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Lake Avenue

Michael McDermott

A popular Kings Park middle school gym teacher Michael McDermott died tragically on Sunday, July 14, at age 37. He was jogging on the shoulder of the southbound lane of Lake Avenue in St. James, north of Oak Street, when he was struck and killed by a southbound car at 12:21 p.m. 

The driver, Keith Clancy, age 32 of Mattituck, fled the scene in a Nissan sedan and was located and arrested about 30 minutes later, according to police reports, near exit 69 on the Long Island Expressway heading east with a smashed windshield. He was charge with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. 

End of the 2019 season Kings Park JV Baseball game

McDermott served as physical education teacher and coach for 14 years at the William T. Rogers Middle School, where he touched many lives with his enthusiasm, kindness and wonderful sense of humor.

“He was a dedicated JV baseball and middle school boys soccer coach, who inspired those around him,” said Superintendent Timothy Eagen in a prepared statement on behalf of the Kings Park school district. “Our hearts are broken after the tremendous loss of this truly dedicated educator, professional, husband and father. Our thoughts are with the McDermott family at this time.”

Students gathered in the dugout at the school’s baseball field on Monday afternoon for an impromptu tribute that grew that evening into a candlelight vigil, where students, teachers, counselors and the community joined in to mourn the loss. 

John Mueller, age 15, a ninth-grade pitcher for 2019 Kings Park JV baseball team said he will always remember Coach McDermott and wants to be like him.

“Coach made me the person I am today,” John said. “He knows right from wrong, and what is good. He was a great coach, gym teacher and person.”

Community members Camille Cardoza and Barbara Mueller, mother of John admired the coach’s positive attitude and the values he instilled such as family first, school second, then baseball. 

Students inscribe tribute to Coach McDermott in dugout.

Memorial services were held Wednesday July 17 at the Branch Funeral Home. A funeral Mass was due to be held Thursday, July 18, at 10 a.m. at Sts. Philip & James R.C. in St. James. 

McDermott is survived by wife Lorraine, and three children Leila, Ryan and Sienna.

 

Photos from Branch Funeral Home, Barbara Mueller, Camille Cardoza and Patrick Moser

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The St. James Long Island Rail Road station house was built and funded by residents in 1873. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society collection

For more than a century, one thoroughfare in St. James has been hustling and bustling. It’s no surprise that the Smithtown town board and St. James residents have been directing their energy toward the revitalization of Lake Avenue in the last couple of years with the nonprofit organization Celebrate St. James. With the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road to St. James in 1872, the avenue and connecting streets quickly became the center of local commerce, especially around the LIRR station house.

The flatiron building in St. James was built in 1908 by Joseph Amey. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society collection

Smithtown Historian Brad Harris said the station house in St. James located near the northwest corner of Lake Avenue and Railroad Avenue was built in 1873 by community members, who also paid for it. Soon stage actors and other visitors from New York City, including Mayor William Gaynor, who once lived in Deepwells Mansion, were visiting the hamlet on a regular basis, especially in the summer.

“There was activity the town had never seen before,” Harris said.

Local historian Noel Gish said the St. James station house is the LIRR’s oldest one in existence still standing in its original form. In the early 1970s, the railroad considered remodeling it or tearing it down, when it was in need of painting. Louise Hall, who was the director of the Smithtown Historical Society at the time, organized a group of women to paint it, Gish said, and when the LIRR found out, they sent staff members to do the job, and the station house remained as it was.

Harris said as more people traveled to St. James, boarding houses and hotels were built to accommodate them. One hotel was built on the southeast corner of Lake and Railroad where Garguilo’s Bakery is located today. Built in 1905, the Nissequogue Hotel accommodated the visitors vacationing in the area in the summer and coming to hunt in the cooler weather. The hotel, that was renamed the St. James Hotel, was destroyed by fire in December 1962.

“The friendly ghosts of the Calderone Theater have been with me throughout the metamorphosis of this structure.”

