Times of Huntington-Northport

The newly renovated Commack Public Library's children area is brightly lit with LED lighting. Photo from Wilk Marketing

Commack residents may have to look twice to find the sleek and modern entrance of the newly renovated Commack Public Library. Hint, there’s a brand new entrance.

The Commack Public Library celebrated its grand reopening Dec. 6 after completing a $8.5 million renovation and expansion. The Hauppauge Road building was aged and out-of-date with state safety codes, according to its Director Laurie Rosenthal, as it had not undergone any significant upgrades since its construction in 1976.

Rosenthal, the library’s director for more than 15 years, said “I’m really excited to be home … this library is like a second home to me and many of our patrons.”

The Commack Public LIbrary celebrated its grand reopening Dec. 2. Photo from Wilk Marketing.

The newly renovated building was designed by Beatty Harvey Coco (BHC) Architects of Hauppauge to be more consistent with the modern technological era and more community friendly by providing more space for programs.

“In the beginning of the design phase, the library’s leadership defined the functional requirements for the renovation, which included expanding the dedicated spaces for children and young adults, enlarging event and community facilities, specifying more comfortable furniture, improving telecommunications and audiovisual technology, and increasing the visibility of the building’s main entrance,” said Christopher Sepp, a senior associate for BHC. “These requirements reflected the new role of the library as a community and social center for residents.”

The main entrance of the library was moved from the intersection of Commack Road and Hauppauge Road to the side of the building facing the parking lot to make the building more accessible and safer for visitors.

The former community room was expanded from 1,203 to 1,735 square feet in order to accommodate more patrons into its programs, the library director said. In addition, a new audiovisual system and movable curtain wall partition was installed to allow more than one program to be held at a time.

What Rosenthal likes to call the “coffee cup,” a brightly LED-lit entrance to the new children’s section, features soft furniture with lounge seating, train and brick play stations and colored LED lighting strips radiating out from the central ceiling that change colors based on themes and events. The library director said new iPads in protective cases will be available to allow
children to interact with technology as well as a sensory area, or quiet low-lighting room specifically designed for children with sensory and auditory needs.

The entrance to the Commack Public LIbrary was relocated and given a facelift during the $8.5 million building renovation. Photo from Wilk Marketing

Young adults have been given a 620-square-foot space off the main floor of the library which features age-appropriate reading, its own computer terminals and a booth like seating area with television and comfortable chairs where teens are invited to do homework or relax.

Throughout the library, there are varied tables, and study areas have their own built-in electrical units with Wi-Fi connections possible to allow residents to come in, sit down and connect anywhere, Rosenthal said.

In addition to the extensive redesign of the building, Islandia-based general contractor Stalco Construction made sure it was more energy efficient.

“All of the work was done with the use of sustainable and energy-efficient systems and materials to significantly improve the building’s operational efficiency, save money for years to come, and prevent the release of volatile organic compounds that could impact indoor air quality,” said Jason Vasquez, Stalco’s project manager.

The rebuild included installation of a new high-efficiency heating ventilation and air conditioning system and LED lighting fixtures throughout the library to reduce energy for lighting to one-third its prior rate. Other features include a new elevator for handicapped accessibility and fire sprinklers to bring it into compliance with state fire codes.

All Commack residents, regardless of township, are invited to come in to see or tour the library, Rosenthal said. Any Suffolk County resident with a library card can check out materials, she said, with some exceptions, as high-demand items are only for library district taxpayers.

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Iris Sovocchi goes for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Northport’s girls basketball team was unable to keep up its streak of close games against former League II foe Half Hollow Hills East, as the Tigers fell 59-45 to the now League III Thunderbirds on the road Dec. 11.

Even so, Northport sophomore guard Danielle Pavinelli did what she could to counter Hills East’s leading point scorer Alexa Wallace, matching her with a game-high 21 points.

Danielle Pavinelli reaches over blockers to make her shot. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport head coach Rich Castellano said the result was not indicative of how the Tigers typically play, noting junior Hannah Stockman’s early foul trouble.

“Hannah [Stockman] … she’s our biggest scorer and our top 3-point shooter, and Shelby [Maldavir], our senior captain, I don’t think she hit one 3-pointer today,” Castellano said. “I think Kerry [Dennin] and Danielle [Pavinelli] — those two carried us for several long stretches.”

Pavinelli, who is following her sister Allie, a 2014 graduate, by committing to play lacrosse at the University of Florida next year, nailed two free throws to give Northport its first lead of the game, 6-5. But it was short lived, as the foul trouble led to a collection of free points for the Thunderbirds, which led 26-11 at the end of the first quarter.

