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Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

Council members Mark Cuthbertson, Joan Cergol and Ed Smyth, center, pose with art students and their teachers in front of the Heckscher Museum on May 4. Photo from Town of Huntington

In conjunction with the Town of Huntington’s 18th annual Tulip Festival, intermediate and middle school students within the Huntington Township were invited once again to enter the annual Tulip Festival School Art Contest. 

The event was sponsored by the Town of Huntington, NEFCU, Huntington Arts Council and the Heckscher Museum of Art.

By Laurel Bonn of Finley Middle School

This year’s theme was Huntington in Bloom. Students were encouraged to independently interpret the theme and create personal reflections of springtime in Huntington. The winning artwork was selected by a jury comprised of artists and art professionals and was displayed at the Chapin Rainbow Stage in Heckscher Park during the Tulip Festival last Sunday. 

Laurel Bonn of Finley Middle School was awarded the Carolyn Fostel Best in Show award, given in honor of the late Ms. Fostel. Fostel was instrumental in planning and securing sponsorship support of the initial Huntington Tulip Festival in 2001 and continued to be active in these capacities on the Festival Committee until she passed away in 2011.

By Shivaangi Salhotra of the Long Island School for the Gifted

Shivaangi Salhotra of the Long Island School for the Gifted received a Showwide Honorable Mention. 

Three winners from each grade level were honored at the event, with the first-prize winner receiving a $50 gift card courtesy of NEFCU.

Third-grade winners: First Place — Isla McAlister, Second Place — Alexa Blumo, Third Place — Sophia Marino.

Fourth-grade winners: First Place — Nina Corbett, Second Place — Lily Kramer, Third Place — Grace Lu, Honorable Mention — Megan LaMena, Honorable Mention — Avery Veter Walsh.

Fifth-grade winners: First Place — Grace Schoonmaker, Second Place — Sameera Chaudhry, Third Place — Andrew Vitale.

Sixth-grade winners: First Place — Caterina Dottino, Second Place — Hannah Stark, Third Place — Gabriella Messing.

Seventh-grade winners: First Place — Emily Gershuny, Second Place — Elisa Kong, Third Place — Stephanie Wickey.

Eighth-grade winners: First Place — Si Yue Jiang, Second Place — Jennifer Zhu, Third Place — Lily Chai.

Art teachers also received $50 for each student whose art was chosen as the best of the grade for use in purchasing art supplies, also courtesy of NEFCU.

To see images of all the entries, visit www.huntingtonarts.org.

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.”

Back row, from left, Town of Huntington’s Parks Director Don McKay, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and Dr. Inna Gellerman, with some of the youth hockey players who received free custom mouth guards, compliments of Gellerman Orthodontics of Huntington. Photo from Town of Huntington

Thanks to the generosity of a local orthodontist, youth participating in the Town of Huntington’s recreational hockey league at Dix Hills Park will not have to worry about losing teeth due to an errant puck, high stick or hard hit. Dr. Inna Gellerman, owner of Gellerman Orthodontics of Huntington Village, donated more than 100 custom mouth guards to youth participating in the Department of Parks & Recreation’s popular instructional league held throughout the winter at the double ice rink facility in Dix Hills.

According to the National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety, athletes are 60 times more likely to sustain damage to teeth when foregoing the protection of mouth guards. “Safety for our youth is imperative and I sincerely appreciate the generosity of Dr. Gellerman for providing this great service and these vitally important mouth guards,” said Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). “Interest and participation in our youth hockey programs continues to grow and the protection provided by these custom guards is greatly appreciated by our parents.”

Gellerman added,“I’ve seen our share of tragic accidents that could have been easily prevented with the correct protective gear. Custom mouth guards help protect not only the teeth but also prevent against a head injury during contact sports ­— at any age.” She also added, “This is an ongoing program offered by Gellerman Orthodontics to any youth teams or any individual young athlete in the area.”

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