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Huntington

$6.5 million state project resumes in Fort Salonga

Roadwork on Route 25A in Fort Salonga. Photo by Rohma Abbas

A $6.5 million state project to repave a 10.6-mile stretch of Route 25A in Huntington Town resumed in Fort Salonga on May 20.

Repair and repaving work began at Bread and Cheese Hollow Road in Fort Salonga and will proceed westward to Middleville Road in Northport, according to a statement from the New York State Department of Transportation. Posillico Inc. of Farmingdale, under contract with NYS DOT, is performing the work. That section of the roadwork is expected to be completed within two weeks, according to a statement from the DOT.

The statement indicated that three of the most deteriorated sections of Route 25A were repaired prior to the harsh winter weather.

The scope of the project is to repave Route 25A, Main Street and Fort Salonga Road between Route 108 in Cold Spring Harbor and Bread and Cheese Hollow Road in Fort Salonga. The pavement along the 10.6-mile project route will be removed and replaced with new asphalt and the traffic signal loops will be replaced.

The project includes installation of fresh pavement markings, including bike lane striping and more visible pedestrian crosswalks.

In addition, audible rumble devices will be added on the centerline, which will provide noise and physical vibration warnings to motorists who stray into oncoming traffic.

Drainage structure repairs are included in the project to improve roadway runoff.

“When completed, these pavement repairs will improve motorists’ safety and help maintain the integrity of NY Route 25A/Main Street/Fort Salonga Road in the Town of Huntington,” according to the statement.

In an effort to begin the project while minimizing its impact, the construction has been arranged to be shorter and limited to sections of Route 25A, according to the state. The work will also take place during off-peak days and night hours depending on the area.

The travel lanes will also be shifted during the work to accommodate construction activities. A single travel lane is being maintained in each direction. On-street parking is not permitted during this construction work, according to the release.

The NYS DOT is urging drivers to use alternate routes in an effort to avoid travel delays. Local officials, businesses, schools and emergency service providers are being notified about the repaving operations in their local areas.

David Stein is joyous after winning a contest for Northport-East Northport school board. Photo by Rohma Abbas

By Rohma Abbas & Victoria Espinoza

Voters in the Huntington, Northport-East Northport, Harborfields and Cold Spring Harbor school districts resoundingly approved their districts’ proposed 2015-16 budgets and elected a number of newcomers to local school boards.

Both Harborfields and Northport-East Northport school board races had contests this year — in Harborfields, five candidates vied for three seats, and in Northport-East Northport, a pool of seven were competing for three slots.

Huntington and Cold Spring Harbor had races in which trustees ran unopposed.

Huntington
Voters in the Huntington school district approved a $120.3 million budget, 1,228 votes to 301. Proposition 2, which allows the district to spend just over $1 million in capital reserve monies to pay for state-approved projects, passed 1,252 votes to 251.

Four people ran unopposed for re-election or election: board President Emily Rogan received 1,193 votes, board members Xavier Palacios and Tom DiGiacomo collected 1,139 votes and 1,185 votes, respectively, and newcomer Christine Biernacki garnered 1,189 votes. Rogan, Biernacki and DiGiacomo won three-year terms.

As the lowest vote getter, Palacios will serve the remaining two years on a term of former Vice President Adam Spector’s vacated seat.

“We will maintain our efforts toward achieving cost savings and efficiencies, while preserving the goal of providing students across the district with a high quality education that promotes an affinity for learning as well as college and career readiness in an increasingly global and technologically-driven society,” Superintendent Jim Polansky said in a statement.

Tammie Topel is joyous after winning a contest for Northport-East Northport school board. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Tammie Topel is joyous after winning a contest for Northport-East Northport school board. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Northport-East Northport
In Northport-East Northport, the $159.6 million budget was approved, 3,281 to 788, in a turnout that school officials there called stronger than usual. Proposition 2, which allows the district to spend $1.2 million in capital reserves, was approved 3,561 to 504. Longtime Trustee Stephen Waldenburg Jr., who has served on the board for 15 years, was voted out in a heated race against six others for three seats, amassing 1,290 votes. Incumbent David Badanes, 2,446 votes, was re-elected to another term. Candidate Tammie Topel, former school board member, got her seat back after declining to seek re-election last year, with 2,130 votes and newcomer David Stein, who championed a successful grassroots parental movement to get full-day kindergarten included in this year’s budget, enjoyed victory to the board, with 2,548 votes.