Junior guard Iris Sovocchi attempted shift momentum Northport’s way, nailing back-t-back 3-pointers to close the deficit to 12 points both times, and Pavinelli added a three of her own, but it was Kerry Dennin that was able to break through. The sophomore forward drove the lane and wouldn’t be denied the scoring opportunity, as she added a bucket that brought the Tigers within 10, 32-22, at the break.

Dennin matched a Hills East 3-pointer with one of her own to start the scoring for the third as minutes ticked off the clock, but Northport was not able to chip away at the 10-point margin. The Thunderbirds diligently drove the baseline, drawing fouls as they continued to collect points from the charity stripe.

Kerry Dennin pushes past Half Hollow Hills East defenders to take a shot. Photo by Bill Landon

“This was not a normal games for us — we didn’t shoot well tonight,” said Castellano, who was recently inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and begins his 39th year at the helm of the Northport program. “But I give [Half Hollow Hills East] credit; they did a great job on defense against us, they worked hard and they played better. They did what they had to do to win the game.”

Behind Pavinelli was Dennin with eight points and Sovocchi added six.

“We usually have a strong three-point game, but tonight we didn’t,” the head coach said despite the Tigers matching the Thunderbirds with six 3-pointers. “Our offense stalled a little, but Kerry Dennin played a great game for us tonight.”

Northport has two more nonleague contests, against Smithtown West and Massapequa, before opening league play hosting Bay Shore Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.

A screenshot of Huntington Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci's transition team website Dec. 6.

The Town of Huntington’s first major change of leadership in more than 20 years is getting underway.

Huntington’s Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) announced the launch of the New Direction Transition Team website Nov. 30, for individuals interested in applying for town personnel openings during the transition period.

“In an attempt to keep the hiring process transparent and evaluate all options in personnel matters, I have launched the New Direction Transition Team website,” Lupinacci said in a press statement.

The website, www.Chad2017.com, was inspired by similar ones constructed by recent presidential administrations and Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran (D), according to spokesman Brian Finnegan. Those interested may submit a cover letter and resume, then select from more than 15 town departments for which they are interested in working. There are no plans at this time to list specific job openings or descriptions, according to Finnegan. Applicants will not be asked for their political party affiliation.

“Regardless of party affiliation, the supervisor-elect plans on vetting and considering all qualified candidates based on merit,” Finnegan said. “He takes great pride in the fact he’s worked beneath several bipartisan administrations.”

At the town’s unveiling of Huntington Station community center plans Nov. 25, Lupinacci spoke about how his first public service position was working as a laborer under former town Highway Supervisor William Naughton (D). He left the town to become a communications liaison for late Republican State Assemblyman Jim Conte, who represented the 10th district for 24 years. Lupinacci was elected to his first political office in 2012, when he took over Conte’s vacated seat.

“Now, no matter your party affiliation or vote at the ballot box, is the time to work together, get things done, check politics at the door and put people first,” reads Lupinacci’s transition website.

The state assemblyman defeated Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) receiving nearly 54 percent of the votes. He takes office Jan. 1 from resigning Supervisor Frank Petrone (D).

Lupinacci’s move back to town government will leave an open state assembly seat for 10th district residents, which spans from Lloyd Harbor south along state Route 108/Plainview Road to SUNY Farmingdale State College, and as far east as Elwood. It is unclear who will take his place as Lupinacci’s term doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2018.

“Shortly after the first of the year we will have a screening process to interview potential candidates to fill that seat,” said Toni Tepe, chairwoman of the Huntington Republican Committee.

Under New York State Senate law pertaining to public officers, “A special election shall not be held … to fill a vacancy in the office of state senator or in the office of member of assembly, unless the vacancy occurs before the first day of April of the last year of the term of office. … If a special election to fill an office shall not be held as required by law, the office shall be filled at the next general election.”

Tepe said the decision on whether or not a special election will be held to fill Lupinacci’s state office will ultimately be made by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Small business owners like Marion Bernholz, who owns The Gift Corner, above, are trying to find ways to compete with big box stores. Photo by Marion Bernholz

By Kyle Barr

For 40 minutes each morning when Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, opens her shop she lugs out all the product she keeps on the front porch all by herself. She does it every day, hoping the colors and interesting items will flag down cars traveling on North Country Road.

Thanksgiving day she was closed, but on Black Friday she put out her flags, signs, decorations, not expecting many customers at all, she said. Black Friday is perceived as a day for gaudy sales for the bigger stores with nationwide brands, or the Amazons of the world, though it has become just the appetizer for a weekend synonymous with shopping.

Ecolin Jewelers in Port Jefferson is co-owned by Linda Baker. Photo from Linda Baker

Instead, people flooded Bernholz’s store the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the customers kept streaming in even after Black Friday was days passed.

