Village Beacon Record

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By Bill Landon

The Miller Place Panthers girls volleyball team defeated the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats Oct. 11 at home three sets to two, though everyone involved was a winner that day. The game was part of the annual Dig Pink initiative held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October in which the teams partner with the Sideout Foundation to to raise money to benefit the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping families with someone battling the disease.

The Wading River Shoreham Chamber of Commerce hosted its first Fall Festival Oct. 13, and while cold rain fell throughout the morning, the community still came out in costume to celebrate the arrival of autumn.

While Halloween is still weeks away, kids dressed up in costume as zombies, firefighters, superheroes and many others, to march in a short parade from St. John the Baptist’s Church to the Wading River duck pond. Though not many kids participated in the walk because of the rain, young people still got to participate in a pumpkin decorating contest, crafts and shop at booths featuring local vendors.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai school district swore in a new board member Sept. 26 to replace three-year trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August.

AnneMarie Henninger, a physical therapist and Mount Sinai resident, was unanimously voted in by the six remaining board members several weeks after the seat became open.

The board decided to vote internally on a new board member soon after Riggio announced he was stepping away from his position. Board President Robert Sweeney said the entire board spent two nights for four hours each in September reviewing the 10 applications submitted by district residents.

“We were looking for people who were looking to build consensus, listen, participate and learn,” Sweeney said. “In our process one of the questions we asked was ‘how have you worked for the support of the community and volunteered for the community previously?’”

Henninger did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The board had three options in choosing a new member to fill the position vacated by Riggio. It could have either held a special election, leave the seat vacant until the scheduled trustee elections in May or request applications from interested community members and then vote on a new board member internally. Sweeney said the board did not want to miss out on having a seventh member and not have a swing vote, and that it did not think it was financially viable to hold a special election so soon after the last community board and budget vote in May.

Candidates for the position needed to be a qualified voter in the district, be a resident of the district for at least one year and could not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai looked for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate. Sweeney said Henninger fit all those qualities, and more.

“It was very interesting to listen to her perspective on how she has often been called into special education committee meetings,” Sweeney said. “We had 10 good community members come forward – all good people with varying degrees of participation in the community, but it was also her knowledge of the district, her participation in the district and its board meetings that made us choose her.”

Riggio was elected to trustee position during the May board elections, though he decided to officially step down Aug. 5 after receiving an offer for a new job in Florida. The job would take too much of his attention from his responsibilities that he didn’t wish to become a detriment to the work of the board, he said.

Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again in May 2019. Three at-large seats will be up for grabs at that time, and the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats.

Joseph DiBiasi shows off his completed project at the William Miller House property on North Country Road in Miller Place Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

Visitors to Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society’s annual Postman Pete event are in for an improved experience thanks to the ingenuity of a local Boy Scout who has reached Eagle status.

Boy Scouts hoping to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Joseph DiBiasi, a 17-year-old Comsewogue High School senior and member of Boy Scout Troop 1776 said he has been attending the historical society’s Postman Pete festivities since he was a kid, an event that gives kids the chance to hand over a letter to be delivered to Santa around Christmas time.

Those interested line up to head into the building on the rear of the historical society’s property on North Country Road in Miller Place, where they head in when it’s their turn. The small building on the same grounds as the larger William Miller House has two points of entry, though the rear exit had about an 18-inch drop off from the doorway to a layer of rocks, making it unsafe for youngsters to utilize. Instead, a logjam would regularly take place at the main point of entry where those entering would have to saunter around those exiting.

“When kids would come in and see Postman Pete, bring their letter, and then they’d have to make a U-turn and go back out,” society treasurer Gerard Mannarino said Sept. 29 during the ceremony to unveil DiBiasi’s completed project. “It’s not an area that you can have traffic in both directions. We always wanted to be able to open the back door and have them go out, but we had the danger because the step down from there was big and it was just a big rock.”

For his project, DiBiasi drew up plans and constructed a deck, equipped with a railing, to make the rear of the building accessible and usable. The project required the drawing of plans, approval from the Town of Brookhaven building department and Historic District Advisory Committee, some redrawing and reimagining and lots of hard work through the spring and summer.

“In 2016 when Gerrard originally showed this to me I was like, ‘Wow, this needs to be fixed,’” DiBiasi said. “As a kid I went to Postman Pete and I just felt like, when I was a kid it was a big thing for me. So I thought this would be a great addition.”