— Natalie Weinstein

In 1908, a unique structure was built across the street from the hotel by Joseph Amey. Shaped like the flatiron building in New York City, it still stands today and has been home to various businesses throughout the decades including a soda fountain. Harris said at one point a bowling alley was located toward the back of the building in the basement, and the roof of the alley stuck out above the street.

Through the decades businesses with names such as Harry’s Barber Shop, Riis’s Stationery and Barber Shop, Sam’s Meat Market and Bohack’s Supermarket have lined Lake Avenue. Harris, who is a 50-year resident of the hamlet, said his favorite building is where Uniquely Natalie Quality Consignment is now located on Second Street off of Lake Avenue. He said the structure dates back to the 1930s, and at one time it was the Calderone Theater, which showcased live performances and silent movies. The building now houses the St. James Museum featuring local memorabilia.

Natalie Weinstein, owner of the building, purchased it in 1985.

“The friendly ghosts of the Calderone Theater have been with me throughout the metamorphosis of this structure, since I purchased it with my husband Bernie in 1985,” she said.

In addition to housing Uniquely Natalie and the museum, Celebrate St. James hosts social and cultural events at the former theater.

“It is a pivotal place for this town to regain its love and appreciation of its history, as we begin to revitalize economically and recapture what this small town has to offer,” Weinstein said.

Harris said he believes the revitalization of Lake Avenue will be a plus for St. James.

“I think people are going to discover Lake Avenue more and more,” Harris said.

Town moves forward with design, engineering for Lake Avenue despite uncertainty of future site hookup

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

Town of Smithtown officials aren’t willing to risk wasting any time, so they are forging ahead with plans to sewer downtown St. James.

Smithtown town board voted unanimously Dec. 11 to issue a request for proposals for engineers to plan and design a sewer system for the Lake Avenue Business District this coming January. Three days later, the town hired Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting to prepare the documents needed to do so.

We’re on a tight leash with the engineering for sewer projects to be ready to go in summer 2019.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“We’re on a tight leash with the engineering for sewer projects to be ready to go in summer 2019,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “If we waited another two weeks, we’d be pushing back our timeline.”

Town officials are hoping to have the plans and funding necessary to sewer Lake Avenue’s business district by next summer, which the $2.4 million replacement of St. James’ aging water mains is slated for, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. Replacement of the business district’s water mains has already been delayed once by the town with a desire to complete both infrastructural projects at the same time while the roads are ripped up.

“We are going to sewer because we are opening the ground already,” Garguilo said. “We don’t want to put residents through the inconvenience twice.”

Smithtown officials will need to have these design and engineering plans in hand and submitted, as well as other necessary documentation, in order to receive the $3.9 million grant from the State and Municipal Facilities Program, a nonspecific discretionary pot of funding for municipal assistance, announced by New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) in October.

“We don’t want to put residents through the inconvenience twice.”

— Nicole Garguilo

The town does not have any official agreement with developer Gyrodyne LLC, according to Garguilo, to access the sewage treatment facility it has proposed building as part of its plans for the Flowerfield property in St. James. The developer has proposed plans to construct a 150-room hotel with a restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings and a 220-unit assisted living complex. It is currently completing the final environmental review to present to the town’s planning board for approval.

“If we need to, we’ll find another sewer plant, hook into Kings Park or another pump station,” Garguilo said.

Many St. James business people and civic leaders have stated while they are excited by the prospect of sewers, they were also aware that construction, both the tearing and replacing of sidewalks and asphalt, could disrupt existing businesses. Wehrheim said the town could plan to doing the work in sections, separated by the connecting streets all the way down Lake Avenue.

“It’s going to be a huge disturbance, but we’re prepared for that,” the supervisor said.

Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James, previously stated the civic group believes the community will benefit more from construction.

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New York State Sen. John Flanagan, far left, and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, third from left, announce the $3.9M in state funding for infrastructural improvements. Photo by Kyle Barr

With funds finally in place for St. James sewers, Smithtown’s capital projects might finally be getting off (or under) the ground.

