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Kyle Barr

Students learn about life cycles while helping to curb Long Island’s growing tick population

Fifty bobwhite quails are being raised at Mount Sinai Elementary School to be released at a park in Ridge. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai Elementary School fourth-graders are raising quails to help curb the tick population.

As part of a seven-year program, teacher Kevin Walsh works with students to raise a group of 50 bobwhite quails from eggs in a classroom incubator, then transfers them to a large pen located in the corner of the courtyard under heat lamps. The young students watch their project grow before their eyes and learn about the natural process of life.

“We teach the kids about food chains, about ecosystems, predator-prey relationships and the needs that all our creatures have to survive,” Walsh said. “We teach kids how to properly carefor living animals. It carries with them later in life.”

Mount Sinai Elementary School fourth-graders are in the process of raising 50 bobwhite quails. Photo by Kyle Barr

As similar as the quails are to one another, the fourth-graders who raised them said they could be distinguished by their look and personality.

One is named Michael Jackson, another Brittany, Roadrunner, Scooter and Beyoncé. The kids curled their fingers through links in the mesh fence and called the quails by name to see if they would touch their hands.

“They claim they can tell them apart,” said Walsh as he watched them, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ They all look the same to me.”

The school received the quail eggs in April and watched the quails hatch inside their classroom incubator. By the end of this month, the quails will have reached the size of a grown man’s fist. By the time they are released in July at Brookhaven State Park in Wading River, the teacher said he expects them to double in size.

“Back when I first started last July, one of the first things I saw out here was [Walsh] standing in the courtyard tending to the quails,” said principal Rob Catlin, who is finishing his first year at the helm of the elementary school. “He’s out there seven days a week. In summers and on Memorial Day weekend — he’s coming in to check on them.”

Quails, as birds who stay close the ground, are a natural predator for ticks, whose population has swelled in recent years. If the problem wasn’t already as front and center as it was for Walsh, two years ago he was infected with Lyme disease, and for days was cooped up in his home suffering pains and a fever.

“We teach the kids about food chains, about ecosystems, predator-prey relationships and the needs that all our creatures have to survive.”

— Kevin Walsh

The disease can be debilitating and infectious, and causes severe headaches, joint aches and tiredness, especially if not treated immediately. Left untreated the disease can potentially cause paralysis in the face, heart palpitations and memory issues.

“Luckily I got the meds really quickly, but I haven’t been that sick in a long time,” Walsh said. “I had aches, pains, a high fever and was sweating like crazy. This project has taken on a more personal meaning since then.”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said without Walsh there would be no quails.

“It’s near impossible to find a guy as dedicated as Kevin,” Brosdal said.

Walsh recalled moving to the suburbs of Long Island from the city, and how his mother called his father at work, excited to learn their new home came with a flock of chickens. She later learned they were a flock of brown speckled bobwhite quails.

With changing times, Long Island’s quail population has changed, too, seeing a severe decline due to loss of habitat and excess predation.

“The quail like open landscapes – really sunlit areas,” Walsh said. “And a lot of the places left on Long Island are wooded, heavily forested or turned into developed land.”

Local biologist Eric Powers said household cats have also made a huge dent in population.

“It’s pretty simple math — one plus one,” Powers said. “You add cats to an environment and they just decimate the local ground dwelling animal population, particularly the birds.” 

Mount Sinai Elementary School teacher Kevin Walsh shows off one of the 50 bobwhite quails his class is raising. Photo by Kyle Barr

Walsh receives his quails every year through a program developed by Powers back in 2002 for the dual purpose of rejuvenating the local quail population while curbing the rising tick problem, which gets worse every year with a lack of natural predators.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of illnesses related to ticks, mosquitos and fleas have tripled from 2004 to 2016, with 69,313 diseases reported from ticks in New York state in that time. In 2013, the CDC estimated that nationally there were 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually, which is carried by deer tick.

Brosdal’s daughter Erika suffered through the pains of Lyme disease when she was 13 years old. As a father, watching his daughter lay in pain on the couch was heartbreaking.

“She couldn’t breathe,” Brosdal said. “It affected her so terribly – she was an A-grade student until that happened, and then she had to read everything twice. I give her a lot of credit — she’s 44 now and has two master’s degrees and she’s a high school psychologist.”

Brosdal said the quails have an important job to do and “can do a lot of good.” 

Powers said multiple schools participate in his program and will release the quails in parks all over Long Island. If any school or group is interested in raising quails, Powers can be contacted through www.yc2n.com.
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Tips and tricks when handling ticks
By Desirée Keegan

According to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, over 900 calls were received from people seeking advice from its tick helpline in 2017.

A free tick kit provided by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital includes tweezers, a magnifying glass and sanitizing wipes. Photo by Desirée Keegan

If a tick is found on your body, there are ways to safely remove it:

• Tweezers are the best tool and should be placed as close to the skin as possible — grabbing the tick’s head.