Greg Muroff, DiBiasi’s Scoutmaster, said he was proud of his Scout’s diligence and dedication to the project, as it also exposed him to some of the “red tape” involved with getting construction projects approved by local government.

“It came out better than I saw in the drawing,” Muroff said. “I knew this was going to be a bit challenging for him but Joseph definitely persevered. He aspires to be an engineer at some point in his life. He definitely has a mathematical mind, and he put pen to paper.”

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and presented proclamations to DiBiasi and Michael Muroff, another Scout from Troop 1776 who presented his completed project that day.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” Bonner said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River's fitness center is closed while the board of education decides what to do next. Photo by Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River High School students looking to make gains have been impeded with the loss of the school’s fitness center, and now the district is looking at its options for a new one.

The high school’s fitness center, which has been around since the late 1980s and is detached from the main building, was closed down in July this year because an assessment of the building by the school district’s internal engineer showed the flooring was not up to code for constant physical activity.

“The flooring in the fitness area needed structural support in order to meet that code requirements, and the amount came back for that being $200,000 to conduct those repairs,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Over the summer the board asked that we look with our architect to take a look at decision making process alternatives within the school district to make a fitness center or a fitness room.”

With the loss of the old fitness room, the district has moved exercise equipment to room 102, located in close proximity to the high school’s lower floor cafeteria, on the other side of the school from the locker rooms and gymnasium. Current amenities for the temporary facility include a TRX cable-based exercise machine, medicine balls, dumbbells, bench presses and some cardio equipment, according to Poole.

At the SWR Sept. 25 school board meeting members said the district was considering three options. One is to fix the flooring in the old fitness center, which might be the most expensive. Another is to combine rooms 102 and 101 next to the high school cafeteria to create a new 1,400 square foot fitness space. Lastly the district could section off a portion of the auxiliary gym and combine it with an existing storage space to create another 1,400 square foot fitness center.

Shoreham-Wading River’s fitness center is closed while the board of education decides what to do next. Photo by Kyle Barr

Poole said the district did not have an exact date when they will come to a decision.

“I do not have a deadline, but as always we want to come to a decision as soon as we can,” Poole said. “It’s good to take out time for a decision as long as we’re spending money.”

While replacing the floor would cost $200,000, other options currently seem to cost much less.

Ken Schupner, an architect for Patchogue-based Burton Behrendt Smith Architects, whose services are retained by the school, said it would cost approximately $75,000 to $100,000 to break through the high school’s auxiliary gym to make room for a 14,000 square foot fitness center. Because of the work already done to room 102, extending that space into room 101 should also cost less than patching the old facility’s floor, the architect said.

Board President Michael Lewis questioned whether students will be able to utilize the space if the fitness center is located on the other side of the building from the locker rooms.

“Getting it close to physical education [facilities] is maximizing utilization for the sports teams, and with having it on the lower floor next to the cafeteria are the students really going to travel all the way there to work out?” Lewis said.

Schupner said while the room is located far from the gym, it also has an exit to the outside of the building, making it easier for students to access after practice on the sports fields.

If the school were to opt to use the auxiliary gym, it could disrupt current physical education classes. Poole said five classes are currently scheduled in that room, which is also used extensively by the wrestling and cheerleading teams.

Schupner said renovations to the detached current fitness center are less applicable for state aid compared to facilities located inside the building.

Shoreham resident Robert Badalian regularly used the old fitness center in the hours when it was open to the public, and he and others didn’t want to be left out of the conversation.

“We don’t want to be excluded,” Badalian said. “It was a place for people to exercise and feel comfortable — not be intimidated like you could if you go to another gym.”

Badalian also said he hoped the district would focus more on modernizing the fitness center, saying that compared to high schools like Ward Melville, which have a more modern fitness center, SWR is lagging behind.

Carolyn Baier, another Shoreham resident who was a regular at the fitness center, said having it open to the rest of the community helped get people more involved and in tune with their local school. Baier was on the SWR school board in the 1980s, back when the decision came down to create the fitness center.

“The young people who used it were so nice, they would pick up my weights for me when I hurt my hand,” Baier said. “This was a community thing.”