New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced Oct. 29 that the Town of Smithtown would be receiving $3.9 million from the State and Municipal Facilities Program, a non-specific discretionary pot of funding for municipal assistance. The funds will be added to the town’s available money to create a sewer
district along Lake Avenue.

This is how I see it, [the town] come up with the plans, and we do whatever we can to help them out, especially when it comes to the actual cost of the project.”

—John Flanagan

“This is how I see it, [the town] come up with the plans, and we do whatever we can to help them out, especially when it comes to the actual cost of the project” Flanagan said. “This is a great indication of cooperation: town cooperation, local cooperation and intermunicipal cooperation.”

In June, the town released a report provided by Melville-based H2M architects + engineers that calculated the projected costs of installing dry sewer mains and pump stations needed to build a sewer district for the Lake Avenue business district. The architectural firm came up with two methods to install the sewers: the first would cost approximately $3.8 million to install gravity sewers, a force main and pump station needed to reach a sewage treatment plant but would not provide for full road restoration; the second design would cost the town roughly $6.2 million with road restoration costs included.

The estimated costs for the proposed St. James Sewer District were calculated on the premise that Gyrodyne, LLC will build a sewage treatment plan with the capacity to accommodate its neighboring Lake Avenue businesses. Gyrodyne has continued to say it will work with the town, according to Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

“The main component to revitalize any business district is you have to reach the [Suffolk County] Board of Health requirements, and because of the present-day septic systems it’s just not possible to do,” he said. “The new sewer mains are what will make this project successful.” 

The town is currently sitting on $4.6 million for St. James business district improvements, including $2.4 million to replace the area’s 54-year-old water mains. The supervisor added he expects the town will sit down with engineers either in January or February 2019 to discuss the logistics of the project, and that construction could begin by fall 2019.

A number of local business people and civicleaders attended the Oct. 29 press conference where Flanagan and town officials announced the funding. Though many said they were excited by the prospect of sewers, they were also aware that construction, both the tearing and replacing of sidewalks and asphalt, could disrupt existing businesses. Wehrheim said there could be plans for doing the work in sections, separated by the connecting streets all the way down Lake Avenue.

“Everyone on this street is nervous about what’s happening. But I’m certain in the long run it will do amazing things for our town, community and business life.”

— Natalie Weinstein

“It’s going to be a huge disturbance, but we’re prepared for that,” the supervisor said.

Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James, said they will take the long-term view that the community will benefit more from construction.

“We’re going to help them, whatever the time frame,” Maher-Weisse said. “Our organization represents the businesses and we’ll be there to get people in to patronize.”

Natalie Weinstein, a Lake Avenue business owner and president of the nonprofit Celebrate St. James, an organization that hosts artistic events in the community, said the best way to revitalize the area is to make it focused on the arts.

“We have a wonderful challenge,” she said. “Everyone on this street is nervous about what’s happening. But I’m certain in the long run it will do amazing things for our town, community and business life.”

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St. James residents welcomed fall with a classic display of cars along Lake Avenue.

The Community Association of Greater St. James held its annual Car Show Sept. 24. The cars displayed covered the entire spectrum from antiques and muscle car to exotics. Cars and trucks were lined up along Lake Avenue for attendees to check out.

Click through the gallery above to see some of the cars on display and see if we caught you scoping out a classic. 

Lake Avenue business district's water main work slated to begin in May will be postponed

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kyle Barr

The assessment for sewers in St. James Lake Avenue business district may be arriving on the town doorstep soon.

It’s only been days since Smithtown Town Board voted April 10 unanimously to pay $24,000 to H2M Architects + Engineers to provide a study of whether installing a dry sewer line is economically viable. Yet, George Desmarais, the wastewater department manager at H2M, said the assessment would be finished in about a month.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A,” Desmarais said.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A.”
— George Desmarais

He went on to explain the study will look at how much sewage wastewater is produced by the commercial business district to determine what is needed, and the cost of installing dry sewer mains at the same time as the water mains.