• Pull upward with a slow and steady motion and try to avoid breaking the tick in half. If the head snaps off, know disease transmission is not possible without the entire body.

• Disinfect the bit area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water and contact a physician. Consider placing the tick in a baggie or pill vial.

• Pay attention to your health in the weeks following.

There are also ways to reduce your exposure, like checking for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees or between legs and on the hairline and scalp.
Remove and dry clothing on high heat as soon as possible to kill ticks. They can’t be drowned by washing. You can create a tick-safe yard by mowing frequently and keeping leaves raked. Also be sure to treat dogs and cats.

One tick can carry multiple pathogens. Deer ticks or blacklegged ones have no white markings, are brown or black in color and are very, very small. Both nymph and adult stages can transmit diseases like Lyme and babesiosis.

For more information on handling and treating ticks or for a free removal kit visit www.eastendtickresource.org or call the helpline at 631-726-TICK (8425).

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland, second from left, helps build a robot with his high school robotics team Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

By Kyle Barr

Even at 17, Rocky Point High School senior Kyle Markland is a renaissance man.

Markland is a scientist and a musician, an engineer and an artist. This past year, he competed in several regional and national science fairs with his project on improving GPS technologies in autonomous cars. On May, 6 he played double bass for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland hoists up a championship trophies with his high school robotics team, Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

“The balance of his technical skills and his creativity — how he’s able to excel in both areas at such a high level is tremendous,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

In 2013 Markland took a trip to the First LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first stops he made was to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, where he saw pictures and models of the wondrous inventions of one of the world’s most famous engineers and painters. It inspired something within himself.

“It really took me back how intelligent he was — a lot of his engineering stuff, but also how he was an artist, with all his paintings like the Mona Lisa — he stands out in so many different areas,” Markland said. “It’s something that I want to do for myself — stand out and do the best I can in a lot of different arenas.”

Just like how da Vinci was an inventor and engineer, Markland too has a knack for understanding the way things work, and expressed his engineering skills through LEGO Mindstorms.

Mindstorms is a branch of LEGO where technic blocks are used to program robots that can perform any number of functions. The senior took an interest in robotics when he was in 5th grade, saving up birthday money for several years before buying his first Mindstorms kit.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland performed with his bass at Carnegie Hall. Photo from Lori Markland

In 2014 he created the YouTube channel Builderdude35, where he regularly posts tutorials and videos of his LEGO creations. Markland has over 14,000 subscribers, and said he regularly receives questions and requests for help from people all over the world.

“The tutorials were a way of sharing my own experience that I learned through [school] or at home,” Markland said.

In April he published the book “Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots,” in which he highlights six of his unique robotics projects — all of which he built and coded. One of his flagship creations is a quirky interactive robot named “Grunt” that will eat different colored LEGO blocks and react differently to each one. The robot will respond to when waved at, and even stick out a small LEGO claw to shake your hand.

Markland’s mother, Lori, recalled her son marveling at the way things worked even at a young age.

“His passion was cars, building, robotics, machinery,” she said. “When we brought him to a cotton candy machine, he was looking at all the moving parts underneath it.”

The senior does all this with an incredibly busy schedule. He spends most of his time travelling, whether for scientific research, music or robotics, and still finds the time for schoolwork. To Markland, music is his most calming influence. It helps to settle his mind. He said the music is also not only just for him.

“I want to feel like I’m using my time for something bigger than myself,” Markland said. “I want to feel accomplished. The channel is a way to teach people, the book is a way to teach people; my music is something that makes people happy.”

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland holds up a book he published on building robots. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Markland will graduate salutatorian of his class. He was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and California Institute of Technology, and chose MIT not just because he sees it as the most prestigious, but because the admissions officer personally called to congratulate him.

“[It’s] crazy, because they don’t really do that,” Markland said.

Next week Markland will be travelling to participate at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will face off against 1,800 students from over 75 different countries.

“From the get-go Kyle has been very self-motivated,” Markland’s science teacher and mentor at Nancy Hunter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who matches his ability define a problem, figure out how he’s going to go about solving a problem, and does it all.”

While the science fair sounds daunting, the student has been methodical in his preparation. In times of stress, he said he thinks of something his cousin, a soldier in the U.S Marines, told him: “He told me, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than one who plans his work and works his plan.’”

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Most people would be ecstatic to have millions of dollars put aside for a rainy day, but for school districts it’s not such a benefit, at least according to state law.

The New York State comptroller, who serves as a financial watchdog on public institutions, issued a report June 1 that said the Mount Sinai School District had amassed millions of dollars in its fund budget higher
than the legal max of 4 percent of the districts overall budget. Mount Sinai has said it intends to comply with the suggestions of the report, but some trustees said the restrictions on rainy-day funds only hamper the
district’s ability to handle its finances.