“We were busy on Friday, way busier than we had been since the bust, when the economy went down,” Bernholz said, beaming with excitement. “Wednesday was a spike. Friday was a major spike. It was so busy Saturday that people couldn’t find parking. There was a line out the door.”

At Elements of Home, a home and gift shop in St. James less than 12 miles from Gift Corner, the situation was different. Owner Debbie Trenkner saw Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday float by with only a small bump in sales, she said.

Though she advertised, Trenkner said that she only received a moderate boost in sales that weekend with only 27 people walking through her door on Black Friday, and only about 70 Saturday when she said she expected to see hundreds.

“After speaking to other retailers or feeling through the grapevine, all major events this year, Mother’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, we’ve done half the amount we’ve done in the past,” she said. “People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone, it’s their lifeline, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate because this is what communities are based on.”

“People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone.”

Debbie Trenkner

The similar local stores had polar opposite experiences during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, though businesses overall this past Small Business Saturday, an event first sponsored by American Express in 2010, did very well though they fell short of 2016 numbers in total. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million consumers spent $12.9 billion Nov. 25.

Despite the slight dip from 2016, the data shows a much higher number of consumers are making the conscious decision to shop locally on the biggest spending date of the year for small businesses.

Stacey Finkelstein, an associate professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview she has used psychological and behavioral economics to inform people about marketing problems, and she said a battle between instant gratification and the desire to support local stores is being waged for today’s consumers.

“Another tension for a lot of consumers who face this dilemma layered on top of this is this ethical quandary, which is ‘I want to support businesses that are consistent with my code of ethics and the values that I have as a consumer,’” Finkelstein said.

That value-based sales pitch is important, especially when it comes to the services offered. Many local businesses surveyed after this Black Friday weekend across the North Shore agreed the services they provide, whether it’s free gift wrapping or the ability to make a custom product, or even the ability to offer hands-on help to customers trying to figure out what gift is best, are the types of factors that neither online nor most large stores can match.

Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think the most important thing to do besides creating an emotional experience and offering, obviously, great service is to really think about the values of those consumers in the local town and try and tap into those local values, such as if a town is really interested in sustainability, or ethically sourced food,” Finkelstein said.

One of the biggest questions that small business owners ask is whether young people are still willing to shop local. The consensus is they are the “plugged-in” generation, but that fact can be harnessed to work in favor of small business owners.

“Social issues are particularly important for a lot of millennials,” she said. “You tend to see a lot of that. I definitely don’t think millennials should be written off. I’m big into knitting, and if you ask what’s the stereotype for knitting, for example, is that grandmas knit, but actually there’s this active and large youthful contingent of knitters that are really driving and shaping that industry in a completely fascinating way. I think what it’s about is that millennials have these ethically laden values where they want to buy things that are local, that are environmentally sustainable.”

While many stores surveyed said this Black Friday weekend was “better than average” to “great,” there were several stores that did not see anywhere near the same boost in traffic. While the weather was nice, stores that didn’t meet expectations cited insufficient support from their local governments, or locations with little foot traffic, as their main deterrents.


Reactions from local store owners

Port Jefferson—Ecolin Jewelers

Co-owner Linda Baker:

We tend to run our sales to support our loyal customers, support our repeat customers. We had 20 percent off many items in the store, not all. That hasn’t been a big motivation to shop. In our industry
either they know us or they don’t.

The village was decorated nice and we had a good weekend. Black Friday for most retailers, for independent mom-and-pop retailers, has not been a big day for us. Our business is the last two weeks of the year. I think Black
Friday is when mom and dad go to look at televisions or cars — one big
purchase. It’s not a downtown thing. I don’t compare same day to same day from years before. I think there are too many variables, whether it’s the weather
or the news. Though I’d say this year was better than last year across the board.

Mount Sinai—The Gift Corner

Owner Marion Bernholz:

I don’t think Black Friday is as big of a thing anymore. We had people coming in at 10 a.m. and I asked them why they weren’t out shopping and they would say, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I think people just don’t like to rush anymore, plus all the deals are available all week long, so there’s almost no point. Maybe, eventually, people will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family, that’s the hope.

Though this was one of the best Black Fridays I’ve had since the bust in 2008, I went back and I looked at the papers for how it was in 2005. I couldn’t count it all — it was like the funds were flowing like water. It’s never
going to be 2005 again.

Half the people who came in my store on Saturday had no clue [about Small Business Saturday]. We’d be like, “OK, now we’ll explain it to you. Good that you’re here, and this is what it’s about.”

Rocky Point—Rocky Point Cycle

Owner Gary Wladyka:

We didn’t advertise but had in-store deals. We had discounts on shoes and sunglasses. There were more customers that Friday because more people had Friday off.

