Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Commack School District teachers, administrators, students and community members gathered at the high school on Friday to shave their heads in the name of childhood cancer research.

About 175 people “braved the shave” to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. This is the seventh year that the district has hosted the event, which is organized by Commack High School teachers Lee Tunick and Bill Scaduto. Tunick said that the district eclipsed $500,000 raised since they began the annual event seven years ago, with more than $66,000 and counting coming in 2016. More than 700 people have had their heads shaved at Commack since they began.

“The community feel is terrific,” Tunick said. “The community just gets behind this like you wouldn’t believe.”

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) was in attendance to take part in the festivities as well.

“In comparison to what children are going through with cancer, it’s nothing,” Edwards said about the bravery required to have her head shaved in front of a gymnasium full of people. “It’s breathtaking. It’s easy to write a check. We do that all the time. Not enough people do that probably, but when you’re doing something like this, you’re going for it. You believe in it. You’re passionate about it,” she added.

Commack High School senior Chris Walsh had his head shaved in St. Baldrick’s name for the tenth year Friday. He has personally raised over $20,000.

Scaduto came to the event with a thick mane of brown hair but left with far less.

“We have a lot of quality teachers here who really volunteer their time to make this happen,” Scaduto said. “Administration, kids, everyone gets involved and it’s just amazing.”

Sports memorabilia items were donated to be bid on by Triple Crown Sports Memorabilia in Hauppauge, as another fundraising source.

For more information about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s cause, or to donate, visit www.stbaldricks.org.

The Comsewogue middle school robotics team poses with coaches Steven Nielsen and Jennifer Caltagirone. Photo by Alex Petroski
Steven Nielsen shows off the creation of the Robotic Raccoons, Comsewogue's middle school team. Photo by Alex Petroski
Steven Nielsen shows off the creation of the Robotic Raccoons, Comsewogue’s middle school team. Photo by Alex Petroski

Comsewogue’s John F. Kennedy Middle School robotics team captured the Long Island Championship in the FIRST LEGO Robotics Competition at Longwood High School on Feb. 28, competing against about 150 other teams. They will be moving on to nationals in Missouri in April.

The board of education honored the team for its achievement at the board’s meeting on Monday.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in an interview. “They’ve been working on this project for a while, and that’s great that they have that interest.”

The Robotic Raccoons team, coached by Steven Nielsen and Jennifer Caltagirone, is collecting bottles and cans as a means of fundraising for their trip to Missouri. Anyone who would like to help should bring their recyclables to the middle school’s main entrance lobby.

For young Northport students, creativity was in the air recently at the Invention Convention.

Gifted and Talented Parents Association, a parent group in the district, hosted the 16th annual Invention Convention at the William J. Brosnan administration building on Feb. 25, where students displayed their innovative projects.

The convention was open to kindergarten through sixth grade students in the district. About 25 projects were on display for community members, school administrators and school board members in attendance.

“The Invention Convention is focused on inspiring, encouraging and celebrating the creativity and ingenuity of our children,” a press release from the GTPA said. “Their natural curiosity and imagination are a perfect combination to create something new.”

One of the projects on display was “The Rotating House,” created by Fifth Avenue Elementary School second grader Andrew Mead, which turns a house at its foundation to allow sunlight into whichever room a homeowner desires at a given time.

“I think it would be very useful for everyone,” Mead said about his invention. “Some people may just want to take a nap or something but they can’t because the sun is shining right on them, and they might not want to wait so long for the sun to move around by itself.”

Logan Hecht, a first grader from Dickinson Elementary School, invented “Fork-A-Seal” for containers with snacks that come without plastic ware.

“I got this idea because one day I was going to have fruit salad for breakfast, but we were out of forks so I thought that this plastic piece right here could be a fork, so you’d always have a fork ready,” Hecht said. “You waste a piece of plastic that could be used for something good.”

Some other inventions included second grader Mitchell Cartwright’s “Second Life,” which turns used lunch trays into planters; first grader Jeffery Raynor’s “The Automatic Duster 5000,” which automatically cleans shelves; third grader Philip Bechtold’s “Adjustable Dish Drying Rack;” and first grade twins Liam and Jack Healy’s “Storm Glow RCI,” which are colorful lanterns for when the power goes out.

The members of Kodiak who just performed at the Paramount in Huntington last weekend. Photo from Rich Orofino

At the Paramount last weekend, what came before the headliner was almost more impressive.

Northport-based band Kodiak performed on the Huntington stage for the first time that night, opening for Billy Joel cover band Big Shot on Saturday, Feb. 27, and the teens rocked the house.