Newcomers Peter Mainetti, Josh Muno and Michael Brunone missed the mark as well, with Mainetti garnering 1,018 votes, Muno receiving 542 votes and Brunone getting 1,039 votes.

Stein said he’s looking forward to working with his colleagues on the school board as his first order of business.

“I feel that the will of this entire community, that did great things this year, was just heard. This is what we’ve been working for. The community put kindergarten together; they did it as a community effort.”

Waldenburg said he “would’ve liked to won,” but the community has spoken.

“I’ve given it my all for 15 years and I’m grateful that I was able to serve that long,” Waldenburg said. “I appreciate it. The community wants somebody else; that’s their choice.”

Newly elected Trustee Tammie Topel and incumbent David Badanes also spoke positively about their victories.

“I feel on cloud nine. I feel really great,” Topel said.

The United Teachers of Northport, the district’s teacher’s union, endorsed the three candidates who won, according to Antoinette Blanck, the president of the union. She said she was “thrilled” the budget passed, especially because of full-day kindergarten.

Harborfields
Voters in Harborfields approved their budget with high marks — 82.5 percent voter support for an $80.5 million spending plan, with 1,442 voting in favor and 305 voting no. Voters also supported a proposition on the ballot to establish a new capital reserve fund, with 79.4 percent in favor.

Incumbents Donald Mastroianni and board President Dr. Thomas McDonagh were returned to the board, and voters elected newcomer Suzie Lustig. Mastroianni earned the most votes, at 1,017, McDonagh earned 958 votes and Lustig got 953 votes.

Candidates Chris Kelly and Colleen Rappa fell short.

Mastroianni and McDonagh are both incumbents; serving their ninth and seventh year, respectively. Lustig, a resident of the Harborfields district for 22 years, will be serving on the board for her first time.

Lustig said she wants to focus her time on making sure all students at Harborfields receive a well-rounded education that is competitive for the 21st century.

“Our school has to be of a holistic level, some children may be gifted in science or they may be gifted in music, and we need to make sure we represent everybody for a competitive environment,” Lustig said.

Lustig has served as the Harborfields Council of PTAs “Get Out the Vote” chairperson for three years now, and has served on the district’s advisory committee since 2013, as well as holding many different PTA positions since 2007.

Mastroianni, who has served on the board since 2006, believes that the biggest challenges Harborfields faces as a district are state-imposed, including the gap elimination adjustment on school district aid, a deduction from each school district’s state aid allocation that helps the state fill its revenue shortfall.

Mastroianni also hopes to focus on current district committee work regarding building usage and full-day kindergarten.

“I think full-day kindergarten is definitely possible, but we have to take a hard look at the costs and the sustainability,” Mastroianni said.

McDonagh wants to focus on many of the projects that have just begun this year, including the capital improvement bond project, and evaluating the need for facility modifications over the next few years.

“The projects being considered include both athletic facilities and educational facilities, as well as just general district facility needs like bathrooms and other facilities,” McDonagh said.

Cold Spring Harbor
In Cold Spring Harbor, voters approved a $64 million budget, 335 votes to 130. Proposition 2, which moved to spend capital reserve money on various projects, passed 318 to 107. Proposition 3, to establish a new capital reserve fund, was approved 314 to 114. Board President Anthony Paolano and Trustee Ingrid Wright ran unopposed for re-election and received 366 and 359 votes, respectively.

Cold Spring Harbor
Voters passed a $64 million budget, 335 votes to 130. Proposition 2, to spend capital reserve money on various projects, passed 318 to 107. Proposition 3, to establish a new capital reserve fund, passed 314 to 114. Board President Anthony Paolano and Trustee Ingrid Wright ran unopposed for re-election and received 366 and 359 votes, respectively.