We’re always trying to get more customers, but we’re more of a
destination shop rather than a “Let’s go take a look” type thing.

This is the beginning of the end for small business. It’s going to continue to demise with people wanting to do
everything on the internet. The way new consumers are, it’s going to be hard to grow it. We try to provide service. You’re not going to get service online.

Setauket—All Seasons at Ari’s Treasures

Owner Jeff Aston:

We have an online presence. We did very well online over the course of the weekend. The store was busy. I’m a Christmas shop, so it’s kind of the height of our season now. We were offering 20 percent off storewide, we had some 25 percent-off items, some 50 percent-off items. We definitely went along with trying to capture that audience.

We do custom sign making and engraving, and it’s a little more of a custom product. I’m not sure how Black Friday helped us with that part of the business, but overall it was a good weekend. I’d say it was comparable to last year.

People want personalization, they want customization. You have to see the expression on people’s faces when they see our work. I’ve been in the Christmas business for 40 years, and I’ve never done anything more rewarding for my customers than what I’m doing now.

Young people today push a button and they get what they want. I’ve gotten away from the similar product you will see on Amazon. The beauty of the internet is that we can put our product out online. We’re on Etsy, and for the small business person who’s creating something themselves, Etsy is the way to go.

Smithtown—4th World Comics

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Smithtown

4th World Comics (Comics, figurines and memorabilia)

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Northport—Einstein’s Attic

Owner Lori Badanes:

“We did great, it was wonderful. We offered a lot of in store promotions. We had an Elf on a Shelf here, we read a story to the kids and the kids got a notebook and a pencil. They got to fill out a wish list, then all the kids got to make an ornament. We had giveaways, and make your own putty on Saturday.

We started planning this in the summer, back in August. We do it every year.

We did better this year than other years — 17 percent better. It was a nice jump. One thing is that we offered some light ups for an outdoor event. The kids got a lot of things to take home. I feel we’re a community-based business, and we support our community every chance we get.”

Huntington—Cow Over the Moon

Owner Brian Drucker:

“I feel like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, definitely did better than previous years. I didn’t do any specific specials that I can think of offhand.

It was a mixture of new people and regulars coming through. The big thing about a store like this being here for 23 years is that we have a steady number of regulars, but I saw a good crop of new customers come in.

One of the things I also do is sports memorabilia, and Aaron Judge [who plays for the New York Yankees] is one of the hottest, hottest things in the world. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever in baseball, so we sold a bunch of Aaron Judge autographed memorabilia, some pretty expensive stuff.

It’s hard to explain … why we did well. You never can tell you know, there was just a lot of people walking around. The town  was pretty booming.”

Interior designers, garden clubs deck the elegant halls

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s holiday centerpiece is the mansion of William and Rosamond Vanderbilt, decorated each year by local designers and garden clubs. Their creative touch brings additional charm and magic to the spectacular, 24-room, Spanish-Revival house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can see the captivating results from now through January. The decorators create magic in the rooms with lighted trees, boughs, ornaments, wreaths, ribbons, garlands and elegantly wrapped faux gifts.

Decorating the mansion this year were the Asharoken, Dix Hills, Centerport, Honey Hills, Nathan Hale and Three Village (Old Field, Setauket and Stony Brook) garden clubs; Harbor Homestead & Co. Design of Centerport; and gardeners from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

Stephanie Gress, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs, said “Most of these garden clubs and designers have been decorating the mansion for more than 20 seasons. “We look forward to seeing them each year, and to how they use their creative skills to bring elegant holiday charm to the house.” Gress and the curatorial staff decorated the Windsor Guest Room, Breakfast Hallway, Lancaster Room and Northport Porch.

Christine Lagana and a group of friends from the Dix Hills Garden Club decorated the large tree in the mansion library and placed gifts beneath it. They also added garland and ornaments as well as white poinsettias and red ribbons to the mantelpiece over the large fireplace and artful groups of large, mirrored ornaments on side tables.

Mary Schlotter and her daughter, Krishtia McCord — who operate the Centerport design firm Harbor Homestead & Co. — decorated Rosamond Vanderbilt’s mirrored dressing room and the arcade that connects the nursery wing with the front entrance of the mansion. They decorated a live tree in the Sundial Garden off the arcade and hung icicles and silver-sprayed vines, harvested locally, from the arcade ceiling beams.

For Mrs. Vanderbilt’s dressing room, using a dress-form mannequin, they created a skirt with green boughs. “Our friend, dress designer Lorri Kessler-Toth of Couture Creations, created a fitted turquoise-blue velvet cover for the dress-form torso,” Schlotter said. “We added a necklace of chandelier crystals and a pendant and embellished the skirt with teal ornaments, champagne ribbon and filigreed poinsettia leaves. This is a dressing room, so we created a Christmas dress.”