“We knew we couldn’t wait — those projects needed to be done now. I think that according to the [budget] vote the residents agreed with us.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“If you spent all the money you got every year, and then had nothing left, how fiscally responsible is that?” incoming board trustee Steve Koepper said.

The report said officials overestimated expenditures by more than $7.5 million and had underestimated revenues by $1.7 million from the 2014-15 through the 2016-17 school years. In the three years examined in the report, the district operated at a surplus and did not use any of its appropriated fund balance. This led to Mount Sinai’s unrestricted fund balance to be equal to 19.8 percent of the overall 2016-17 budget, way above the 4 percent limit.

The unassigned fund balance is developed from a school district having leftover, unspent funds by the end of each school year, and these funds accumulate. There are three levels to a districts total fund balance, including the restricted fund balance, which can only be spent for specific purposes like retirements; the appropriated balance, which is what the district sets up every year that can be spent from the overall funds; and the unassigned fund balance, or the unused portion. As of the 2016-17 school year, the district had $1.61 million appropriated and $9.9 million unassigned, according to the report.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said at the June 12 board of education meeting that talks with auditors have been congenial, and that they already have plans in motion to resolve the issue by using the funds in the already established capital project.

In the district’s 2018-19 adopted budget Mount Sinai residents voted 787-176 in favor of using $5 million of the unassigned fund balance to make repairs to the high school roof, upgrade the turf field and replace the campus’ perimeter fences, as well as other school security improvements. 

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal speaks to community members about the state comptroller’s audit findings during a June 12 board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We hope that they will listen to our plan to spend down the fund balance, rather than just say, ‘No, your fund balance is too high,’” Brosdal said.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said Mount Sinai is not the only district in the state that has been caught with a surplus of unassigned fund balance.

“We have districts in the state showing that they are using fund balance, but that money is not being spent,” Butry said. “You have districts planning for one thing that doesn’t materialize, or you have districts overestimating their expenditures and then just continually have this surplus that rolls over into the next year.”

According to Butry, the penalty for not complying with the comptroller’s report could be a withholding of state funds up to the amount that district’s fund balance is over the 4 percent limit.

Koepper works as the superintendent of buildings and grounds at Sayville school district, and he said that so many districts do not operate within the limit because it does not make financial sense to do so.

“To be imposed upon by the state ties our hands, because if emergencies occur what do you do?” Koepper said. “Especially because you’re not allowed to overspend your budget.”

“To be imposed upon by the state ties our hands, because if emergencies occur what do you do? Especially because you’re not allowed to overspend your budget.”

— Steve Koepper

Butry said the law is in place to keep school districts from having too much money on hand that’s not being put toward productive use. He added the comptroller’s office often recommends putting the surplus into a one-time expenditure or to use it in subsequent school years for reducing the tax levy.

Brosdal said the district had already planned to use the unrestricted fund balance for the capital projects months before the district received any news on the comptroller’s findings.

“We knew we couldn’t wait — those projects needed to be done now,” Brosdal said. “I think that according to the [budget] vote the residents agreed with us.”

In the letter to the state comptroller the district also said it would be establishing a capital reserve of $750,000 in an effort to reduce the unassigned fund balance. The district letter said there’s five-year-plan
effects that should reduce the overage by more than half, below the 4 percent limit, within two years. This will include tightening the amounts the district uses in fund balance appropriations for future school years.

Butry said that the comptroller’s office was largely satisfied with the district’s response so far.

“To their credit,” he said, “they did say they were putting this money to use.”

As members of the Mount Sinai Yacht Club in Cedar Beach came out June 10 for the 15th annual blessing of the fleet, most understood, as old of a tradition it is, the blessing is time-honored way to guarantee
a successful boating season.

“This is for the entire season to make sure [the club’s members] have a safe and fun boating season,” said Reverend Jerry Nedelka, Venerable Canon for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. He has conducted
the blessing of the fleet ceremony for nearly two decades. “This is a great opportunity for fellowship among friends and club members.”

This year Nedelka and Reverend Francis Lasrado of Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, held up a cross and gave blessings to the many boats, both large and small, of the yacht club’s members as they crossed in front of the marina. The reverends even blessed the Town of Brookhaven’s pump out boat as it crawled its way across the harbor to the mouth of the Long Island Sound.

The blessing was attended by club trustee Bill Dick along with various local government officials including
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

“This … shows our strong, community-focused mindset,” Dick said.

Anker said the club plays a big park protecting the local harbor front and environment, especially when it comes to the repair of the channel that travels from Mount Sinai Harbor into the Sound, which is constantly affected by erosion and storms.

“They are good stewards of our environment,” Anker said. “They are an anchor in the marina community, and
they have been instrumental in efforts to repair the channel.”