Commack
Community members passed Commack’s $185 million budget 1,927 to 575.

Comsewogue
The district’s $85.2 million budget passed, 1,024 to 204. Proposition 2, to add bus service for 38 John F. Kennedy Middle School students, passed 1,096 to 134. Three people ran unopposed for board seats and were elected, board President John Swenning, Trustee Rick Rennard and newcomer Louise Melious.

Harborfields
An $80.5 million budget passed with 82.5 percent voter support. Voters also supported a proposition on the ballot to establish a new capital reserve fund, with 79.4 percent in favor. Incumbents Donald Mastroianni and board President Dr. Thomas McDonagh were returned to the board, and voters elected newcomer Suzie Lustig. Candidates Chris Kelly and Colleen Rappa fell short.

Hauppauge
Voters passed the district’s proposed budget, 1,458 to 442. Michael Buscarino and Stacey Weisberg were elected to the board with 1,098 and 1,122 votes, respectively. Candidate Susan Hodosky fell short, with just 984 votes.

Huntington
A $120.3 million budget passed, 1,228 votes to 301. Proposition 2, to spend just over $1 million in capital reserve monies to pay for state-approved projects, passed 1,252 votes to 251. Four people ran unopposed for re-election or election: board President Emily Rogan got 1,193 votes, board members Xavier Palacios and Tom DiGiacomo received 1,139 votes and 1,185 votes, respectively, and newcomer Christine Biernacki garnered 1,189 votes. Rogan, Biernacki and DiGiacomo won three-year terms. As the lowest vote-getter, Palacios will serve the remaining two years on a term of a vacated seat.

Kings Park
Voters passed an $84.7 million budget, 2,065 to 577. A second proposition on the ballot, regarding a school bus purchase, passed 1,998 to 542. A third proposition, regarding a capital project to replace the high school roof, passed 2,087 to 455. Incumbent Diane Nally was re-elected to the board with 1,821 votes, while newcomer Kevin Johnston was elected with 1,886 votes. Incumbent Charlie Leo fell short in his re-election bid, garnering 1,108 votes.

Middle Country
Middle Country’s $236 million budget passed, with 1,863 votes in favor and 579 against. All three school board incumbents — President Karen Lessler and Trustees Jim Macomber and Arlene Barresi — were running unopposed and were re-elected to their seats.

Miller Place
Newcomer Keith Frank won a seat on the school board, edging out candidate Michael Manspeizer, 781 to 287.
“I’m just looking forward to the next three years,” Frank said. “I have big shoes to step into.”
Residents also passed the district’s $70 million budget, with 964 voting in favor and 262 voting against.
Board President Michael Unger said voter turnout was low “as a result of a good budget and good candidates.”

Mount Sinai
Voters approved the $56.7 million budget with 1,241 in favor and 316 against. Newcomer Michael Riggio was elected to the board with 993 votes, followed by incumbent Lynn Capobiano, who garnered 678 for re-election to a second term. John DeBlasio and Joanne Rentz missed election, receiving 624 and 321 votes, respectively.

Northport-East Northport
The $159.6 million budget passed, 3,281 to 788. Proposition 2, to spend $1.2 million in capital reserves, passed 3,561 to 504. Incumbent David Badanes, former trustee Tammie Topel and newcomer David Stein were elected to the board, with 2,446 votes for Badanes, 2,130 for Topel and 2,548 for Stein. Incumbent Stephen Waldenburg Jr. fell short of re-election, with 1,290 votes. Newcomers Peter Mainetti, Josh Muno and Michael Brunone missed the mark as well, with Mainetti garnering 1,018 votes, Muno receiving 542 votes and Brunone getting 1,039 votes.

Port Jefferson
Voters passed a $42.4 million budget, 491 to 130. Proposition 2, to create a new capital reserve fund that would help replace roofs throughout the district, passed with 467 votes in favor and 122 against.
Trustee Vincent Ruggiero was re-elected to the board with 468 votes. Write-in candidates Tracy Zamek, a newcomer, and Trustee Mark Doyle were elected with 246 and 178 votes, respectively. There were a number of other community residents who received write-in votes, including former board member Dennis Kahn, who garnered 58 votes.