Schlotter and McCord added chandelier crystals and champagne poinsettia leaves to the bough that decorates the mantelpiece on the marble fireplace. The crystals on the mantel complement those that hang from the sconces in the mirrored, hexagonal dressing room.

The Asharoken Garden Club, returning after many years, decorated Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom with colors that reflect her love of pearls, Gress said, including copper, cream and gold. The Centerport club embellished the guest room of Sonja Henie (three-time Olympic skating champion, movie star, and family friend) and William Vanderbilt’s bedroom. The wreaths, garlands and large golden ornaments in Mr. Vanderbilt’s room were highlighted by pots of elegant red amaryllis, a stunning seasonal flower. They also placed garland and tall, thin trees, hung with ornaments, on the mantelpiece.

The Nathan Hale club, which decorated the Organ Room, clipped old-fashioned candles with brass holders and wax-catchers on the branches of the tree. Members added garland and cherubs to the carved mantelpiece and placed arrangements of gold-sprayed pine cones and scallop and whelk shells on tables.

In the Portuguese Sitting Room, in the original wing of the mansion, the Honey Hill club placed Tiffany packages beneath the tree and added small holiday touches around the room. The Cornell Cooperative Extension gardeners worked outside, adding flourishes to the mansion windows with live wreaths, trimmed with flowers, fruits and ribbons. “These generous volunteers use their time and talent to create an atmosphere of charming holiday grandeur and sophisticated living,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum. “We’re grateful to them for bringing magic to this historic house.”

Visiting the Vanderbilt Museum:

Now that the Vanderbilt mansion and its halls are decked elegantly for the season, the public is invited to see the home at its most magical time. Guided tours of the decorated Vanderbilt mansion continue each Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:30, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. — and on Tuesday, Dec. 26, through Saturday, Dec. 30. (Visitors pay the general admission fee plus $6 per person for a tour.)

Special Twilight Tours will be given for two days only: Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 27 and 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors (62 and older) and $5 for children 12 and under.

The Vanderbilt Museum and Reichert Planetarium will be open from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 26 to 30 and will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, center, and representatives from community groups, who work to improve the Long Island Sound, attend a press conference Dec. 4 announcing the distribution of $2.04 million in grant funds. Photo by Kevin Redding

The future of Long Island Sound is in very capable, and now well funded, hands.

Federal and state officials gathered Dec. 4 in East Setauket to officially announce $2.04 million in grants to support 31 environmental projects by local governments and community groups mostly in New York State and Connecticut actively working to restore the health and ecosystem of Long Island Sound. Of the 15 New York-based projects — totaling $1.05 million in grants — nine of them are taking place across Long Island, including Salonga Wetland Advocates Network in Fort Salonga and Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment in Huntington, Smithtown and Riverhead. 

This year’s recipients of the Long Island Sound Futures Fund — a collaborative effort between the Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation  — were encouraged by a panel of guest speakers to continue efforts to monitor and improve water quality; upgrade on site septic systems for homeowners; protect vital habitats throughout the watershed; and engage other residents to protect the 110-mile estuary.

“This fund is supporting and celebrating real-life solutions — grassroots-based solutions — that make a difference in our quality of life, in our quality of environment and the overall fabric of our community,” said Peter Lopez, the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to a room of grant recipients at the Childs Mansion on Shore Drive in East Setauket, overlooking the Sound. “We have this amazing resource in our backyard and we have to support it.”

“It’s your spirit and hard work that got us to this point. It’s important we’re making our impact right now.”

— Lee Zeldin

The Sound, which was designated an estuary of national significance in the 1980s, supports an estimated 81,000 jobs and activities surrounding it such as boating, fishing and recreational tourism, which generates around $9 billion a year for the region.

Lopez stressed that community involvement is the key to its perseverance in the future. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has long fought for federal funding and support for the estuary, was in full agreement.

“Since I got to Congress at the beginning of 2015, I’ve been watching all of you and your advocacy is why we’re here today,” Zeldin said.

The congressman addressed members of the crowd whose phone calls, emails, social media blasts and trips to Washington, D.C., he said served to mobilize elected officials around the importance of the Sound and its watershed and boost the funding of the Long Island Sound program to $8 million in May.

“I just want to say a huge thank you for what you do,” he said. “It’s your spirit and hard work that got us to this point. It’s important we’re making our impact right now. What will be our legacy in these years to ensure the water quality, quality of life, economy and environment of Long Island Sound is preserved and protected? Because of all of you, the legacy will be that in 2017, we all gathered to celebrate more than doubling the funding for [Long Island Sound].”