From left, Michael O’Dwyer and Annie and Stephen Healy enjoy last year’s event. Photo courtesy of TVHS

By Kyle Barr

If there’s anything that we know about the 1920s, it’s that the parties were wild. Despite, or likely because, of Prohibition, the music was loud and idiosyncratic as jazz came onto the scene, and the alcohol flowed as if by fountains into the expecting mouths of flappers and bootleggers alike.

Setauket’s Three Village Historical Society, in collaboration with The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook is hoping to bring that period of time back to life with the second running of their annual Prohibition Night fundraiser at The Jazz Loft next Thursday, June 14 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The event, sponsored by the Montauk Brewing Company, will include snacks, wine, beer and raffles.

This time the TVHS is adding an extra layer of early 20th-century history with a new emphasis on the women’s suffrage movement and how that tied into a time of cultural revolution.

The fundraiser will feature memorabilia from the Women’s Suffrage Movement including this stamp from the collection of the Melville Family papers.

“You had this revolution with the women’s movement and the right to vote, and you had this revolution with the clothing, with flappers and the Charleston and the bobbed haircuts,” said Tom Manuel, owner of The Jazz Loft. “These were real renegade statements of society and culture, and its cool when you put them together.”

The Jazz Loft will have several items on display relating to women’s suffrage, including several articles, papers and artifacts housed in display cases as well as a mannequin fully dressed up in the class women’s suffrage garb with a large purple sash reading “Votes for Women,” courtesy of Nan Guzzetta of Antique Costumes & Prop Rental by Nan in Port Jefferson.

“[The movement] was really ahead of its time,” said Stephen Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society. “It’s interesting to see if history is going to repeat itself or we will move on from here. The movement has been a longtime coming.”

That historical revolution collided with the cultural revolution of the 1920s, as many of the same women who campaigned for the women’s vote also stumped for the temperance movement. Suddenly, with the ban of the sale and consumption of alcohol in 1919, a whole new era of organized crime and mass criminality was born as the sale of alcohol eclipsed any decade before or after it.

“Everybody became creative with getting alcohol,” Healy said. “From everything with potato farmers out on the east end of Long Island and vodka creation, and I can’t imagine [the activity] between the water and the farms and the amount of backdoor distributing that was taking place on Long Island.”

The fundraiser will feature memorabilia from the Women’s Suffrage Movement including this “Vote Yes” stamp from the collection of the Melville Family papers.

But it wouldn’t be the 1920s without jazz, and Manuel said he has that covered. Manuel’s band, The Hot Peppers, will be performing live music straight from the jazz giants of the period such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Thomas “Fats” Waller and more.

“I think for us it really supports and makes a statement about who we are,” Manuel said. “Our mission is jazz preservation, jazz education and jazz performance. Any time we can take history and allow it to come to life, we served our mission.”

Last year’s Prohibition Night was supremely successful with sold out tickets and a packed room. Healy said he expects this year to do just as good or even better.

“It was a great success, it sold out, and it gave us some cross pollination between history and The Jazz Loft,” Healy said.

Manuel agreed that the event is the perfect blend of history and recreation. “Any time we collaborate with something in the community, it really solidifies the statement they say about jazz, which is that it’s all about collaboration,” he said. 

The Jazz Loft, located at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Village, will host the 2nd annual Prohibition Night: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in New York State on Thursday, June 14 from  6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 seniors, $15 students. Period costumes are encouraged. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org.

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown volunteers hopped to saving nearly 30 domestic rabbits that were left alone and abandoned in a tick and poison ivy infected stretch of forest last week in Ronkonkoma.

Smithtown-based nonprofit Guardians of Rescue received a tip about the illegally released rabbits and reached out to local animal rescue groups for help. Volunteers spent close to two full days overall, May 27 and 28, capturing 27 rabbits that had been marooned in a forest near the Ronkonkoma train station commuter parking lot. One was found dead in the forest and another died while receiving care.

“These particular rabbit breeds were not suited for the wild,” Robert Misseri, the president of Guardians of Rescue said. “There is no telling how long they would have lasted, but it would have not been long.”

After Misseri got a tip from a local feral cat rescuer, he said he put the call out to several local animal rescue groups including the Sound Beach-based nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League.

Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves.”

– Frankie Floridia

The first rabbit that Erica Kutzing, vice president for the Strong Island rescue group, saw when she arrived at the forest was larger than any wild rabbit should have been. It was a Flemish Giant, a huge breed of rabbit known for being extremely calm around humans. Kutzing got down to its level and laid out rabbit feed in a line and the rabbit loped toward her. From behind her, Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island rescue, flashed out with a net and caught the rabbit. Kutzing held it as she brought it back to their car. It was nearly as big as a small dog.

“Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves,” Floridia said. “They were giving those rabbits a death sentence.

Many of the rabbits found were of different breeds including Lionheads and Flemish Giants. Some had obviously interbred with each other, which makes the rescue groups believe all these animals were held together in only a few small cages.

“Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds,” Kutzing said. “It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”

Misseri said he suspects the person who abandoned the rabbits might have been breeding them.

Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds. It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”

– Erica Kutzing

Many of the animals were sick with pneumonia. Others were injured by the cage they were kept in and the rabbits they were caged with, according to Misseri. Several had cysts on their skin and many were suffering from malnourishment. The first rabbit Strong Island rescue captured is currently being nursed back to health, and they have named it André the Giant after the famous French wrestler and actor.

“Once we caught him we were running through the woods, it was just net after net after net,” Kutzing said. “And you have to be careful picking these guys up because if they kick strong enough they’ll break their backs, if they get too frightened they can have a heart attack. They have paper-thin skin so if you handle them wrong you can tear the skin.”

The rescued rabbits have been sent out to multiple animal rescue operations in the surrounding area. Six were taken in by Guardians of Rescue, but all those have already been fostered out. Several more were taken in by Long Island Orchestrating for Nature from Malverne, the Connecticut-based Hopalong Hollow Rabbit Rescue and Queens-based All About Rabbits Rescue.

The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has put out a $3,500 reward for a person who leads them and authorities to the person who abandoned the animals. Several local animal rescue groups donated money toward that reward, namely Guardians of Rescue, Strong Island Animal Rescue League and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature who  put up $500 each, while the SPCA and All About Rabbits Rescue put up $1,000 each.

This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County.”

– Vivian Barna

“We at the SPCA take this very seriously, especially in cases of abandonment like this,” Suffolk SPCA President Roy Gross said. “This is a case of abandonment and animal cruelty, and so the person or persons involved in this are up for criminal charges. All that person had to do was to pick up a phone, call any of these organizations and we would have found a home for them, but instead he abandoned them.”

Vivian Barna, who runs All About Rabbits Rescue, took in six of the rabbits, and said that rabbit abandonment on Long Island, especially in Suffolk, is endemic.

“This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County,” Barna said. “This is about our fourth or fifth recent rescue. We had rescued 25 in Bohemia back in December 2016, another set in Northport not too long ago. These rabbits were just deprived. They had illnesses including upper respiratory problems, intestinal parasites, and these six rabbits are costing us close to $2,500 to give them that care.”

Gross said there have been instances of rabbit abandonment recently not too far from where the rabbits were dumped in Ronkonkoma.

“We had a case just recently of other rabbits dumped in Lake Ronkonkoma,” Gross said. “This may possibly be the same person, but there’s no way right now to be sure.”

All rescue groups mentioned in the story said that if people were interested in fostering the rabbits or wished to donate to call to call and inquire. People inquiring about the rescued rabbits can call the
Guardians of Rescue at 888-287-3864.

The SPCA said that any tips about the person who abandoned the rabbits can be sent to their phone number 631-382-7722. All calls will be anonymous.

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Fire commissioners have preliminary results of study on rescue response times; may not release outcome before the vote

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

By Kyle Barr

Some St. James residents are feeling burned over the St. James Fire District’s plans to sell the Route 25A firehouse as the hamlet heads toward a referendum vote June 19.

More than 70 people attended a May 30 community forum where the St. James Fire District presented its plans to sell the iconic two-story, white firehouse back to the St. James Fire Department, as well as its
future plans for the building.

On June 19, Commissioner Ed Springer said the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use — will ask community residents to approve a sale of the Route 25A firehouse for $500,000 back to St. James Fire Department, an organization representing volunteers for fire and emergency response services.

The fire district purchased the building in 2013 with original intentions of operating it as a second firehouse to the Jefferson Avenue facility and pass a bond for upcoming repair work. Two bond votes have since failed, one in 2013 and a second request for $12 million in September 2017.

We’re going to have to do [a] tremendous amount of work on both firehouses.”

– Ed Springer

“The department wants the building back, and we need to do work on both buildings” Springer said. “We could rent the space to them for $20,000 a year, which we think is pretty reasonable.”

If the vote passes, St. James residents raised questions over what fate holds for the iconic firehouse and how it may impact their local fire rescue services.

Springer said the district will consider leasing space in the building at a rate of $20,000 a year to store equipment and host community events, but final cost and specific details have not been finalized.

Glen Itzkowitz, board chairman of St. James Fire Department, said the department would then use the money from that lease to complete much-needed renovations on both the Route 25A firehouse and the Jefferson Avenue headquarters. The organization’s members would offer their time and skills during construction to help reduce labor costs of the project.

“We’re going to have to do [a] tremendous amount of work on both firehouses,” Springer said. “Back when we wanted the last bond to pass it would cost $250 per square foot, now you’re talking about $450 per square foot.”