Rocky Point
The $78.7 million budget passed with 788 votes in favor and 237 against. Board Vice President Scott Reh was re-elected to a third term, with 679 votes. Newcomer Ed Casswell secured the other available seat with 588 votes. Candidate Donna McCauley missed the mark, with only 452 votes.

Shoreham-Wading River
The school budget passed, 910 to 323. Michael Fucito and Robert Rose were re-elected to the school board, with 902 and 863 votes, respectively.

Smithtown
Smithtown’s $229.5 million budget passed, 2,582 to 762. School board President Christopher Alcure, who ran unopposed, was re-elected with 2,295 votes, while newcomer Jeremy Thode was elected with 2,144 votes. MaryRose Rafferty lost her bid, garnering just 860 votes. A second proposition on the ballot, related to capital reserves, passed 2,507 to 715.

Three Village
Voters passed a $188 million budget, 2,401 to 723. Incumbents William F. Connors, Jr. and Deanna Bavlnka were re-elected, with 2,200 and 2,052 votes, respectively. Challenger Jeffrey Mischler fell short, garnering only 1,095 votes.

Local firefighters douse a house fire on East Neck Road in Halesite on May 16. Photo by Steve Silverman

About 50 firefighters doused a blaze at a Halesite home on Saturday morning. There were no injuries.

Local firefighters douse a house fire on East Neck Road in Halesite on May 16. Photo by Steve Silverman
Local firefighters douse a house fire on East Neck Road in Halesite on May 16. Photo by Steve Silverman

Under the command of Halesite Fire Department Chief Dan McConnell, firefighters from Huntington, Centerport and Cold Spring Harbor fire departments responded to the scene on East Neck Road. Volunteers from the Halesite Fire Department responded to reports of a house fire at about 10 a.m., according to Steve Silverman, a spokesman for the Town of Huntington Fire Chiefs Council.

The firefighters began an aggressive interior attack through the front door and up a spiral staircase to the second floor. They were able to confine the fire to the attic and rear of the home. The remainder of the home sustained smoke and water damage, Silverman said.

The Halesite Fire Department was on the scene with two engines, a ladder truck and ambulance. Huntington Manor Fire Department was on standby at Halesite’s fire department.

Firefighters had the blaze under control in just over an hour, Silverman said.

The Suffolk County Police Arson Squad and the Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the case.

Photo from CAC

By Karen Jillian

On Sunday, May 17, at 4 p.m., the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington, will host the 9th Annual First Exposure Student Film Festival, a program curated by professional filmmakers from the Suffolk County Film Commission. The event, which will feature the “best of the best” high school short narrative, documentary and animated films, will include a screening of the films and a reception for the filmmakers and members of the audience.

Each year, for the past nine years, Long Island high schools are requested to submit films by their students that were done throughout the year as school projects. This year approximately 28 high schools submitted hundreds of films. The films, according to Skolnick, are “whittled down to a manageable number by a jury of people from the Long Island film industry.”  This is done at the Long Island Media Arts Showcase at Five Towns College in Dix Hills. The jury picks from the hundreds that compete, but only a handful make the cut into the First Exposure event.

The winners’ films are shown at the showcase, and they are awarded a certificate and a Cinema Arts membership. Those at the Cinema Arts Centre hope the winners use the membership to “view many of their films to expand their cinematic talents and become better filmmakers,” says Skolnick.

“Long Island is a hotbed of filmmaking. It is just a matter of time before a student establishes a name for him or herself as a major filmmaker!” — Dylan Skolnick, co-director of the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre

There are many types of shorts created such as dramas, comedies, horror films and Public Service Announcements dealing with prevalent subjects such as drunk driving and bullying.

Skolnick says it is not only winning that is important but the process itself. Many of these young filmmakers go on to schools such as the University of Southern California, SUNY Purchase and New York University. Some will also go on to wonderful careers in filmmaking.