The LISFF was started in 2005 by the Long Island Sound Study and has since invested $17 million in 380 projects, giving way to the opening of 157 miles of rivers and streams for fish passage and restoring more than 1,000 acres of critical habitat, according to Amanda Bassow, the Northeast region director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

This year’s grants will reach more than 870,000 residents through environmental and conservation education programs, and will be matched by $3.3 million from its recipients. In New York, the $1.05 million in grant funds will be matched with $2.58 million from the grantees, resulting in $3.63 million in community conservation.

One of the grantees, Mike Kaufman of Phillips Mill Pond Dam fish passage project in Smithtown, plans to restore the native migratory fish runs from Long Island Sound to the Nissequogue River for the first time in 300 years.

“This is the final piece of the puzzle,” Kaufman said of the grant. “It’s an incredible, historic opportunity. We’re reversing 300 years of habitat destruction and these grants enable us to engineer the restoration.”

The race between Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon appears to be over. Photo on left by Alex Petroski; photo on right by Rita J. Egan

The wait is over.

Nearly a month after Election Day, Suffolk County residents finally know who will replace outgoing Sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C) in 2018. Former Rikers Island corrections officer and captain Errol Toulon Jr. (D) emerged ahead of Stony Brook University Assistant Chief of Police Larry Zacarese (R) by a slim margin Nov. 7 in the race to be the next county sheriff, and after thousands of absentee ballots have been counted, Toulon’s lead has held up.

“I am proud of the campaign we ran and the hard work of our volunteers,” Toulon said in a statement. “I look forward to combating gang violence and the opioid epidemic in Suffolk, and to introduce a strong re-entry program for those leaving county jails.”

The victory makes Toulon the first African-American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position in Suffolk’s history, according to campaign manager Keith Davies.

“I think his experience just resonated with folks,” Davies said. “People wanted a sheriff that is ready to tackle the issues.”

In an emailed statement through a campaign spokesperson, Zacarese said he was disappointed and announced, “We did not make up the ground we needed in order to prevail.” A spokesperson from the Suffolk County Board of Elections confirmed Toulon had won the race, though a final tally was not immediately available at the time of print. The spokesperson said Toulon held a 2,000-vote lead as of Dec. 1 with about 1,000 ballots left to be counted.

“I want to thank all of the supporters and volunteers who spent countless hours working alongside me both on the campaign trail over the last year and at the Board of Elections over these last few weeks,” Zacarese said. “I am proud of the campaign we ran, the honest and tireless work of our volunteers and the light that was shown on the electoral process here in Suffolk County. I wish the hardworking and dedicated men and women of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office only the best and congratulate Errol Toulon Jr. on winning the election.”

Zacarese trailed Toulon by just 1,354 votes prior to the counting of absentee ballots, according to the Suffolk County Board of Elections. The absentee ballots were counted by a bipartisan team of department employees in addition to representatives from both campaigns at the Board of Elections office in Yaphank over a few weeks. Nick LaLota, the department’s commissioner, said on election night at about 8:30 p.m. on Twitter the department had received more than 13,500 absentee ballots to that point, though more were expected.

Toulon began serving as a corrections officer at Rikers Island in 1982 and retired as a captain in 2004. For two years he was assistant deputy county executive for public safety in Suffolk, and in 2014 he was named deputy commissioner of operations for the New York City Department of Corrections.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot on various levels inside of a correctional agency, and while that’s not the entire makeup of the sheriff’s department, it is a good portion of it,” Toulon said during a pre-election interview.

Toulon’s victory completes a sweep for the Democrats in the two high-profile Suffolk County races in 2017. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) defeated Ray Perini (R) with 62.08 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 general election to secure the county’s district attorney seat, a position left vacant following the indictment and resignation of Tom Spota (D).

DeMarco announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election after 12 years in the position.

This post was updated to include quotes from Toulon Dec. 7.

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood taxpayers are willing to pay for critical infrastructure repairs to their schools, but turned down athletic program and field upgrades.

Elwood School District residents approved Proposition 1 of a bond referendum by 718-371 votes to make health and safety upgrades to the district’s four buildings Nov. 28. A second proposition to spend $3.72 million in enhancements to the athletic fields and other amenities narrowly failed, by a 508-577 vote.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

“My sincere appreciation to all residents who came out to vote,” Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said. “I think the voting results show the priority that Elwood residents place on education.”

The approved bond proposition contains $34.5 million in capital projects including the replacement of the roofs in each of the four buildings — Harley Avenue School, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School, and John H. Glenn High School — which was included due to leaks and flooding issues; and fixing sidewalks and pavement cracks.

