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Northport

Law enforcement representatives from Suffolk County Police Department and local police departments discuss armed security personnel in schools at a Northport board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Northport-East Northport school district has been taking it slow and steady in considering hiring armed guards for its school buildings. The board of education is in the process of soliciting professional opinions from local police and security advisers to determine the path forward for its schools.

About 70 people filed into a public meeting hosted by the school board Oct. 11, which included members of the Suffolk County Police Department, Northport Police Department, Asharoken Police Department, the school district’s retained attorneys from Ingerman Smith LLP, the district’s insurance provider New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal and the district’s security adviser to answer the board and the community questions about the potential impact of hiring armed security guards.

“There is a lot of interest about this throughout the county,” said Suffolk County Police Department Inspector Michael Romagnoli, the commanding officer of the department. “All are debating this topic at similar levels.”

The board hosted a previous meeting March 1 where the community came out in droves to voice support for the district hiring armed guards, though when asked whether he would want armed guards Leonard Devlin, the district’s security consultant, said he would prefer not to.

It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools.’

— Leonard Devlin

“It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools,” Devlin said. “If we were to have armed security personnel, the officer would only respond if there was an active shooter, not if there was a physical confrontation with a student, teacher or of any nature.”

The district said it has upgraded multiple security measures since the start of the year. Devlin said the district hired 12 new unarmed guards, which now totals 30 guards who patrol campus grounds during the school day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The district also purchased six new security vehicles to complement an existing six, which should arrive in about a month.

Security vestibules are already installed or close to being installed for all schools except Bellerose Avenue Elementary, Ocean Avenue Elementary and Northport Middle School, which the security consultant said would be completed in the future as part of the district’s ongoing $40 million capital bond project. The district said it has installed 30 new cameras this year for a new total of 400 throughout the buildings, though these are monitored sparingly throughout the day and in the late-night hours, Devlin said.

One of the biggest questions raised surrounding the need for armed guards in schools is whether local police response time is fast enough to deal with an armed assailant. Romagnoli said their response time for local cars was four to five minutes, while Northport Police Chief William Ricca said their response time was three to four minutes. The inspector said that a school shooting comes in as a Priority 0, the highest priority, the same as if a call came in that an officer was shot. Romagnoli said since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado cops are trained to enter an active shooter situation immediately upon arriving at the scene.

“Our involvement in the schools has increased tremendously within the last five years, our number of school incidents in the 2nd Precinct has gone up 50 percent, and the officers have more familiarity with the schools just from their daily patrols,” SCPD Deputy Inspector Matthew McCormick said.

Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island.”

— David Stein

Board Vice President David Stein said he was concerned it was not possible for every member of every police department to be intimate with the district’s six separate school facilities.

“Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island,” Stein said.

Romagnoli said the 2nd Precinct has one school resource officer assigned to cover all school districts in the area, not accounting for the other police officers who sometimes take up SRO duties part time on top of their normal police work. The SRO is responsible for being a liaison from the district to the police and for safety and crime prevention in schools.

While some members of the board questioned if guards should be on the premises for longer than regular school hours, to protect kids in after-school activities and sports, but Devlin said it came down to money. He estimated armed guards working at approximately $15 an hour for an eight-hour day would cost the district $208,200, if one guard for each of the district’s nine school campuses were allotted. Though Devlin added if the district wants total coverage for the day, including an hour break for each guard, it would have to hire another three to cover them on their breaks, adding up to just under $400,000.

Police representatives admitted armed guards and police arriving on scene of an emergency could present other problems. There is potential for a “blue on blue” situation, where two armed responders potentially confront each other. Current school security recently changed their uniform to be a bright gold color, but there is no consistency in the uniform between armed presences in other schools. Romagnoli said because of these inconsistencies it’s important the district keep a clear line of communication to the police departments and for dispatch to know of the armed presence inside the school.

We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

— Michael Romagnoli

“Our protocol is the uniformed officer responding is in charge,” Romagnoli said. “We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

Those on the panel representing the district’s liability concerns said insurance would cover the district in most cases should an armed guard be present. John Peppard, the senior vice president of NYSIR, the school’s insurance handler, said the only time the school might have a problem is if the guards, as school employees, went rogue in some way.

Local resident Denise Schwartz said despite assurances from local police departments promising prioritized response, the comments made by the panel members did not instill much optimism, especially considering the presence of just one SCPD SRO and the little time the district monitors the security cameras.

