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Christopher Raguso posthumously awarded title of honorary chief by Commack Fire Department

A military helicopter crash in Iraq has hit close to home for both the Commack and
Elwood communities.

Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, was among those killed in the March 15 helicopter crash. The 39-year-old was one of seven airmen on board a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Raguso was assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton. His mother, Laura Raguso of East Northport, said she pleaded with him not to go on this most
recent deployment.

“I begged him not to do it,” she said at a press conference, but that Raguso responded by saying if he didn’t go and do it, who would? “As a mother, he crushed me that day.”

“I begged him not to do it.”
— Laura Raguso

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department of the City of New York, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions either for his individual actions or as part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service    as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire department are with their loved ones and with the families of their five fellow service members who lost their lives defending our country.”

But to Commack residents, Raguso was perhaps best known for his service with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He  joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and  previously served as captain of Company 2
located on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company.”
— Pat Fazio

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief based on a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse as he played an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had, it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Fazio said several members of the Commack Fire Department drove to Delaware to join Raguso’s wife, Carmela, and the family at Dover Air Force Base to see Raguso remains return home March 18.

“We will forever be there for the family,” he said. “His wife and his children will forever be part of the family.”

Elwood school district also mourned Raguso’s passing; he was a 1997 graduate of John Glenn High School.

“The district extends its deepest condolences to Lt. Raguso’s family and friends,” wrote Superintendent Kenneth Bossert in a message on the district’s website. “He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a Staten Island-based nonprofit in memory of New York firefighter Stephen Siller who died in the 9/11 attacks, has stepped forward to donate $100,000 toward paying off the Raguso family’s mortgage.

“He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”
— Kenneth Bossert

“Our mission is to honor and support military personnel and first responders,” said spokeswoman Catherine Christman. “In Christopher Raguso, you have both in one person.”

Christman said the Raguso family has undergone many recent hardships as his wife, Carmela, is a recent breast cancer survivor. He is also survived by his two daughters, Eva Rose, 5, and Mila Teresa, 6. No details on his wake or funeral arrangements were available as of  this publication’s press time.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan  Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ordered flags on all state government buildings to be flown at half-staff in their honor March 19.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) similarly directed the flags on all Town of Huntington buildings flown at half-staff on Monday.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security,” Lupinacci said in a statement. “On behalf [of] the Town of Huntington, you have our deepest sympathies and our prayers will be with you and your families at this sad and tragic time.” Master Sgt. William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a current member of the U.S. Army Reserve, mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security.”
— Chad Lupinacci

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Commack Fire Department is encouraging those who wish to make a donation to the Raguso family to donate funds in Raguso’s name to the Silver Shield Foundation, a nonprofit that provides educational support for children and widows of firefighters killed in the line of duty. Donations can be made by visiting www.silvershieldfoundation.org/donate or mailing to: Silver Shield Foundation, 870 United Nations Plaza, 1st Floor, New York, NY 10017.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is also collecting donations from residents to continue helping pay off the Raguso family’s mortgage. Donations can be made by visiting: www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/t2traguso.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to support Raguso’s daughters at www.gofundme.com/5a6lxdc. It has received more than $29,000 of its $50,000 goal as of 3:15 p.m. March 19.

In addition, the St. James Fire Department announced it will be donating the proceeds of its Pancakes with the Easter Bunny event, set for March 25 from 8 to 11 a.m., to the Tunnel to Towers foundation and Raguso family. The cost is $7 for adults, $3 for children and the fifth family member eats free.

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.

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

The Elwood school district opened its doors to residents last week for a night of building tours in anticipation of the Nov. 28 bond referendum vote to spend $38.2 million on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

School administrators guided parents through the district’s four buildings Nov. 8 — Harley Avenue Primary School, James H. Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — to provide firsthand glimpses of the proposed numerous critical repairs and renovations within each school. The projects are addressed in two propositions community members will be able to vote on Nov. 28.

The tours were considered effective by the small — yet invested — group of parents who walked through each school.

“You can tell me all you want that there are cracked tiles but seeing it actually brings it to life and makes you see the real needs here,” said Michael Ryan, whose daughter is a graduate of the district. “We have a responsibility to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to education.”

Marianne Craven, an Elwood resident for 40 years, thought it was a good idea for the school to host the tour.

“We’ve had all sorts of bond issues over the years, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a tour,” Craven said. “Those that didn’t come lost the visual. A picture is not worth a thousand words, and actually seeing it makes all the difference.”

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The first proposition of the bond totals $34.5 million and will cover major projects like the installation of new roofs on each school which currently leak and cause flooding whenever heavy rain occurs.