But it remains unclear whether or not the Route 25A firehouse would continue to serve as a base of fire rescue operations.

We are so fortunate to have a fire station on both sides of the train tracks.”

– Peter Macari

St. James resident Peter Macari, a 24-year member of the fire department, said many in the community fear response times would increase if the Route 25A firehouse is no longer used as a working fire station.

“We are so fortunate to have a fire station on both sides of the train tracks,” Macari said. “If that building can get a fireman to that person’s house in the time it takes to save them, then that building did its job.”

The district currently operates one fire truck out of the Route 25A fire station, but Springer said the district does have plans to perform a trial run of operating all fire department services out of the Jefferson
Avenue headquarters — once it can make much-needed renovations.

“Is there sometime in the future where we might look to do a trial period to bring all apparatus down to the one firehouse, yes, but we still plan to lease that firehouse for a number of years,” the fire commissioner said. “Understand that its difficult during the day to have two crews out in two different places.”

This spring, the commissioners of St. James Fire District hired a third-party consultant RFG Fire Rescue Consulting to conduct a study on response times of both fire houses to different parts of the hamlet. The study includes public feedback on performance collected through an online survey. While an initial draft report of the findings is complete, fire district officials said that they will release the report only once it is reviewed by the district and consultant, but gave no specific date on when that might be or whether it will be released before the June 19 referendum vote.

“It seems silly to sell it when they don’t have a complete plan.”

– John Rowan

Itzkowitz said almost all operations for the department already occur at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse, and that current response times are sufficient to anywhere in the 4.5-square-mile area.

John Rowan, of St. James, asked why the department wouldn’t hold off the vote until they could confirm exactly what they wanted to do with the property down the line.

“It seems like [the fire district] doesn’t have those exact numbers on how much renovations or how much a new building will cost,” Rowan said. “I don’t think they know what they want to build in the future. It seems silly to sell it when they don’t have a complete plan.”

Springer said that three of the five commissioners, including himself, have promised long-term commitments to lease the 25A firehouse into the foreseeable future. But Springer’s term as commissioner is up this coming January, and he said he does not plan to seek reappointment.

If the referendum is approved June 19, the fire commissioner said the sale or lease of the Route 25A firehouse would not have any impact on residents’ taxes. Should it fail, Springer said the necessary renovations would require raising the tax levy.

The referendum to sell the 25A firehouse will take place on June 19 from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse on 221 Jefferson Ave.

Annual enrollment numbers of 2012-13 school year compared to 2016-17. Graphic by TBR News Media

By Kyle Barr

A shadow hangs above the heads of Long Island’s school districts: The specter of declining enrollment.

“From last year, not a whole lot has changed, enrollment is still declining,” Barbara Graziano, the manager of the Office of School Planning and Research for Western Suffolk BOCES said. “What a lot of districts are seeing is there is a significant displacement between their graduating classes being larger than the following year’s kindergarten classes.”

School enrollment across Suffolk County has been in decline for nearly a decade. In last year’s annual report on enrollment, Western Suffolk BOCES, a regional educational service agency, said there was a 9.1 percent overall decline in enrollment in townships from Huntington to Smithtown from 2010 to 2016.

Students at Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center hop off the school bus. Photo from Middle Country school district

Between the 2006-07 and 2016-17 school years, Long Island saw a 6.2 percent decline in enrollment, according to Robert Lowry, the deputy director for advocacy, research and communications at the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Statewide enrollment declined 4.2 percent in the same period. Nearly every school district on Suffolk County’s North Shore has seen at least some decline, and the trend can have tangible effects on a district’s long- and short-term planning.

“Declining enrollment may push a district toward reconsidering staffing and whether it’s necessary to close a school,” Lowry said.

Smithtown Central School District in the 2012-13 school year had 10,317 students enrolled in the district, and four years later the number dropped more than a thousand to 9,241 in 2016-17. The declining enrollment was cited in 2012, with guidance from the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing, as the rationale behind the closing of Nesconset Elementary School, and again in 2017 when the district closed Brook Branch Elementary School.

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment,” Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane said in an email. “The district
will continue to monitor its enrollment trends to plan for the future.”

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment.”

— James Grossane

Experts cite factors like declining birthrate, aging population and changes in local immigration patterns as potentially having an impact on local enrollment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in May indicating the national birthrate in 2017 hit a 30-year low with 60.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. The national birthrate has been in general decline since the 1960s, but this most recent report is low even compared to 10 years ago when the birthrate was closer to 70 births per 1,000 women. Suffolk County’s population is also skewing older. Census data from the American Community Survey showed from 2010 to 2016 there was an estimated 28,288 less school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 19 living in the county. School closings are probably the most severe action districts tend to take to mitigate the effect of declining enrollment, but it is not the only option.