At a public meeting hosted by the Community Association of Greater St. James, Desmarais and town board members discussed the sewers and other upcoming projects for St. James.

Although the town board has $2.4 million set aside for water main installation from its 2018 capital budget, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) stated that the town is still looking for additional funding for the dry sewer lines.

“What we do not have, what’s not budgeted for is funding for a dry force main for future sewers,” Wehrheim said. “I have been in discussions with higher levels of government to go after some funding methods on how we might possibly come up with enough funding to do that.”

Wehrheim said he had a sit-down meeting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to discuss possible sources.

Wehrheim asked St. James residents to agree with putting off the  water main project, originally slated to begin in May,  for one year so they could install everything, including the dry sewer lines, all at once. He said it would be more economical for the town and better for businesses.

“All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way,” he said.

The planned dry sewer lines will be gravity fed lines using the areas natural slope, according to Desmarais. The pump station for the sewers is planned to be a 30×30-square-foot area, but the exact location of the station has not yet been determined.

All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way.
— Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim previously stated he was looking to negotiate with Gyrodone LLC to use the treatment station it proposes to build on the Flowerfields land, the property off Route 25A in St. James that is often used to host community festivals.

“If we do the concrete and asphalt, we’re just going to spend the money haphazardly and then 10, 15 years again, they are going to come back and say ‘we need more money’” Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy said. “We have to do this smart.”

Deborah Powers, owner of Hither Brook Floral and Gift Boutique in St. James, was concerned that the construction would disrupt her business when work would be done on the roads and sidewalks.

“I’ve been through roadwork before, I know what it’s going to do, and it’s not going to be pretty,” Powers said.

Wehrheim mentioned that the town was looking at means of doing the construction without interrupting daily business.

“We’re looking at the percentage cost for doing the paving at night. I think that’s something that very much will be feasible,” he said. “The other thing that we’re looking at instead of having this be spread out among contractors, is to see if we can come up with enough funding by putting this out as one request for proposal and have a larger contractor come in who can subcontract the work so that would speed up a project like this.”

June 19 date set for public referendum to sell Lake Avenue firehouse to fire department

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

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James residents have the opportunity to give their two cents on the effectiveness of their local fire rescue services.

The commissioners of St. James Fire District have launched an online survey asking for residents, taxpayers and business operators in St. James and Head of the Harbor to anonymously provide their opinions on the fire rescue services’ strengths, weaknesses and what needs improvement. All responses are due by April 30.

Edward Springer Sr., chairman of the board, said the survey is part of an independent study being conducted by RFG Fire Rescue Consulting on the St. James Fire District. The study will take a statistical look at the fire district’s response to emergency calls, starting from when a call comes in, who responds, how long it takes units to arrive at the scene and the effectiveness of the response. Firefighters, emergency responders and staff for the fire district have been given a separate survey to complete to offer their insight.

“There were questions raised by the Village of the Head of the Harbor, who we contract with, and some community associations that has brought us to getting more details,” Springer said. “That way we can continue going forward with facts, rather than going forward with mistruths that have been posted on Facebook.”

It costs us a lot of money to have that building, is that building necessary for us to have a proper response?”
— Bill Kearney

At a Jan. 22 civic meeting, Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard voiced concerns about the fire district’s proposed consolidation plan to operate all trucks out of its Jefferson Avenue headquarters, saying it would significantly increase response times for his residents, possibly placing them at increased risk. The village has a three-year contract for fire and ambulance services with St. James Fire District that expires Dec. 31.

Bill Kearney, vice chairman of the board, said the St. James fire commissioners are looking at consolidation in hopes of improving emergency response times. Kearney said delays are often caused by a lack of available personnel, who are sometimes split between the two firehouses, and the commissioners believe consolidation could fix the issue.

The St. James Fire Department — the 501(c)(3) organization that represents volunteers in the fire and EMS services — currently has approximately 100 members, according to Springer. This is down from a record high of 125 members, and yet they are answering more calls for help than ever. In 2017, the St. James Fire District — made up of elected officials who are responsible for raising taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment that volunteers use — answered 1,423 emergency calls.