“Several things they said made me feel even less safe,” Swartz said.

For Northport resident Tammie Topel, who said she’s still on the fence about hiring armed guards, the meeting did little to eliminate the catch 22 inherent in the decision.

“I think that it opens up whether you do, or you don’t, you’re either not indemnified, or there’s going to be a lawsuit, or there might be an accidental shooting,” Topel said. “There’s 400 cameras that are not being monitored at all times, so what’s the sense of wasting that money on cameras … they should be monitored if that’s what we’re going to be using them for.”

The district will be hosting another workshop Nov. 1 where it will discuss the emotional and psychological impact of having armed guards in schools. On Nov. 8, the board will discuss whether it will put the item on the agenda for vote at a subsequent meeting.

Feds recommend trio of changes in staffing, hiring and overtime management to facility’s new leadership

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

A federal investigation into Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s four community living centers has shown a troubling trend of chronic nursing staff shortages and excessive overtime, issues that could have placed patients “at a higher risk for adverse events.”

In one case, federal investigators found a nurse’s assistant worked double shifts for six straight days — more than 96 hours in a single week – while expected to diligently oversee a patient requiring one-on-one care.

As the Northport facility is the only VA Medical Center on Long Island it serves more than 31,000 patients per year and oversees several outpatient clinical sites. Its four nursing homes are located in two buildings, with an approximate capacity of 170 beds.

The Office of Inspector General, a division of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, charged with independent oversight of Department of Veterans Affairs programs, received several anonymous complaints about the quality of care received at Northport VAMC in 2017 following the deaths of two patients.

In September 2017, the OIG launched a year-long investigation into staffing shortages after receiving two further emails: the first from an employee at Northport VAMC, the second from a liaison to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The investigation produced a Sept. 18 report (click here to read the full report) that found Northport VAMC’s leadership knew about the staff shortages, forced administrative level nurses to care for patients, and yet still continued to accept new patients despite knowing they wouldn’t have the staff needed to provide the expected level of care.

Federal investigators recognized in August 2017 there was significant turnover in the leadership at the Northport VAMC, affecting key positions such as its director, acting chief of staff and acting nurse executive, who were cited “as catalysts for this change.” Staff members’ remarks indicated it’s given them hope for a better future.

The agency recommended a series of changes for the Northport VAMC pertaining to the nursing staff currently being enacted, and the facility says is bringing immediate tangible results.

Two patient deaths

Anonymous complaints about two patient deaths at the Northport VAMC in 2017 started the series of federal investigations into the facility.

The first death was a male patient in his late 60s who died as a result of choking on his food. Federal inspectors found insufficient evidence the man’s death was due to a lack of nurse oversight, as alleged in the complaints, but did conclude Northport VAMC had ongoing challenges in maintaining basic necessary staffing levels.

“Conditions such as staffing shortages could create an environment where the increased workload assigned to each staff member was such that it became more difficult to remain vigilant,” the report reads.

A forum was held for the Northport VA nursing homes staff to voice their concerns with the facility and its operation while an investigation of the first patient’s death was ongoing.

“Many [staff members] shared a concern about staffing levels being too low,” the report reads.

A second death raised claims of poor quality of care in the Northport vets nursing homes, after a patient in his mid-60s slipped, fell and fractured his hip. He underwent surgery and six days later stopped breathing. Allegations included the VA staff failed to protect the patient from falling and failed to properly provide
one-on-one observation post surgery, neither of which was substantiated by federal investigators.

The investigation into the second death showed the nurse’s assistant caring for him was on her sixth consecutive day of double shifts — 16 hours at a stretch. Investigators again cited “concern that working extra hours with double shifts could lead to staff becoming tired and less vigilant.”

A staff member working double shifts was not common practice, according to Northport VAMC spokesman Levi Spellman, who said union workers are contractually required to have 10 to 12 hours off between nursing shifts.

Closer look at staffing numbers

Records pulled by the federal investigators showed Northport VAMC has been chronically short of nursing staff dating back to at least 2016. Allegations were made that understaffing could lead to a higher rate of “nurse-sensitive outcomes,” such as surgical wounds getting infected, urinary tract infections, ulcers and pneumonia.

Northport’s four nursing homes were found to be short approximately 6.3 full-time employees in 2016 needed to meet VA’s recommended number of nursing hours spent with patients per day. By 2017, the facility’s staffing shortage had more than doubled, with 15.3 additional full-time employees needed. Northport VAMC’s nursing homes were only staffed at 60 to 80 percent of recommended levels over the two years, according to federal investigators.

