Like most communities in the late 1950s, growing pains struck East Hampto and with it some contentious issues. In rapid succession, the Town’s leadership began proposing and planning for a Sewer System, a Water System, formation of an Industrial Development Commission, a Parks & Recreation Commission which assumed oversight of Sears Park, and, school expansion.
The post WW II “Baby Boom” stretched facilities. In some instances class sizes ranged upward to 35 or 40 students per class. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was fully engaged, Spuknik had been launched and served as the first volley in our race into outer space. The emphasis of government and educators was in the sciences and East Hampton had pitiful class and labratory facilities. Today we would gasp at student levels of over 25 per class, but then, nearly every community was caught flatfooted.
Expanding the High School (now Center School) or building a new facility, pitted neighbors against neighbors and young parents against senior citizens, many of whom were on limited incomes. The senior citizens had weathered the depression years and were leery to be saddled with significant property tax increases.
But on December 29, 1959, a Special Town Meeting approved a High School Building Committee to investigate (a) expansion of the current high school, (b) constructing a new high school, and (c) finding a proposed site for a new high school. The Committee was composed of the First Selectman, John Paonessa, Board of Finance members Robert Ostergren and Barbara Hurley, Board of Education members Richard Burnham and Roy Nicks and 4 citizens elected at the meeting, Gladys Smith, Winfred Eilert, John Callahan and Newton Percy Clark, who began their work immediately.
The Citizens Committee for Good Government rumored 17 to 19 mill increases with any new school. Many leaders rebutted. Mr. Ostergren stated, “The rumor involves a failure to understand the tax system of EH,” or, “is a deliberate attempt to deceive the voters on a new school issue.” Fed up with cramped and inadequate quarters, the townspeople approved $1.45 million in March 1961, for a new high school. And believe it or not, at a Town Meeting on March 26, 1962, added $195,000 for an additional science lab, an auditorium and library. Today such amenities would be considered necessary to meet accreditation standards.