Those that do not win entrance into the festival have still done “important work in education and character building by making their films and attempting to be one of the few to enter into the film festival. The skills they acquired participating in these projects and this contest will be helpful in future endeavors,” he added.

While some schools can provide better equipment with which the students can work, students from less well-equipped schools make a good showing as well. Proudly, Skolnick proclaims, there is diversity among the schools participating. “Money can buy a lot of equipment but it cannot buy imagination. The kids make up for their schools not having deep pockets,” Skolnick said.

Come to the Huntington Cinema Art Centre on Sunday, and perhaps you will see a film made by a student who was inspired by the Long Island environment and will follow in the footsteps of some other talented Long Island filmmakers. According to Susan Finkelstein, director of publicity and promotions at the Cinema Arts Centre, “past winners have gone on to … be featured at the Hamptons Film Festival.”

Admission is free and refreshments will be served.The audience can chat with the young filmmaking students after the screening. For more information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

A call for legislative action on eve of boating safety week

Local safe boating advocates don’t want proposed state and federal laws improving safety on the water to lose steam. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Huntington boating safety advocates are calling for new wind in the sails of languishing state and federal measures aimed at making recreational boating safer.

Jackie Martin, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht & Boating Clubs, said she wants to see some action on two proposed laws, one state and one federal, that would attack the issue of boating safety from multiple fronts, including increasing boating safety education state and nationwide; and mandating that boat manufacturers create and affix plates publicizing the maximum passenger capacities for vessels shorter than 45 feet and greater than 20 feet.

“Nothing’s been done on this,” Martin said in a phone interview on Friday. “I can also say I’m disappointed.”

The commodore voiced her frustrations just a few days before the launch of the third annual Huntington Safe Boating Week, an event filled with programs highlighting the significance of taking safety precautions and behaving sensibly on the water. The week is a partnership between GHCYBC, town, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Neptune Sail and Power Squadron, which provides boating education classes and seminars.

It’s been a year since either of the bills made any waves. The bills have been referred to committees, according to their latest status updates in the State Assembly and the Library of Congress online databases.

The laws were prompted in part by the deaths of three children in Oyster Bay almost three years ago: Victoria Gaines, 7, Harlie Treanor, 11, and David Aureliano, 12, died when the boat they were on capsized on its way back to shore after a July 4 fireworks show. The 34-foot cabin cruiser was carrying 27 people at the time.

If approved, the New York State legislation would require all boaters in the state’s tidewaters to obtain boating certification issued by either the commissioner, the U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, phasing in the requirements for various age groups by 2020. It would prohibit individuals under the age of 14 to operate a boating vessel, and would eliminate the use of online classes to obtain boating certification, “due to the ineffective educational requirements of said classes,” according to the legislation.

Stephanie Quarles, vice commodore of GHCYBC, said a swift requirement for older boaters to conform to the proposed boating certification standards is key, because many accidents involve older boaters.

“Once you’re a boater, there’s so much to it and it can be dangerous if you’re not careful,” she said. “And it can be an awful lot of fun if you’re in a safe environment.”

Asked why there’s been no movement on the state bill, Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport), a co-sponsor, called the situation “frustrating,” and said that Albany can be “a slow process.” Raia added that there’s been some talk within the state’s parks department about the difficulty of enforcing the proposed law, as it would create two separate boating certification requirements — one for tidewater and another for freshwater.

He also said the bill doesn’t have a New York State Senate sponsor.

“Things don’t necessarily move until there is a Senate sponsor,” he said.

However, the bill has not been forgotten, Raia reassured.

“It’s not dead,” he said. “It’s something that we are talking about – particularly now that the boating season is upon us. The basic problem is nothing in Albany is moving as fast as things should be, even though it makes perfectly clear sense.”

Over on the federal level, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) unveiled legislation last year called the Boating Occupancy and Teaching Safety Act. As of May 20, 2014, the law was in a subcommittee.

Under the bill, states would be required to spend a share of federal funding it already receives under the recreational boating safety program.