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The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats destroyed Hampton Bays in its homecoming game Oct. 6, defeating the Baymen 50-0. The win moved the Wildcats to 4-1 this season. They’ll be back in action Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at Babylon.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Mount Sinai School District is asking the community to pay higher taxes in exchange for upgrades to its buildings.

The district unveiled a capital projects proposal that will require passage of a bond by the community at a board meeting Sept. 26. The list of projects contains a number of renovations and upgrades officials hope will keep MS schools in line with other local districts and prepare its facilities for future generations.

“We’re not looking to do this all for tomorrow – we’re looking for providing for our kids 10 to 15 years from now,” board of education President Robert Sweeney said.

The planned total for the bond currently sits at $24,695,663, which would raise taxes by $235 for a household in the Mount Sinai community with an assessed value of $3,700, or $362 for an assessed value of $5,700, for example. This tax increase will be in addition to whatever tax value will be released for the 2019-20 budget.

Items to be included in the more than $24 million in projects are a large swathe of renovations and repair work to all three of the school buildings on campus, as well as the athletic fields and grounds. The bond proposal seeks to replace the public address and master time clock system across all three buildings. In addition, it asks for money to replace several exterior doors, windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems across all school buildings on the campus.

In line with the district’s push for stronger building security, the bond details a number of security upgrades, including new surveillance cameras and intercom systems, exterior door automatic locking systems and film-lined glass windows to make it more difficult to see in.

The high school is receiving a substantial share of attention, with funds in the bond to finish replacement of the roof, which has long suffered from leaks. It also calls for the construction of new music practice rooms along with renovations to the art room, ceramics room, fashion/tech room, locker rooms and science labs.

In terms of outdoor facilities, the bond proposes two new field surfaces, one a multipurpose turf field at the high school and another a natural surface girls softball field.

The board will hold a special meeting Oct. 10 to discuss the merits of certain projects on the list. Sweeney said he wanted to be careful to only go out to bond for projects the district wouldn’t normally be able to complete with excess fund balance.

“If I can pay for it, why should I put it on credit?” he said.

The board also detailed a number of potential projects not included on the main list to be discussed prior to approving a final menu, like replacing stage lighting at Mount Sinai Elementary School and reconfiguring the library in the middle school. The high school could see the auditorium seating replaced along with additions to the orchestra room and the main office. The biggest extra projects included the construction of a new 6,500-square-foot maintenance storage garage and the creation of two new synthetic turf fields, one for softball and another for baseball.

The total for the additional projects is about $26 million. If the district were to include everything from additional projects and the bond as currently proposed, the total would equal $50,483,500, which would add $480 or $740 per year in additional taxes for homes assessed at $3,700 or $5,700, respectively.

Board Vice President Lynn Jordan said that several months ago the original list of projects provided to the board equaled close to $68 million, and she thought the 20 Mount Sinai residents and school employees on a bond committee formed during the summer did a good job in focusing down on what was most critical.

“They put their hearts and souls into this, and I’m very impressed with how they all handled deliberations,” Jordan said.

Mount Sinai resident Brad Arrington said he hoped the school would be conscientious not to make extensive changes just to keep up with other local school districts.

“It can be easy to feel envious of what other districts have, but we need to focus on what we can afford,” Arrington said. “We need to take a balanced approach, with some of our focus dedicated to sports, some to the arts.”

In May district residents approved a $5 million capital project referendum. The funds have already gone toward finishing refurbishing the school’s football field, and replacing perimeter fencing and fixing a portion of the high school roof is also underway.

Residents are encouraged to attend or send in comments to the board before the Oct. 10 meeting.

Once the board votes to approve the bond, there will be a mandated 45-day period before the bond can be brought to a community vote. The board will determine when a vote will be held after its Oct. 27 board meeting.

Pam Green with Mason

By Heidi Sutton

Amid mandatory evacuation orders in the Carolinas and Virginia in advance of Hurricane Florence, many fleeing residents left their pets behind to fend for themselves. For those pets lucky enough to be rescued, they were brought to area shelters already full to capacity. When news spread the animals would start being
euthanized if no one adopted them, Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton quickly joined other outreach groups to make a difference.

Working in conjunction with Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, the shelter took in 12 dogs two weeks ago. “We then sent our own truck down to South Carolina and when they came back last Monday night they had 17 more,” said Pamela Green, Kent’s executive director.