Large renovations are also slated for each of the individual buildings under Proposition 1. Three of the schools — Harley Avenue, Elwood Middle School and John Glenn — will undergo cafeteria renovations to install new ceilings, replace outdated lighting fixtures, replace damaged furniture and install new air conditioning systems. The intermediate school will have a new parking lot installed for approximately 60 vehicles as well as a newly designed parent drop-off loop for $260,000 to improve traffic flow. In both the middle school and high school, there will be renovations of art and family and consumer science classrooms.

The district will move forward with having construction plans drawn up by their architects and submit them to the New York State Education Department for approval, according to Bossert, which he said takes 12 to 18 months on average.

“We are trying to make the roofs a priority, as the roofs leak and cause flooding during inclement weather,” Bossert said. “It doesn’t make sense to do any of the interior work before the roofs are fixed.”

The superintendent said he hopes to have the plans submitted to the state as soon as possible, as the district will still need to go through the bidding process for contractors prior to starting construction. He estimated it may be five years before all of the bond work is completed.

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that will be repaired as part of a capital bond project passed by the community. File photo by Kevin Redding

“Having patience is important in this project,” Bossert said.

The average estimated cost to taxpayers for Proposition 1 is $221 per year, or $18.32 per month, for a home with median assessed value. A calculator that allows homeowners to plug in their tax information for an exact quote is available on the district’s website.

The failed Proposition 2 asked taxpayers for $3.72 million to make enhancements to the district’s athletic programs. It was separated from Proposition 1 by the board of education as it was expected to be a divisive issue.

“The reason it is separate is there was division among opinions in the community,” Bossert said at September presentation. “Some members of the community were strongly in support of this proposed $3.72 million as something they can afford to invest in, other factions said, ‘We don’t feel that way.’”

Proposition 2 would have permitted the district to build a new concession stand for the athletic fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field, sidewalks to make the fields ADA compliant and a new scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

A conceputal rendering of what the building will look like. Image from Town of Huntington

A lifelong Huntington Station resident and politician remembered as a “pillar of the community” will have a building named in his memory.

Town of Huntington officials unveiled conceptual plans for the transformation of the former New York State Armory on East 5th Avenue into the James D. Conte Community Center.

Former Assemblyman James Conte was a lifelong Huntington Station resident. File photo

“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said at the Nov. 25 ceremony. “As many of you know, Jimmy worked very hard to retain this facility for the residents of the Town of Huntington. We know that his special love when he served in the assembly was for Huntington Station.”

Conte, a former state assemblyman who represented the 10th district for 24 years, died October 2012 of T-cell lymphoma. He achieved the status of minority leader pro tem, the Republican’s second highest-ranking post, and was a strong proponent of organ donation, having undergone two kidney transplants himself.

“Jimmy was involved in everything,” said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), a colleague of Conte. “He made this town a better place — he continues to make it a better place, and I can’t wait to see the end product here that will be a testament to him and his family.”

The late assemblyman was instrumental in getting the state to transfer ownership of the decommissioned building over to the Town of Huntington, according to Petrone, with the intention of the space being used  as a community center.

Earlier this year, the town board retained the Holbrook-based firm Savik & Murray to engineer and design proposals for the building. The town’s 2018 budget has designated $3.75 million for the first phase of the project in addition to acquiring a $1.5 million state grant.

Residents are eager to get a first look at the building plans. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“This past year, as a town board member, working on and consulting with the architects on the design of this project, it has really been a labor of love,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “They came in with some ideas that were outside of the box. We’ve tweaked what they had. I think the final product is something that probably still needs work, but is something that is a really good start.”

The conceptual plans propose the 22,500-square-foot building be repurposed with space for uses such as arts and crafts, a computer lab, a recording studio, an all-purpose gymnasium, a strength training facility, CrossFit center, rock climbing arena, a community meeting space, a multipurpose room, classrooms, office space and an elevated indoor running and walking track. The town has also promised the Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244 a designated area to run as a veterans canteen.

“A couple of months ago my mother and I went down to Town Hall to view the plans that are going to be on display today, and we were just blown away,” said Conte’s daughter Sarah. “This is exactly what my father would have wanted for this community. Myself and my family are so honored to be here and to have this named after him. We know he would be honored as well.”

The architects have suggested possible outdoor uses for the 3.6-acre site including an amphitheater, meditation gardens, a spiritual walkway and bench seating.

The Conte family and town officials unveil the sign naming the future James D. Conte Community Center. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“[My father] would be jumping up and down and dancing in this room if he knew Huntington Station was going to get a project this big,” said Conte’s daughter Samantha. “He valued the community. He knew the value of what a building like this could offer.”

The town has estimated the entire project will cost $10 million and aims to have it completed by 2019. Oversight of its construction will be transferred to the incoming town board helmed by current state assemblyman and Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station). Lupinacci previously worked as a community liaison for Conte before taking over his state office in 2012.