Kearney said the board hopes the study the consulting firm produces can provide insight on the operational value of the Route 25A firehouse. The district anticipates a preliminary draft of the study will be available for review mid-May.

“It costs us a lot of money to have that building, is that building necessary for us to have a proper response?” he asked.

The vice chairman estimated it costs the fire district approximately $80,000 a year for the Route 25A firehouse to cover utilities, maintenance and other basic costs.

It’s not a historic building, but there’s a history to all of us here in town, especially the firefighters.”
—Marty Thompson

The future of the white, two-story firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A, built in 1922, has been an ongoing issue of concern. The commissioners first announced their plans to sell off the building in August 2017. The St. James Fire Department was guaranteed first opportunity to purchase it back, based on its initial contract of sale with the fire district.

“It’s not a historic building, but there’s a history to all of us here in town, especially the firefighters,” said Marty Thompson, president of the St. James Fire Department. “I would never want to see that building get knocked down. I honestly feel the best hope for that building is that the firefighters get it back.”

A tentative date of June 19 is set for the public referendum in which St. James taxpayers will be asked to approve the sale of the Route 25A firehouse from the fire district back to the fire department.

The department’s volunteer firefighters have already voted in favor of purchasing the building, according to Thompson, to maintain it as a landmark and for the community’s use. He assured the nonprofit organization can provide proper funding to provide for its upkeep.

If the referendum vote fails, he said the fire district could potentially close and shutter the firehouse entirely, give it to the county or state as excess property for their use, or sell it to the highest bidder.

“There are other interests out there who I am sure would like to rent or buy the building, maybe keep it the way it is,” Thompson said. “But I’ve seen that building there for so long. I don’t want to see anything else there.”

The online community survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CommunitySurveySJFD9JLKR6N. All responses are confidential, according to the fire district.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim has approached Gryodyne LLC about a shared sewer plant on Flowerfield property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Smithtown’s Town supervisor has approached a developerabout creating a shared sewer plant to service downtown St. James.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said he’s asked Gyrodyne LLC whether it would consider building a shared sewer treatment plant large enough to handle wastewater for the Lake Avenue business district on Flowerfield. The Flowerfield property off Route 25A in St. James is often used to host community festivals and contains freshwater wetlands that feed into Mill Pond in Stony Brook, Stony Brook Harbor and on into Long Island Sound.

“They said they would be amicable to having a conversation about it,” Wehrheim said.

“[Gyrodyne] said they would be amicable to having a conversation about it.”
— Ed Wehrheim

Gyrodyne has an application pending before Smithtown Planning Board to subdivide the 62 acres of Flowerfield property in St. James to construct a 150-room hotel with a restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings and a 220-unit assisted living complex with its own sewage treatment facility. After substantial traffic concerns were raised at a Nov. 15, 2017, public hearing, the town has ordered Gyrodyne to complete a full environmental study of its proposal.

If the environmental study comes back clean, the supervisor said he believes this could pose a great opportunity for the town.

“They have ample property to build the sewage plant,” Wehrheim said. “Even after building the plant, their plans include keeping 30 acres of property undeveloped.”

He noted that the 4.5 acres set aside by Gyrodyne for a sewage treatment facility are not adjacent to any residential neighborhood. Wehrheim said he is also interested in seeing if the developer would be open to future discussions on providing sewers for Smithtown’s business district.

“Without sewering, we can’t do any kind of revitalization,” he said.

Paul Lamb, chairman of Gyrodyne’s board, confirmed that Wehrheim had reached out to the company, but declined any further comment until after his March 30 board meeting.

The town has approved $4.6 million in its 2018 capital budget program to fund St. James downtown business district improvements. This includes $2.4 million to tear open Lake Avenue to replace the town’s aging water mains.