The most recent group of dogs came from South Carolina’s Marlboro and Horry counties, two of the hardest hit areas devastated by flooding. “Those counties were still pretty much under water as recent as last Tuesday so those dogs were from people who lost their homes and relinquished the animals,” Green said. “The people probably don’t have places to live themselves at this point.” 

The new arrivals range in age from 9 weeks to 4 years and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The executive director said there are hound mixes “which are common in the South” as well as Labrador mixes and a few Chihuahuas. While many have already been adopted, all the dogs will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped before going to their new homes.

Shelters in areas ravaged by Hurricane Florence announced earlier this week that they are temporarily halting the transport of animals to give residents more time to reclaim their dogs. For the staff at Kent, however, this is only a short reprieve as they are expecting 10 dogs to arrive Sunday from a Missouri puppy mill.

According to Green, the shelter is always looking for foster homes. “Sometimes the animals we get in are a bit traumatized. In the case of the hurricane, they’ve already been exposed to some trauma so then they are transported a very long way and by the time they get here they’re pretty scared or nervous,” she said, adding, “Those animals usually come around more quickly in a foster home.”

Financial donations and supplies such as canned cat and dog food, paper towels, bleach, cat litter, treats, towels and blankets are also appreciated.

Kent Animal Shelter celebrates its golden anniversary this year. The private not-for-profit, located along the Peconic River, opened its doors in 1968. It rescues and finds homes for over 700 dogs and cats each year. “We had almost 100 adoptions this July alone,” said Green proudly, who has been at the helm of the no-kill facility for over 30 years. 

Several events have been planned to commemorate the anniversary including the upcoming Wines and Canines Run/Walk fundraiser at the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard in Calverton Oct. 7 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person at www.kentanimalshelter.com. 

For Green, working at the shelter is a labor of love filled with rewards and happy endings. “I’ve been doing this for 33 years and I still come to the same office because I feel that we are really making a difference here. Maybe we’re not going to save all the animals, but just saving the ones that we can get to changes their lives and changes the lives of people too,” she said. “I still get so much joy out of seeing an animal leave the shelter and go to a new home. It’s the greatest thing – it makes my day.”

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Members of Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 stand outside the wake for Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old scout from Troop 161 killed earlier this week by an allegedly drunk driver. Photo by Kyle Barr

From Riverhead to Miller Place, red ribbons hung on street signs, store facades, schoolyard fences and mail boxes. The North Shore community was draped in red, the same crimson color worn on the shirts and kerchiefs of Boy Scouts. The color now adorns a community in mourning.

As news spread that 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a Shoreham resident of Boy Scout of Troop 161 and student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30 while on a hiking outing with several members of his troop on David Terry Road in Manorville, the community quickly galvanized in support. Four others from the troop were injured as a result of the crash, according to Suffolk County police.

Red ribbons line the entrance to Shoreham-Wading River High School in honor of Andrew McMorris of Boy Scout Troop 161, who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

In the week since the news broke, hundreds of residents headed onto local community Facebook pages to share their grief and ask what assistance they could offer the family. Some offered to send food in their time of need. Others buckled down and started making ribbons and wristbands for residents to show their hearts went out to all those hurt by the tragedy.

Pamela Garee, an agent with Wading River real estate company Coldwell Banker M&D Good Life, who works closely with Troop 161, quickly got about 70 volunteers to create 700 red ribbons by Oct. 5. Each ribbon cost $10, with all proceeds going to support the troop, the Shoreham-Wading River school district’s Wildcat Helpers of the Arts and Music, and nonprofit advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Ribbons are still available at the Coldwell Banker office at the Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River.

“We’re really doing it to be supportive of the troop, the boys, the victims and their families,” Garee said. “The support from the community — it’s been wonderful.”

Garee said she expects to sell more than 1,000 ribbons by the end of the weekend Oct. 7.

Suffolk County has also taken up the task of honoring the Boy Scout, as County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office announced Oct. 4 it would place ribbons at the entrances to 16 major county parks.

“It is with great sadness that we remember Andrew, but I am proud to honor this bright, dedicated young man with this small act of remembrance,” Bellone said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family now and forever in the wake of this immeasurable tragedy.”