Before the show last weekend, Kodiak had played mostly open mic nights at their high school and some local bars around Northport, according to songwriter and lead singer Rich Orofino, 17.

In an interview at Orofino’s family home Monday, he and lead guitarist Matt Louis, 16, reflected on their big night while also looking toward their bright future.

“People are singing our lyrics in the crowd,” Orofino said. “That’s, like, the best feeling.”

Orofino and Louis, students at Northport High School, stressed how appreciative they were for the opportunity presented by the Paramount and Big Shot to be able to play the show, which will be remembered as a milestone for Kodiak.

Drummer Jonah Cohn, 17, and bass player Jack Burns, 18, round out the group.

The band has been together for about a year. They compared the sound of their eponymous debut album, released in 2015, to the indie rock band Real Estate. They mentioned Bob Dylan, The Who and Led Zeppelin as some of the bands they listen to.

Their second album, “Romantic Rebel and the Phony Reaper,” which they expect to be done in the next month or so, will have a harder, more electric-driven sound.

Because of that shift, Louis and Orofino had a hard time pinpointing Kodiak’s genre. But they’re okay with that.

“You should never try to duplicate yourself,” Louis said of their evolving style.

Wisdom and maturity came through in shocking abundance while speaking to the guys. That maturity softened Linda Orofino to the idea of her son pursuing such a tumultuous and uncertain career as a musician, a few decades after her husband took his shot at stardom and fell short.

“I did not want my son to be a musician,” his mother said. But his dedication and talent have proved her wrong, she said. Her husband is proud too, she added, when he hears Kodiak perform.

Orofino estimated that he has written about 230 songs, and while he couldn’t name a favorite at first, he settled on “Embers,” off their first album, after some deliberation.

Orofino and Louis both said that music is their one and only priority right now. They don’t have other hobbies — this is all they’ve ever wanted to be.

“I’ve been writing songs since ninth grade,” Orofino said. “In tenth grade one of my best friends put my name down on an open mic list at the school and I just stepped on stage and played two of my songs and I got a standing ovation. That was, like, the greatest feeling on Earth and I just never wanted to not be on a stage from that point on.”

Lead singer Rich Orofino sings as Matt Louis plays during their performance at the Huntington venue. Photo from Rich Orofino
Lead singer Rich Orofino sings as Matt Louis plays during their performance at the Huntington venue. Photo from Rich Orofino

Anyone who has spent time in Northport could understand how artists from there find inspiration.

“There’s so much Northport in our music,” Louis said.

Orofino fully endorsed that sentiment. “There’s literally an osprey’s nest we sing about,” he said, motioning toward the back door of the home, which looks out on the Long Island Sound.

Kodiak will be playing a two-hour show at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in downtown Northport Village sometime in March or April, as a fundraiser for a Northport food pantry. The date has not yet been determined.

Visit them online at www.kodiakband.bandcamp.com to hear their music or find out about future Kodiak shows.

Joe Sabia file photo

Joe Sabia will be waiting for results on a stressful election eve for the third time in his 39 years as a resident of Northport Village on Mar. 15.

Sabia, a former member of the Northport-East Northport school board and a mayoral candidate in the 2014 Northport election, is running for trustee on the village board this time around.

“I’ve been here since 1977,” the 60-year-old Sabia said in a phone interview. “I’m not a newcomer.”

Sabia will face incumbents Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen in the 2016 election. He said that his experiences running for school board and mayor have prepared him.

“I realized people have to get out and vote,” Sabia said, adding that he knocked on about 1,400 doors when he was running for mayor in 2014 against incumbent George Doll. But that wasn’t enough to unseat the incumbent mayor.

Sabia said that he was not happy about the village’s proposed budget that was released in January, which included more than a 3 percent increase to the tax levy. Lowering taxes was one of several issues that Sabia said is important to his campaign and eventual term, if he is elected.

“You’re pushing people to the limit,” Sabia said about taxpayers in the village.

He also mentioned fixing sidewalks and roads in the village, changing the way that snow removal is handled, improving village parks, addressing environmental concerns associated with storm water runoff and upgrading street lights to be more efficient as some of the issues that are important to him and in need of the village’s attention.

“I have fresh ideas,” Sabia said. He said he is also interested in “revamping” village hall, though he said he would prefer to fund a project like that through donations, not tax dollars.

Asharoken Village found success with resident donations financing parts of the cost for the new village hall, which opened in January 2015.

Sabia has a history of wanting to keep costs low.