The Three Village Central School District has seen enrollment drop by about 900 students during the last decade. In its recently passed budget the district said it was making several staffing changes, including consolidating the roles of certain staff members. The district cited declining enrollment along with staff retirements and attrition for the changes, but also promised to add a new high school guidance counselor and an additional district psychologist to give attention to individual student’s mental health.

“While our district, like so many others in our area, have recently been experiencing a decline in enrollment, particularly at the elementary level, we have taken this opportunity to create efficiencies using current staff in order to lower class size and support a number of new initiatives, programmatic enhancements and student support services,” Cheryl Pedisich, the superintendent for Three Village schools said in an email.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid.”

— Al Marlin

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said lower enrollment allows for smaller class sizes and for more attention to the mental health of individual students.

“Our students today need a little bit more mental health support than students yesterday,” Eagen said. “Obviously we don’t need as many elementary sections, but we haven’t necessarily decreased our total staffing amount because we’ve been increasing our mental health supports.”

Even with those potential benefits, many districts are still trying to work out the long-term implications of lower enrollment. Al Marlin, a spokesperson for the New York State School Boards Association said enrollment has a large effect on how much state aid a school can procure.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid because New York’s school-aid distribution formula is based, in part, on enrollment numbers,” Marlin said in an email. “Declining enrollment also can make it more difficult for districts to sustain academic courses, including Advanced Placement courses and programs such as sports teams.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district conducted an enrollment study in 2015 that was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to 2,170 as of May. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of the declining enrollment.

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, school classrooms, like those at Principal Christine Carlson’s Miller Avenue School, were expanded to include bathrooms. File photo by Kyle Barr

“It is difficult to predict the exact number, but it is fair to say that the enrollment decline in the district will be continuing in the near future,” SWR superintendent Gerard Poole said in an email.

Superintendents from SWR and Rocky Point school district both said they do not have any plans to close schools, but there is a possibility lower enrollment could affect the districts’ ability to apply for grants.

A few districts are breaking the trend. Huntington Union Free School District has actually seen an increase in school enrollment from 2012 to 2017, but Superintendent James Polansky said in the most recent years that increase has started to level off. Polansky did not want to speculate as to why enrollment in Huntington was not decreasing like other districts, but Graziano said it might be because the district is more diverse and attracts more immigration than nearby districts.

“Every district is different, they have to look at their own schools and communities to see how they deal with enrollment,” Polansky said.

Every year Western Suffolk BOCES releases a report that looks at schools’ current enrollment and compares it to previous years. Graziano, who is working on this year’s report, most likely to be released sometime this month, said the agency expects a continuing decline in school enrollment at least for the next several years. Though eventually, she said, the declining enrollment should level off as entering kindergarten class sizes stabilize. However, there is no telling when that might be. 

“Birthrates do not seem to be increasing, it doesn’t look like, as of right now, that’s going to turn around any time soon,” Graziano said. “But of course, we don’t have a crystal ball.”

Costume maker Tom DePetrillo will return this year as the Marvel Comics Giant Hulkbuster. Photo from Angeline Judex

By Kyle Barr

Creativity, innovation, experimentation and a whole lot of fun are all on the menu as the Village of Port Jefferson gears up for the third annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire to be held on June 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium (formerly the Maritime Explorium) and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the event will take place at the Explorium, all three floors of the Port Jefferson Village Center and spill out onto the adjacent Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park as makers from all over Long Island and beyond will come bringing robots, music, woodworking, metal sculptures and practically anything handmade to celebrate the exciting worlds of science, technology, engineering, music, art and math.

Last year the event drew more than 2,000 visitors who were able to experience everything from 3-D printing to flame belching metal sculptures. 

Ray Rumore with his robot ‘Volt’ at last year’s Mini Maker Faire. Photo from Chris Rumore

Angeline Judex, executive director of the Explorium in Port Jefferson, said she expects close to 60 “Makers” will be there for this year’s event. “At this event, people are able to explore new concepts and technologies, take [this knowledge] home with them and then dive into their own exploration and engagement to create their own maker experience,” Judex said in an email. “It transforms theory into reality. It excites, inspires and motivates the next generation to embrace STEM as a resource for innovative problem solving.”

New this year will be the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra featuring students from the Waldorf School in Garden City using carrots, squash and gourds as musical instruments and a visit from the Suffolk County Chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which will demonstrate how trades such as blacksmithing, inks and paints and naval shipbuilding technology have evolved over time. 

Returning this year will be costume maker Tom DePetrillo from Rhode Island-based Extreme Costumes who dazzled participants in last year’s Makers Faire with his burly Transformers Bumblebee costume. This year he will be bringing a to-scale HulkBuster Iron Man suit seen in the movies “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“People really enjoy the giant costumes,” said DePetrillo. 