“We know even though he is gone his legacy will continue with his family and the many generations of children that will walk through this building, and of course, the veterans who will have a special place on Fifth Street,” Lupinacci said. “We know his legacy will continue for many generations after we’re all gone.”

By Kevin Redding

There’s no place like a historic home for the holidays.

On Sunday, Dec. 3, the Huntington Historical Society will host its 12th annual Historic Houses at the Holidays driving tour, giving residents the opportunity to explore five private historic homes and two house museums in the area from Huntington Village to Cold Spring Harbor.

Each stop on the self-guided tour will be decorated to the nines for the season; equipped with a volunteer from the historical society to answer any and all questions about the background of each location; and provide a firsthand glimpse at the original architectural styles and designs within these homes, which were built between the early 1800s and early 1900s. Visitors will be able to view bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and even some attics of these colonial-style residences.

Approximately 300 to 400 people are expected to attend the event this year.

“The Holiday Historic Houses Tour is a real treat,” said Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, executive director at Huntington Historical Society. “The houses on the tour are all decorated for Christmas and the refreshments are overwhelming. Come and enjoy a day out!”

The theme of this year’s tour is also the mantra of the historical society: Huntington Lives Here.

“Huntington’s history goes back to the mid-17th century and the people that came to live here were interested in building a meaningful town and leaving their imprint on it. This tour serves to highlight that,” said Toby Kissam, a trustee at the historical society and one of the tour’s chief researchers, whose ancestral home — the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum on Park Avenue — is among the afternoon’s seven stops. “Each year I find people that come on our tours know there’s going to be a great historical story with each house and I enjoy researching and telling that story. It’s always fun.”

Kissam said the oldest private home on the tour is also the one he’s most excited about: the 1820s-built Cold Spring Harbor birthplace of leading suffragette Ida Bunce Sammis, who organized the first women’s suffrage club in Suffolk County and became one of the first two women elected to the New York State Legislature in 1919. The home’s inclusion on this year’s tour correlates with the 100th anniversary of the passing of the constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote in the state of New York, Kissam added.

Also on full display is a house built in Huntington Harbor for a local sea captain in 1902; the grand 1914 Georgian-style home of New York City attorney-turned- Suffolk County representative in the New York State Assembly John J. Robinson, who was elected in 1912 and built his house on West Main Street in 1914; and a farm house constructed in the village in 1917 by Henry Willets of Dix Hills.

The most modern stop on the tour is a 1935-built summer estate in Greenlawn previously owned by a wealthy manufacturer named Walter Beh and his wife Margaret. Beh acquired the large, 110-acre property so he and his a wife, an equestrian, could raise and train horses there.

“Most of these were part-time residents, but they have contributed meaningfully to the town over years and has contributed to the place that Huntington holds today in Suffolk County and Long Island as one of the premiere towns in the region,” Kissam said.

The historical society-owned museums — both the Kissam House and the David Conklin Farm House, built in 1750 — will also be decorated for the tour. Visitors to the Kissam House will be treated to an exhibit entitled Promenade and Parasols, showcasing outfits and umbrellas from the 19th century and Victorian era, and the Conklin Barn will provide an array of refreshments from noon to 4 p.m.

Kissam, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Dr. Daniel Kissam, has naturally had a deep fascination with history his whole life, both general and Huntington-specific, and has occupied the role of genealogist in his family. This past summer, he and the rest of the Huntington Holiday House Tour Committee began their search and research of local private properties to feature.

“That’s always the challenge,” Kissam said on choosing homes to showcase during the tour. “We have to get people to agree, but we know of houses with a history and sometimes we just knock on doors and explain who we are and what we’d like to do. Usually we can talk people into it, particularly if they’re interested in what the history of their own house is. Once we run out of houses and can’t find houses maybe the tour has to stop, but we’ve been able to keep it going for the past 12 years.”

Historical society and committee member Patricia Ernst said the tours are beneficial to both those who take them and those who host them. “At the end of the day, everybody has such a good time,” she said. “The homeowners have a great afternoon having people exclaim over their houses, both the historical aspects of them and otherwise. The tour highlights these old houses and I think that’s a big draw for people who are deciding on what town they want to live in.”

Ernst continued, “Huntington has homes that have been here since the mid-1600s and that isn’t true in too many places. These houses are lovingly taken care of and are being guarded, and people in Huntington appreciate that.”

The Huntington Historical Society’s 2017 Holiday House Tour will be held on Sunday, Dec. 3 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $35 for members. For more information or to order tickets, please call 631-427-7045, ext. 401 or visit www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

Photos courtesy of Huntington Historical Society

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