He went after his former school board colleagues at a board of education meeting on July 1, 2015, after they approved the appointment of Lou Curra as the district’s interim assistant superintendent for human resources, a position that paid Curra $935 per day during his six months in the position. He said he believed Curra was being overpaid.

Sabia owns Sabia’s Car Care, an automotive repair shop located on Fort Salonga Road in Northport. Nonetheless, he said he’s confident that he would have more than enough time to effectively serve the village as a trustee.

Sabia’s daughters, ages 25 and 29, were products of the Northport-East Northport school district, and his late wife Valerie served as the village court clerk until she passed away about four years ago, he said.

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Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy sits at Smithtown Town Hall. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Smithtown Highway Department turned the page on a tumultuous 2015 on Tuesday, when Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) swore in newly appointed Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy.

Murphy, 52, served as the interim superintendent after Glenn Jorgensen resigned in October and pleaded guilty to charges that he falsified public documents. Jorgensen, who had been in the position for about six years, was also accused of sexually harassing one of his employees. Murphy was deputy superintendent from 2012 until the beginning of his interim term this past year.

“I’m confident that Mr. Murphy will continue to perform as he has over the past few months,” Vecchio said in a phone interview. “He’s open to suggestions for efficiency.”

Vecchio also said he’d received more complimentary calls from the community regarding the highway department’s handling of two snowstorms in 2016 than any other storms he can remember.

The supervisor was responsible for nominating Murphy to take over as the permanent superintendent, and the board unanimously approved him.

“It is an absolute pleasure to appoint Mr. Robert Murphy as Smithtown highway superintendent,” Town Board member Lisa Inzerillo (R) said in an email. “Many phone calls from Smithtown residents have come in letting us know what a wonderful job Mr. Murphy has been doing. Robert demonstrates dedication to this position, highway employees and the residents of Smithtown; therefore, appointing Robert is the best decision for our town.”

Murphy said in an interview that he has about 25 years of experience in the engineering field, and a business management degree from the University of Phoenix.

He and his wife Kim both graduated from Smithtown High School East in 1981, and he has lived in Smithtown his whole life, minus a 12-year stay in Arizona.

Murphy returned to Smithtown about six years ago, and before becoming deputy highway superintendent, he spent about two years as a capital projects manager for Suffolk County. He and his wife, who manages an East End Disabilities Associates group home in Riverhead, have a 25-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son.

“I’m a people person,” Murphy said, when asked which of his qualities would help him in his new position. “I’m a facilitator. I love to get things going in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening at the highway department right now. Communicate with the people, show them respect and they’ll give respect back.”

Murphy said he believes a key to his position is bringing jobs and projects to workers that will leave them with a sense of pride. And Vecchio said he’s noticed an uptick in worker morale since Murphy took over.

“For the four years that I was there and then the interim period, you always think, ‘Let’s change this,’” Murphy said. “Now it’s on your shoulders and you’ve got to make sure you try to implement different things and see if they work and just be a good leader. If you’re a good leader, then guys will follow, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Murphy said that he’s looking forward to the challenges and work that he has ahead of him.

Superintendent Jim Polansky. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington school district has begun preparing for budget season.

Superintendent Jim Polansky discussed the state of the 2016-17 budget on Feb. 11, and said the district will have to work hard to create a budget that stays within its 1.68 percent cap on its tax levy increase.

A rollover of programs from the 2015-16 budget would put the district above that cap, and would cost about $2 million more than last year’s budget. That figure comes from an increase in health insurance costs for the district and other personnel items, despite an expected savings of almost $1 million in pension costs, according to Polansky.

As of Feb. 29, the district’s $122 million working budget was still about $132,000 over the allowable limit, meaning that costs need to be cut or additional revenue needs to be found to close the gap. Polansky has said that the district’s goal is still to adopt a budget that comes in below the cap on the tax levy.

“These are decisions that have to be made by the board as we move forward over the next couple of months,” Polansky said at the Feb. 11 meeting.

Piercing the tax cap, which requires a super majority vote of 60 percent from the community, is probably not an option.

“I don’t think that the board is interested in piercing the cap at this point,” Polansky said. “I will state that on the record even though we haven’t discussed it.”

To help matters, the district is also expecting an increase in state aid, due to a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction enacted several years ago that cut into state aid for New York school districts in an effort to close a state budget deficit.

The district has additional budget meetings coming up on March 14 and March 21. The vote to adopt a 2016-17 budget will take place on May 17, at which point the budget will be sent to residents for approval.