The Hulkbuster costume took 10 months and approximately 1,600 man hours to complete. DePetrillo tours all over the world with his giant designs as a full-time job. It enables him to keep making and creating. “It allows me to have an outlet for my creative energy,” he said. “I do this because I love doing it.”

Father and son team Chris and Ray Rumore have been attending the Mini Maker Faire every year since its inception. Ray Rumore got involved with 3-D printing, crafting and robotics, and created a robot named “Volt,” a companion robot who can follow him around and live stream events with his on-board camera.

“Ray enjoys three main things about Maker Faires — they allow him the opportunity to encourage others to join the fun and become a Maker, the opportunity to meet other Makers and learning about their creations and the food,” the elder Rumore said in an email.

The event is sponsored in part by Stony Brook University, BASF Chemical Company, Capital One, Riverhead Building Supplies and Suffolk County Community College.

The Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire will be held on June 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, at the Maritime Explorium, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson. Tickets, which are $10 per person, are available online at www.easternlongislandmakerfaire.com and at the door. Parking will be available around the Village of Port Jefferson, Off Street Parking, Brookhaven Town Lot as well as Spring Street. The Port Jeff Jitney will be running during the day. For further information, please call 631-331-3277.

Nikola Tesla, depicted in statue at top, was a Serbian-American inventor who had a lab built in Shoreham, where the statue sits. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Shoreham’s Wardenclyffe property, the site of famed Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla’s last living laboratory, is up for consideration for historical site status by the New York State Historic Preservation Office June 7.

“We want to make the world aware, more than it is now, of the site’s importance,” said Jane Alcorn, president of the board of directors of Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. “It gives the community and our investors some assurance that we’re moving in the right direction, that were not just gaining local recognition, but state and national as well.”

Inventor Nikola Tesla’s Shoreham laboratory, built in 1901, is his las lab still standing. TBR News Media

In 2012 the science center worked with The Oatmeal comic website to launch a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $1.37 million to purchase the land. Since then the nonprofit has renovated the property with plans to turn the site into a museum and incubator for technology-based business startups.

Alcorn said the board hired a historic architect consultant who documented the land and its legacy. The group worked for months crafting a 92-page document describing Tesla’s life along with the many minute details of the 16-acre property, such as which buildings are historic and which are not, when each was built, and by what person and company.

Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, said that having the property on the historic register would help to indefinitely safeguard the land.

“It’s preserving it for future generations,” Alessi said. “When you get something registered as a historic landmark, we’ll be able to rest easy knowing 500 years from now if society completely changes, there is a very good chance the lab will still be there.”

“When you get something registered as a historic landmark, we’ll be able to rest easy knowing 500 years from now if society completely changes, there is a very good chance the lab will still be there.”

— Marc Alessi

Alcorn said getting historical status would not only increase the project’s notoriety, but would also allow the group to apply for state grants they wouldn’t be eligible for without the historic status.

“It’s often one of the requirements of many state grants — that you are located on the historic register,” Alcorn said. “We’ve been eliminated from granting opportunities in the past due to that lack.”

Many modern-day entrepreneurs and scientists have a vested interest in the lab’s history. Tesla, a self-starter and entrepreneur, created many technological innovations still used today, such as alternating current and electromagnetism technology. His research influenced modern day X-rays.

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose, but in 1903 creditors confiscated his equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today.

The science center submitted the final historic register application nearly a month ago, and next week it will be reviewed by the state’s national register review board. The review process takes several weeks, and if
accepted, the property will be put on the state register of historic places. The application will then automatically go to the National Register of Historic Places review board for the potential of being put on the national registry. That process will take several months.

A sign outside of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe shows it was designed by architect Stanford White, as inscribed. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Not everything submitted to the national registry gets listed, but New York has a very good track record, so hopefully we’ll be hearing a good thing from this one,” said Jennifer Betsworth, a historic preservation
specialist for the state preservation department.

Only a day after the center announced its application, it had more than 6,700 people sign letters in support of the application, according to Alessi, and were sent to the state historic preservation review board.

Betsworth said despite how the property has been modified through the years, it has value as Tesla’s last intact laboratory and has historical significance as the site of some of his last and most ambitious inventions.

“It’s a bit complicated because it’s a building that’s absolutely covered with later additions that aren’t historic, so its value is not necessarily immediately obvious,” said Betsworth. “If this wasn’t the last remaining laboratory related to Tesla, it might not have been eligible. The incredible rarity and significance of this
resource is what it has going for it.”

The science center is currently working to fundraise for the first phase of a project that would turn two buildings on the grounds into exhibition spaces for science education. The fundraising has reached $6 million out of the planned $20 million, according to Alessi. The science center hopes to have the first part of a functioning museum up and running by the end of next year.

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