The first of three wakes were held for Andrew Oct. 4. The sidewalks were lined with red ribbons, and a near-constant stream of friends, family and community members journeyed to the Branch Funeral Home of Miller Place to pay their respects. Members of Boy Scout Troop 204 of Miller Place stood at attention in front of the funeral home, serving as an honor guard paying respect to the fallen fellow scout.

Others in the community were decorating their own houses and storefronts with the ribbons. Shortly after David and Gloria Kurtinaitis, owners of Forte’s Florist in Wading River, got word of the tragedy they used their own material to decorate their shopping complex with the symbol.

Red ribbons adorn businesses, homes and other public areas in Shoreham to honor Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161 who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s great when the community comes together, it’s just a hard way to do it,” David Kurtinaitis said.

The incident occurred Sept. 30 as the troop was taking a day hike through the Greenbelt Trail in Manorville. Thomas Murphy, 59, of Holbrook was driving a 2016 Mercedes southbound on David Terry Road at approximately 1:55 p.m. when his vehicle struck the scouts who were walking northbound on the shoulder of the roadway, according police.

McMorris was rushed to the hospital but died due to his injuries Oct. 1, police said. Along with McMorris four other boys were also hit by the driver. Denis Lane, 16, of Shoreham; Kaden Lynch, 15, of Calverton; and Matthew Yakaboski, 15, of Calverton, sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Thomas Lane, 15, of Shoreham, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where he has continued to be treated for serious injuries as of Oct. 5.

Murphy was charged with driving while intoxicated, though Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini’s (D) office has left open the possibility of upgrading the charges. An attorney for Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The SWR school district has put a notice on its website saying support services were available to students and staff, and that parents or guardians could call the school should they wish their children to get grief support.

In a statement released to Newsday, the McMorris family shared Andrew’s love for acting, the Boy Scouts and aviation.

“Andrew wanted to fly before he could walk,” the statement read. “Airplanes, helicopters and rockets were the obsession of his life, and he achieved his first piloting goal this past summer during AeroCamp … Andrew was occasionally chided by parents, coaches and teachers for having his head in the clouds, but for Andrew, that only made sense.”

The support for the scout troop members and the McMorris family has even extended beyond the Shoreham community. A GoFundMe fundraising campaign for Troop 161 has exceeded $13,000 of a $15,000 goal as of Oct. 5, just five days after Andrew’s passing.

Andrew participated in AeroCamp, a youth flight educational program hosted by Mid Island Air Service. The organization released a statement highlighting Andrew’s love for aviation.

Red ribbons adorn businesses in Shoreham to honor Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161 who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Andrew worked hard during camp to complete his Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge and we were so proud of him,” the statement read. “We are saddened by this senseless loss and offer his family our deepest condolences.”

A Change.org petition titled “Name an AA 787 after Andrew McMorris,” which seeks to get American Airlines to name a jet after Andrew, has already reached well over 12,000 signatures. The petition’s creator, aviation photographer Hunter Lyons, is seeking response from the airline that could help get Andrew’s name on a plane.

Andrew is survived by his mother, Alisha, father, John and sister, Arianna. In their statement the family asked that no items be placed as memorials at the scene of the crash, and instead that residents tie a red ribbon to their property, and that instead of sending flowers residents donate to Troop 161, WHAM and MADD.

“Bright and hardworking, Andrew was an honor roll student,” the family’s statement said. “Classmates, teachers and friends found him sometimes silly, always funny and, occasionally, a bit cheeky. He was a friend to everyone and showed kindness to all.”

This post was updated Oct. 8 to include the possibility the District Attorney will upgrade charges against Murphy.

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The Rocky Point School District came together under sunny skies to celebrate homecoming 2018 during the last weekend in September. Eagle fans of all ages lined the sidewalk in front of Rocky Point High School to cheer on those marching in the annual homecoming parade Sept. 29.

This year’s event was led by Rocky Point alumni, who were celebrating their 40th anniversary, and featured members of the marching band, cheerleading teams, colorful banners created by Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School students and homecoming floats fashioned by each high school grade level. The floats and banners each followed this year’s theme of “Rocky Point honors our armed forces.”

Throughout homecoming weekend, members of the high school varsity and junior varsity teams competed in challenging games against some of the region’s top high schools. The celebratory event was capped off with the traditional juniors versus seniors powder puff game, which collected donations for organizations committed to fighting children’s cancer.

In the game, Kings Park defeated Rocky Point 41-14, dropping the Eagles to 1-4 this season.

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