In observing the leaky ceilings throughout the middle and high school, Jill Mancini, a former district clerk at Elwood, said, “I moved here in 1975 and the roofs have been leaking since then. All of them.”

Also included under Proposition 1 are repairs to cracked sidewalks and curbing and the refurbishment of auditorium spaces and cafeterias, which need air conditioning as well as furniture replacements. In the middle and high school, the consumer science labs would be upgraded, along with the art rooms, locker rooms and a guidance suite.

“We need to bring them up to 21st century learning environments,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, who led the tour of the middle school. “Some folks who visit our facilities feel like they’ve stepped back in time when they enter [some] classrooms and it’s just not the right environment to teach our students the new skill sets they need to be successful.”

Karen Tyll, the mother of an Elwood seventh-grader, said seeing all the infrastructure problems was eye opening.

“They haven’t done enough throughout the years to maintain the schools and replace the things that are required replacements,” Tyll said, pointing out the importance of stable roofs. “We’re reaching a point where everything is sort of coming to a head, and we need to make the schools better in terms of health and safety for the kids.”

Although she said it’s unfortunate the district needs such an expensive bond, Tyll hopes it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Some of the items are unnecessary because they’re more wants rather than needs,” said one mother on the tour who asked not to be named. “A roof is definitely needed, but the new guidance suite is a want. Our taxes are going to go up and they should’ve separated some of these.”

The superintendent said he felt the Nov. 8 tours were productive in helping residents understand the scope of the proposed bond. 

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of the needs of the facilities solely from the use of pictures and videos,” Bossert said. “I believe residents left with a greater understanding of the priorities the district has brought forward.”

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

Elwood school district officials will put a total of $38 million in capital bond projects before residents for approval this November.

Elwood’s board of education voted unanimously Sept. 28  to put forth two propositions for a vote next month. Proposition 1 includes $34.5 million for health and safety improvements across the district. A $3.65 million Proposition 2 would go toward enhancement of the athletic fields.

“Over the course of the next two months, I look forward to as much community participation as possible,” Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said. “We want to provide as much information as possible to residents so that they can make an informed decision at the polls on Nov. 28.”

The first proposition focuses on major projects in each of the four school buildings — Harley Avenue Elementary, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — including replacing the roofs to fix existing leaks and flooding issues, fixing sidewalk and pavement cracks, renovating cafeterias and auditoriums and including air conditioning in some spaces.

The second, if passed, would allow for enhancements to the district’s athletic facilities including a concession stand for the high school fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field, sidewalks to make the fields compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new press box and a scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

The major issue of debate at the Sept. 28 board meeting came down to prioritizing items on the district’s list of alternative projects. The list is a compilation of recommended building renovations and upgrades that may be possible to complete if Proposition 1 is approved by voters, and there are additional funds remaining after the outlined construction is completed.

“The alternative list are all projects that were removed from Proposition 1 in order to bring it down to a level where taxpayers could be comfortable with [the tax increase],” Bossert said.

The district’s original building repair survey had recommended approximately $60 million in needed construction and safety upgrades to the buildings.

Some of the alternative projects the district will put forth to the state which aren’t included in either proposition include a new districtwide satellite clock system for $105,000; a backup generator for the computer systems at $125,000; air conditioning for office areas at $710,000; replacement of heating and ventilation units for $110,000; wall paneling at $170,000; locker room renovations for $625,000 and landscaping a playground for $40,000.

“I would like to see some things that the students will be impacted by moved up to the top of the list,” trustee Heather Mammolito said. “In an ideal world, I’d like to see locker room renovations bumped up and some others, like wall panelling, lower on the list.”

Mammolito’s comments were echoed and supported by other members of the board, who reached an agreement to re-evaluate it before posting it for district residents.

The superintendent stressed that the alternative projects list is highly flexible and “not set in stone”, as the renovations would only be possible if there are surplus funds and, which ones move forward would be dependent on how much of the bond is left.

“Often as is the case with construction, there are unanticipated costs,” Bossert said. “We may have to add projects to our list.”

The alternative projects list must be compiled as it has to be approved by voters and sent to the state, according to Bossert, so that if there are funds leftover after major projects are completed the district would have authorization to do work on these projects.

School officials have plans to host walk-through tours at each of the school buildings prior to the November vote so residents can evaluate first-hand the proposed projects. The dates have yet to be announced.

The Nov. 28 vote will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m at the district’s administrative offices. This a change from the district’s traditional 2 to 10 p.m. polling hours, approved by the school board, in order to offer more hours for working taxpayers to vote and more aligned with general election polling hours.

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