Israel’s bill would also require boat manufacturers — as of January 2016 — install a “capacity plate” on boats between 20 and 45 feet in length that list the maximum number of passengers and maximum gross weight it can carry. Federal law already requires this information for boats shorter than 20 feet long, so the bill would expand the regulation.

Caitlin Girouard, communications director for Israel, said the House of Representatives speaker never brought the legislation to the floor for a vote in the last Congress, “but the congressman will be reintroducing the legislation and once again pushing for its passage.” According to the Library of Congress’s database, the bill has no co-sponsors.

Huntington Safe Boating Week starts this Saturday and runs to Friday, May 22. For more information on events go to www.huntingtonsafeboatingweek.com.

Commack, Kings Park, Smithtown districts’ numbers dip while Huntington reports increase in students last year

Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Enrollment numbers are in flux for western North Shore school districts like Commack, Huntington, Kings Park and Smithtown, but superintendents are planning accordingly for the future.

A Western Suffolk BOCES report released in March pegged an overall 6.9 percent decline in enrollment numbers of elementary and middle school students from 89,532 in 2008 to 83,336 in 2014. Some of the districts suffering the larger numbers of enrollment dips included Commack, Kings Park and Smithtown — the largest district under the Western Suffolk BOCES region — but Huntington’s district, however, was named one of only three districts to see an enrollment increase over the last few years.

Overall regional enrollment is projected to decline by 5,396 students, or 6.5 percent, over the next three years, as elementary and middle school enrollment figures progress through the system, according to the report.

“The number of births in Suffolk County declined from 21,252 in 1990 to 15,521 in 2013 (preliminary data),” the report said. “Smaller kindergarten classes replaced larger exiting twelfth-grade classes each year since 2008. As these smaller cohorts continue to move through the system, losses are projected in elementary, middle and secondary grade enrollment from 2014 to 2017.”

Commack and Kings Park each suffered a little more than 13 percent dips in enrollment between 2008 and 2014, the report said — the greatest losses of any Western Suffolk BOCES district during that time. But Timothy Eagen, superintendent of schools for the Kings Park Central School District, said there was no need for panic.

Eagen said his district hit historical enrollment numbers back in 2006 at 4,192 students and then saw that figure slowly drop over the following years to 3,511 this year. Looking ahead, Kings Park projected 3,391 enrollment by the coming September.

“The reason for the enrollment decline is fairly simple,” Eagen said. “The incoming kindergarten class has been smaller than the graduating twelfth-grade class of the previous year since 2007.”

Eagen said enrollment numbers should stabilize in the not-too-distant future, as the district moves forward with a staff-neutral budget that allows for reductions in class sizes.

“Class sizes are finally moving in a good direction, and I have received some very positive feedback from the community on this,” he said.

The Commack School District, which did not return requests for comment, saw its enrollment figures drop from 7,830 in 2008 to 6,778 in 2014.

Smithtown’s numbers started at 10,844 in 2008 and dropped about 250 students per year to 9,704 by 2014, the report said, and school Superintendent James J. Grossane said the Smithtown Board of Education was working diligently to prepare for the shift. The superintendent said the district is bracing for an ongoing dip through the year 2023, when he projects a total enrollment of 7,316.

The BOCES report said Smithtown saw a 26 percent drop in housing sales between 2007 and 2012 but did note sales went up between 2012 and 2013 by 36.2 percent, showing a generally stabilizing market.

Meanwhile, Smithtown’s BOE convened a housing committee in April 2014 comprised of a broad cross section of school community members as well as members of the Smithtown community at large to analyze the district’s future housing needs in light of a continuous decline in enrollment, Grossane said. That committee made various recommendations to the BOE back in March, including closing one elementary school no sooner than the 2016-17 school year but did not specify which one. It also suggested the BOE considered a potential middle school closure for the 2022-23 school year if enrollment continues to decline at its current rate, pending a study from the BOE’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing.

The Huntington school district, which did not return requests for comment, was one of three districts to record enrollment increases between 2013 and 2014 at 1.8 percent alongside Copiague and Wyandanch, bringing its 2014 number up to 4,446 from 4,384 in 2008.