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Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Higuera and Board of Education President Johanna Testa discuss the proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year during the Feb. 24 meeting. Photo by Alex Petroski

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Higuera presented her proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year. The proposed budget of $70,602,887 would be $596,007 higher than the budget for the current school year. All instructional and non-instructional programs from the current school year would remain intact.

“We expect some things might look a little bit different, but we’re not looking to eliminate any programs,” Higuera said following the presentation, which was made by school business official Colleen Card. “We’re not looking to eliminate any teams, any clubs; and we’re going to be able to maintain all of our programs from this year to next year.”

Though the budget would increase by a small amount, the school board unanimously approved a tax levy decrease of 0.14 percent on Feb. 24. That means that the district will have about $62,000 less revenue from tax dollars in 2016-17 compared to the current school year.

Despite less tax revenue, the proposed budget would be balanced by a $3.5 million fund balance and additional state aid thanks to a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which deducted about $13 million from funding to Miller Place since its inception several years ago. The adjustment deducted money from districts across New York State as a means to eliminate a deficit. Higuera’s proposed budget accounts for about $20.5 million in state aid.

The district will also benefit from a small amount of required retirement payments this year, Higuera said.

Johanna Testa, president of the board of education, heaped praise on the district’s administration after the presentation.

“Keeping all programs and being able to propose a budget that keeps all of our academic programs and increases our capital project funding when we’re in a negative tax levy cap, that’s really amazing,” Testa said.

The school board and administration will convene again on Mar. 2 for a budget workshop meeting at Miller Place High School. Budget adoption will take place on Mar. 30.

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In 1982, Bob and Joyce Pellegrini had a vision. They wanted to own a quality winery with gorgeous views and a tasting room fit for their superior products. Bob Pellegrini passed away in early 2015, but his vision lives on with his wife and their professional and talented staff who are committed to the vision that the couple had over three decades ago.

Despite growth in the Long Island wine industry and booming demand for “party bus tours” and events built around entertainment first and great wine second, Pellegrini Vineyards has managed to stay true to who they are. Tasting room manager John Larsen and winemaker Zander Hargrave both stressed that desire to remain aligned with the Pellegrini’s mission.

Pellegrini is for serious wine drinkers. That was the overwhelming message from Larsen and Hargrave when I visited the vineyard on the first whisper of a spring day last week. That is not to say that those lacking a substantial base of knowledge in anything winemaking or drinking related should be intimidated by the experience at the Cutchogue vineyard. All that you need to bring through the door is a desire for knowledge and an appreciation for the delicate art that is winemaking.

“If you were looking for a party with your friends, this might be your perfect first stop,” Larsen said in Pellegrini’s Vintner’s Room, a second-floor sitting area with a massive window overlooking rows upon rows of vines growing the business’s cash crop. “Come and hang out, see what we’re all about, then go see music somewhere else later in the afternoon if you want the full experience of the North Fork,” Larsen added.

The team at Pellegrini Vineyards would prefer for their outstanding wine, customer service and breathtaking views to speak for themselves. Neither Larsen nor Hargrave seemed to begrudge any of the many vineyards that choose to be “event centers” as Larsen referred to them. However, neither has any desire to jump on that train. At least not right now.

“This is a true winery,” Larsen said. “We focus on the wine, and the customer service that goes along with it.”

Pellegrini Vineyards offers a wine club, which gets members exclusive wine releases, access to special dinners, luncheons, self-guided winery tours and other events. Both Hargrave and Larsen suggested that membership in the club is the ideal way to enjoy everything that Pellegrini has to offer.

Winemaking is in Hargrave’s blood. He has been at Pellegrini since the fall of 2014, though his roots in the Long Island wine industry date back to the very beginning. His parents, Louisa and Alex Hargrave, were the brave entrepreneurs who first decided that the North Fork of Long Island was being wasted by only growing potatoes.

Zander grew up at Hargrave Vineyards. He has essentially spent a lifetime in the wine community along the North Fork, save for a few hiatuses to pursue a teaching career, managing a vegetable farm and selling advertisements for a newspaper.

“I grew up with it,” Hargrave said about his youth around winemaking, which clearly has shaped the way that he hopes people enjoying his wine use it to craft memorable experiences. “It’s about the people. It was always about the people. The wine is sort of a conduit to relationships with people. When I look back on my life growing up in the vineyard, it was ‘who’s coming by?’ It was the excitement of the harvest, guests at our home, having dinner with really interesting people. That, to me, stands out more than anything. And of course as I got into the work and got older I gained an appreciation for wine itself. That’s not what I really think about growing up. It was all about the people.”

