ms. Casey continued. "There are some volunteer first responders in there, which makes me happy. There are some young adults, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and that also makes me happy, because that's a group that doesn't generally tend to apply for programs like this. It's a nice little community."
East Hampton Town recently approved an affordable housing overlay designation for a property on Three Mile Harbor Road within the East Hampton School District, and the housing authority has begun working with Georgica Green, the developer of Gansett Meadow, on a new project there.