The same could not be said, however, for its neighboring school district in Northport-East Northport, where numbers declined from 6,410 in 2008 to 5,686 in 2014.

Late sculptor planted the love of art in the hearts of many

LT Cherokee works with art student Michael D. Kitakis, 12, at the Spirit of Huntington Art Center. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center

By Rita J. Egan

When prolific sculptor and avid motorcycle rider LT Cherokee passed away last year at the age of 58 due to complications from an accident, he left behind his love of art and life. To honor this legacy, the Spirit of Huntington Art Center presents an exhibit titled Seeds starting May 15.

The center, dedicated to working with veterans and special needs children in an artistic environment, is the ideal venue to display the work of the sculptor who for the last few years of his life taught sculpting to the children at the facility. The teaching venture began when, through his uncle who owns L&L Camera in Huntington, Cherokee met Spirit of Huntington founder Erich Preis, according to the center’s director Michael Kitakis.

LT Cherokee’s last work, ‘Faces of Eve,’ in bronze, plaster and plaster recast. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center
LT Cherokee’s last work, ‘Faces of Eve,’ in bronze, plaster and plaster recast. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center

“LT was amazing. He was just so calm and connected. I guess that was why he worked so well with children with special needs. He had this calm presence, and he just let you really be free and creative. He wasn’t into the sky had to be blue and the grass green. He was let it be what you think it is, and feel and express it, and the children kind of thrived on that. They really got it,” Kitakis said.

The director said the exhibit will include 38 pieces of Cherokee’s that have been on display in galleries and private collections all over the United States and Canada. The sculptor, who first starting working with wood that he collected during his motorcycle rides, later worked with bronze castings. Kitakis is looking forward to the public viewing and interpreting the work, which the director said he himself doesn’t like to label as any one genre.

“When you see it, you just see all the energy and the abstract coming together. I mean that’s really what I think; it was more about that duality. I don’t think it was just abstract or just impressionistic. It’s kind of just both blending in together, and that gave that whole perception of what he was seeing as his human nature and as his life, and what he was seeing when he was exploring the road and life,” the director said.

Kitakis said Cherokee wasn’t the type to be locked in his studio all the time. For inspiration, he would get out in the world to explore, especially on his motorcycle. The director admired the artist not only for his artistic ability but also as a teacher who easily identified with the children with special needs at the center. “That takes a gift. You kind of have it or you don’t, and he really did have it. That was really what was so beautiful about his work, that here he is this sculptor who is getting $30,000 to $40,000 a sculpture and then coming in and hanging out with the kids,” Kitakis said.

After his passing last year, Cherokee’s mother, Tina Ambrosio, said all of those who offered their condolences, and knowing her son’s teachings positively affected his students comforted her. She said the artist, who was single and had no children of his own, “was married to his motorcycle and his art.”

His mother said that Cherokee, whose birth name was Leonard Totoro, picked his art moniker because even though he wasn’t Native American he always had an interest in Native American history. As a youngster, the future artist also would dream of becoming a forest ranger or doing missionary work. “Luxury to my son meant nothing. He was down to earth,” Ambrosio said.

‘Eve and Adam,’ in bronze by LT Cherokee. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center
‘Eve and Adam,’ in bronze by LT Cherokee. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center

Eventually Cherokee’s main career influence was one of his uncles, a pharmacist who painted and sculpted on the side, according to his mother. Later as a young man, the artist would lend his artistic talents while laying and refinishing floors with his father, who was a carpenter and floor finisher. Ambrosio said whenever a customer would ask for a design to be added to the floor, her son could easily create it.

As Cherokee became more involved with sculpting, his work, with names such as “Reach,” “Contemplation,” “The Gate” and “Eye of the Storm,” began to sell. In addition to his work being displayed in galleries and private collections, larger pieces were featured at places such as John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson as well as the transportation area of the Consulate General of the United States in Montreal, Canada.