Without sewering, we can’t do any kind of revitalization.”
— Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim said the Lake Avenue construction originally slated to start this May could potentially be delayed until 2019. The supervisor said he anticipates the town board will vote at its next meeting on hiring H2M architects to complete a study to determine if installing dry sewer lines would be economically feasible at this time, given the town’s plans for a sewer treatment plant are not solidified. The study, if approved, would take several months to complete and cost about $24,000, according to Wehrheim.

“What we are trying to eliminate is the excavation of the road for water mains, then rebuilding the road, sidewalks, curbs — about $2.6 million in restoration work — to find out a year later we have to cut the brand new roads back up,” he said. “It’s wasteful.”

If negotiations fail, town officials would be forced to return to their original plans which have a starting price tag of $65 million to sewer and build a plant for the Smithtown business district, according to Wehrheim.

Town officials are currently waiting for the state to pass an action that would authorize the town’s use of land proposed for Kings Park’s sewer treatment plant, according to Wehrheim. He hopes to have state approval as early as June.

St. James Fire Department members to vote on whether to buy back Route 25A firehouse

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

As ownership of a historic St. James landmark prepares to change hands again, residents are watching anxiously to know what its future holds.

The St. James Fire Department has been approached by the St. James Fire District about purchasing back the Route 25A firehouse. The firefighters will have to vote to approve the purchase, but the St. James community expressed concerns about the building’s future use at a Jan. 22 civic association meeting.

“I have dedicated myself to do many things to bring this community’s historic life alive again,” said Natalie Weinstein, owner of Uniquely Natalie Quality Consignment on Lake Avenue. “To lose this historic property for what it is would be a travesty.”

Glen Itzkowitz, chairman of the board of the St. James Fire Department, the 501(c)(3) organization consisting of those volunteers in the St. James fire and EMS services, said a date has not been set for the referendum on whether the fire department will purchase the building. When the department sold the firehouse to the district for $500,000 in 2013, there was a clause put into the sale agreement that the department was  to be given a first right to the property if it was ever put on the market.

“We want the property back,” Itkowitz said. “We think we can be the best stewards of that property as we’ve been the best stewards of that property since 1922.”

To lose this historic property for what it is would be a travesty.”
-Natalie Weinstein

In that year, a Nissequogue resident donated the land to the fire department to help house fire engines and equipment, which now fall under the oversight of the fire district. The fire department and district are two separate entities that work together.

While the Route 25A property is part of St. James Historic Corridor by New York State, according to fire department member Anthony Amato, this does not protect the building. It would require a local law against its demolition made by the Town of Smithtown.

Given the firehouse’s history, Itzkowitz said he personally would like to see it continue operating as a base for fire services. He admitted the 100-member strong volunteer department had not reached a determination on what to do with the property if it agreed to purchase it back.

Itzkowitz denied public rumors that the historic firehouse would be torn down or destroyed.

“It bothers me and so many members of the department that that is the sentiment that’s out there,” he said.

The St. James Fire District, consisting of publicly elected officials who are responsible for oversight of the St. James firehouses, fire and EMS service equipment, has made clear it does not plan to continue operating out of the Route 25A firehouse. Bill Kearney, a commissioner for the fire district, said it would have been closed Oct. 26, 2017, if not for pressure from Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard. The village has a three-year contract for fire and ambulance services from St. James through Dec. 31 of this year.

The idea of consolidation is … to get the first piece of equipment out on the road as quickly as possible to get them to your house”
-St. James  Fire District Commissioner Bill Kearney

“I am not happy having response times lengthen by moving all operations down to  Woodlawn Avenue on the other side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks,” Dahlgard said. “It makes no sense to me.”

Kearney said Dahlgard and residents’ fears of increased response time if the Route 25A firehouse closes are unfounded. Volunteers responded to more than 1,400 alarms last year; according Kearney, only 96 were for incidents north of the railroad tracks. He said out of those 96 calls, crews from the historic Route 25A firehouse responded to only 38 due to a lack of personnel. Kearney said it’s a challenge at best, and hazardous for volunteers trying to navigate traffic to reach the historic firehouse to respond to a call, at worst. He claimed consolidating to one center, on Jefferson Avenue, will actually speed up response times.