Hargrave raved about the state-of-the-art equipment that he has at his disposal, which makes the vineyard’s old world mentality of fine winemaking much easier to pull off. “I would say probably the most unique feature of the Pellegrini winery is we have six, ten-ton open fermenters that we do most of our reds in,” he said. The giant fermenters feature a pneumatic punch-down system that, without getting too technical, serves the same purpose as the old method of grape stomping. The tanks have a long arm that gently stirs the contents to submerge the flavor-packed grape skins that tend to rise to the top.

I asked Hargrave what he would bring home if he were grilling steaks for dinner. “You got to go with the Encore,” he said immediately. “That’s our Bordeaux blend. It’s only released in the very best vintages. The current vintage is 2010, which was one of the best vintages ever on Long Island. I did make a ‘13 that will be released down the line once it gets some bottle age. You can’t go wrong.”

Hargrave suggested his sauvignon blanc if seafood is on the menu. He also beamed with pride when describing Pellegrini’s chardonnay, which he touted as special and unique. He also called their merlot “world class.”

Sticking to their guns has been challenging at times, but it is easy to see why Pellegrini has been able to keep their focus on quality wine above all else. The passion that all of their employees have for great wine and the great experience that is learning about new wine through tasting and conversation is the lasting memory of a couple of hours spent there.

The roughly 30 acres of rolling hills, a feature that Larsen said is unique to Pellegrini on a mostly flat North Fork, could make relaxing in their outdoor courtyard with a glass in hand feel like a European getaway. An hour by car might seem like a rigorous day trip, but it’s nothing compared to a six-hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean. The experience might not be the same, but at Pellegrini it would be just as enjoyable.

Pellegrini Vineyards is located at 23005 Main Road, Cutchogue. For more information call 631-734-4111 or visit www.pellegrinivineyards.com.

A satellite view of the Steck-Philbin Landfill site that the County plans to repurpose in cooperation with the Suffolk County Landbank. Image from Suffolk County Landbank Corp.

The site of the former Steck-Philbin Landfill on Old Northport Road in Kings Park will finally receive an overdue facelift after 30 years of tax delinquency. The Suffolk County Landbank Corp., which is a not-for-profit entity that works with the county to redevelop tax-delinquent properties, issued a request for proposals to revitalize eight brownfields, including the one in Kings Park, in a press release from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in late January.

“We are working to partner with the private sector to revitalize brownfields sites which have been blights on communities for nearly two decades,” Bellone said in the release.

A property is classified as a brownfield if there are complications in expansion or redevelopment based on the possible presence of pollutants or hazardous materials, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The site on Old Northport Road is still owned by Richard and Roslyn Steck of Steck & Philbin Development Co., though penalties and interest bring the total owed in property tax on the roughly 25 acres of land to nearly $1.5 million. The property has been tax delinquent since Steck-Philbin Development Co. was found to be using the site to dispose of waste that they did not have a permit for in 1986. It is located less than a half mile east of the Sunken Meadow Parkway and about a half mile west of Indian Head Road.

The former Steck-Philbin Landfill on Old Northport Road in Kings Park is one of the eight blighted brownfields that the Suffolk County Landbank requested proposals for repurposing. Image from Suffolk County Landbank Corp.
The former Steck-Philbin Landfill on Old Northport Road in Kings Park is one of the eight blighted brownfields that the Suffolk County Landbank requested proposals for repurposing. Image from Suffolk County Landbank Corp.

“This has been a long time coming and creating policies and procedures for the Landbank has been an arduous task, but I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said in the release. Cilmi is a member of the board of the Landbank. “Hopefully, soon we’ll see the remediation of this and other properties, which benefits our environment. We’ll put the properties back on the tax rolls, which means millions of dollars of savings for taxpayers.”

The Suffolk County Landbank was established in 2013 after their application was approved by the New York State Empire State Development Corporation, according to the release.

“This program represents a tremendous opportunity that will help remediate these contaminated and blighted properties, transforming community burdens into community assets,” Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Basil Seggos said.

The property in Kings Park is next to the future location of a multisport complex being developed by Prospect Sports Partners LLC. The $33 million plan for the 44-acre site was approved in July 2015.

Some of the other brownfields included in the request for proposals include Hubbard Power and Light and a gas station on Brentwood Road in Bay Shore, Lawrence Junkyard in Islip and Liberty Industrial Finishing in Brentwood, among others. Cumulatively, the eight properties owe more than $11 million in delinquent taxes.

Proposals for the eight sites are due by March 18 and should be sent to the Suffolk County Landbank office on Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge.

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