Kitakis said some of Cherokee’s students are currently working on a collaborative piece that will replicate the artist’s Consulate General sculpture and will debut at the May 15 opening of the exhibit. The original piece features various heads along a train track, and in the students’ version, each child has his or her own person to sculpt. Other works by Cherokee’s students and apprentices will also be on display at the exhibit.

Kitakis said the title of the show, Seeds, seemed appropriate because of the way Cherokee lived his life. The director said the artist always wanted to give back to people and share his art and saw it as spreading seeds.

“He always believed in spreading ‘seeds’, planting them, getting them going. He did a lot of that,” Kitakis said.

The director hopes that visitors to the exhibit will get a feel of how much Cherokee loved creating and sharing his sculptures. “I’m hoping when people walk away they feel that inspiration as well — to get a little more understanding or love of art and then it kind of spreads on,” Kitakis said.

Besides enjoying Cherokee’s work, exhibit-goers will have the opportunity to purchase many of the pieces on display where a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the center. The Spirit of Huntington Art Center is located at 2 Melville Road North in Huntington Station. The Seeds exhibit will open on May 15 with a reception at 6 p.m. and will run through July 15. For more information, call 631-470-9620 or visit www.spiritofhuntingtonartcenter.com.

Superintendent Jim Polansky and newly appointed high school principal Brenden Cusack at a school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. Photo by Jim Hoops

Huntington High School has a new leader at its helm.

The school board promoted Assistant Principal Brenden Cusack on Monday evening to replace longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi, who is retiring this year. Cusack’s appointment is effective July 1.

Cusack, a Babylon resident entering his 20th year in education, has been employed at the district for three years. He was seated in the audience at the school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, and upon his appointment, members of the audience, including his family, cheered and clapped — some offering a standing ovation.

In an interview after the meeting, Cusack said he was eager to continue working on improving academics in the Huntington school district. He also wants to offer more opportunities for students to step up and would like to “try to develop and increased sense of caring” within the community, he said.

“Huntington High School is an amazing school,” Cusack said. “And I think you can see from a distance, [from] the outpouring of help to others, and things like that, and that’s something I want to build on.”

In a statement on the school’s website, Superintendent Jim Polansky lauded Cusack’s appointment.

“Over the past several years, Mr. Cusack has become an integral part of a successful high school team,” he said. “He has earned the respect of his students, staff and colleagues. He brings a wealth of administrative and teaching experience to the position. The achievement and well-being of his students have always been his foremost priorities.”

Cusack is a 1995 graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s in education, according to the statement.

Cusack earned a master’s at CUNY-Queens College in 2002 in adolescent education/English 7-12.

He obtained a professional diploma in school administration and supervision at CUNY-Queens College in 2005. He recently participated in school leadership training at Harvard College.

Couple and young twins uninjured

Firefighters spray water to put out a blaze that engulfed a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning. Photo by Steve Silverman
Firefighters work hard to put out a blaze that engulfed a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning. Photo by Steve Silverman
Firefighters work hard to put out a blaze that engulfed a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning. Photo by Steve Silverman

An East Northport couple and their four-month old boy-and-girl twins escaped unharmed after their home went up in flames on Sunday morning.

The East Northport Fire Department responded to the Cordell Place blaze on Mother’s Day at about 10 a.m. and found the attached garage of a single-family home engulfed in flames, according to a press release from Steve Silverman, public information officer for the Town of Huntington Fire Chiefs Council.

Three propane tanks outside the garage ignited and fueled the fire that spread to the kitchen and living room.

Firefighters check the roof of a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning after a fire destroyed the garage and living room. Photo by Steve Silverman
Firefighters check the roof of a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning after a fire destroyed the garage and living room. Photo by Steve Silverman

More than 50 firefighters from East Northport, Commack and Kings Park fire departments and seven trucks worked to get the fire under control within 20 minutes, led by East Northport Chief Wayne Kaifler Jr. and First Assistant Chief Dan Heffernan. The East Northport Rescue Squad had three ambulances and paramedic unit on the scene for EMS support.

The garage, living room and kitchen were destroyed. and the rest of the home sustained smoke damage.

The Suffolk County Police Arson Squad and Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the fire, according to the press release.

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