“The idea of consolidation is … to get the first piece of equipment out on the road as quickly as possible to get them to your house,” the fire district commissioner said.

St. James residents saw their taxes for fire services increase for 2018, and Kearney said the failed bond votes have left the district with a Jefferson Avenue building in need of major repairs and upgrades to suit its needs.

But he highlighted that Head of the Harbor residents don’t pay the same taxes as St. James residents for emergency services, and actually pay less due to the negotiated contract. Kearney said he is hoping the district will be able to negotiate a “fair contract” with Dahlgard moving forward.

The Community Association of St. James said it had no position on the issue, but encouraged the fire district and departments to host a public forum on the issue.

A rendering of what the front of the proposed new St. James firehouse would look like. Image from St. James Fire District

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Firefighters are known for running into danger, but it can be difficult to get to the scene when firefighters are facing significant risk simply getting to their trucks.

St. James fire commissioners are asking residents to consider a $12.25 million capital bond project to build a new 22,458-square-foot Jefferson Avenue facility Sept. 19.

“We are not looking to build a luxurious firehouse, as other communities have,” St. James Fire District Chairman Lawrence Montrose wrote in a letter with other commissioners. “We are simply looking to provide our dedicated volunteers with the basic and modern resources they need to effectively do their job — a job that protects and serves the residents of this community in their greatest times of need.”

The proposal being voted on in the St. James Fire District includes tearing down the Jefferson Avenue firehouse and replacing the structure with one nearly three times as large. Photo from Google Maps

The fire district’s existing Jefferson Avenue facility sustained significant damage in an August 2016 storm. The building’s pre-existing infrastructure issues allowed 6 to 18 inches of water to rise up through the floors, flooding the building, according to the St. James Fire District commissioners through a spokesperson. The flood caused cracks to the weight-bearing walls in the truck bay and worsened stress cracks in the fire chief and commissioner’s offices, in addition to plumbing and electrical damage.

Since the flood, Jefferson Avenue volunteer firefighters have been getting into their gear in one building before running across the parking lot to get on a truck. While this is happening, the fire commissioners said other volunteers are often still entering the parking lot, creating a major safety concern. Volunteers are in danger of being hit by incoming vehicles as they cross to the trucks.

“One instance was almost a catastrophic event,” said the fire commissioners. “One individual fell in the parking lot and was almost run over by an exiting fire truck.”

Other safety issues have arisen. Two of the district’s fire companies are operating out of what was originally the storage and maintenance structure built on the rear of the property. Trucks responding to one of the district’s 1,298 calls in 2016 also had to maneuver through the traffic. Fire commissioner chiefs compared the situation to playing the video game Frogger.

The proposed Jefferson Avenue facility, if approved by voters, would be more than three times the size of the existing 7,407-square-foot building. The additional space would include spaces to serve as accommodations for firefighters and community members during storms or major emergencies, in addition to a meeting room for district and public use. It would be built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the current firehouse is not.

St. James fire commissioners will be moving forward with selling the historic firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

If voters approve the project, construction of the new Jefferson Avenue facility would start around six months after the vote and would be completed within one year. Volunteer response to emergencies would not be interrupted by the construction, according to the district.

Regardless of voters’ decision, St. James fire commissioners said they will move forward with selling off the Route 25A/Lake Avenue building, purchased by the district for $500,000 in 2013. Due to the facility’s age, it’s not suited for the district’s needs.

The estimated cost of the proposed plan to consolidate to one Jefferson Avenue facility would be an increase of approximately $118 to $198 a year for taxpayers based on their home’s assessed value.

St. James Fire District will be holding a public information session for those who wish to learn more Aug. 29 at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse at 7 p.m. Residents can also tour existing facilities Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sept. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. and Sept. 17 from 1 to 3 p.m.

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