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.
“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.
“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.
“[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.”