Northport VAMC’s leadership attempted to tackle the short staffing issue by using “floating” shifts and overtime — sometimes mandatory, according to the federal report. Floating shifts meant staff from other areas of the VAMC were brought in to assist with patients in the nursing homes.

In 2016, Northport VAMC’s nursing home employees put in a  total of 19,991 hours of overtime. It nearly doubled by the end of 2017 as only 107.9 of the facility’s authorized 128 full-time positions were filled, according to Spellman, causing the facility’s overtime costs to skyrocket to nearly $1.5 million.

“Nurse managers had no mechanism to alert them if one of their unit nursing personnel worked excessive OT,” the report reads.

Federal investigators found part of the nursing homes’ staffing issues were due to an inability to hire and retain the members of its nursing staff. Northport VAMC got approval to hire 10 additional registered nurses and 10 nurse assistants as intermittent staff in November 2016, though the team wasn’t assembled until August 2017.

Often the process of hiring new nursing staff was delayed. In one instance, Northport’s leadership said two applicants interviewed and hired in January 2017 were told they would not start working until July.

“This delay in hiring often resulted in the loss of selected applicants who took other jobs,” the report reads.

The leadership of Northport VAMC said the high cost of living on Long Island has also made finding and maintaining a full-time staff difficult.

“Not only does this affect our ability to retain talent, but to recruit it as well,” spokesman Spellman said.

Steps to improvement

The federal investigators made three recommendations to Northport VAMC in order to  ensure it has adequate nursing care for its patients and improve quality of care for residents.

First, that the VAMC’s acting director, Dr. Cathy Cruise, completes a review of the nursing homes to ensure staffing levels align with the needs of its current residents. More staff should be recruited and hired to fill the current vacancies “until optimal staffing is attained,” reads the report.

Spellman said leadership of Northport VAMC, including Cruise, have already started taking action, implementing changes to improve the quality of care and working conditions.

A registered nurse clinical coordination position has been added in order to streamline nursing staff’s efficiency, according to Spellman. At the beginning of 2018, the facility was given approval to hire 2.6 more full-time employees and another 10 staff members were recently approved to bring the total nursing staff to the equivalent 140.6 positions.

“A staffing methodology is in the process of being completed, with additional staff expected,” Spellman said.

The Northport VA has received approval to directly hire its nursing staff and is giving new employees immediate start dates, according to him. It also had plans to expand its nursing floating pool, and to cross train other VAMC nurses in long-term care to continue to grow the available number of staff who can provide residents with care.

Third, Northport’s leadership was also told to improve its management of staff’s overtime hours and make sure of future responsible use of financial resources, citing the $1.5 million in 2017 overtime.

“Federal employees are expected to be good stewards of government funds,” the report reads. “The OIG found a lack of accountability for managing OT expenditures.

Spellman said the nursing homes staff had a total weekly average of 437.3 hours of overtime for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. This indicates a significant drop from last year, where the total weekly average of overtime exceeded 750 hours.

“All of this is to say that, while the OIG has helped Northport identify areas in which we can improve, we have implemented measures to make those improvements — and we are already seeing results,” Spellman said.

A Qwik Ride vehicle currently on the streets of Patchogue. Photo from Qwik Ride

Village of Northport officials are hoping business owners and residents will extend a warm welcome to a new transportation service prepared to roll out next week.

Qwik Ride will be expanding its shuttle service to downtown Northport Oct. 3, offering free pick-up and drop-off from/to area restaurants, stores and businesses. The company is based in Patchogue and launched a second service in Huntington village in late August.

“The Northport Village officials thought this would be great, once they heard that we were operating in Huntington,” Qwik Ride co-owner Daniel Cantelmo said. “ They reached out to us.”

“t’s a good fit because we have a parking problem. We’re going to have to do something in Northport to change what we do with our cars.”

— Tom Kehoe

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport village, said he first learned about the service through members of the village’s Business Development Committee. The company offers rides in modified six-passenger golf carts equipped with heat and small television screens to shuttle passengers around busy downtown areas.

“It’s a good fit because we have a parking problem,” Kehoe said. “We’re going to have to do something in Northport to change what we do with our cars.”

The village has retained consultants Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport, according to Kehoe, which is already underway. Level G Associates has previously performed parking studies for other Suffolk towns including Huntington and Kings Park.

Kehoe said there is a need for the village to be proactive in tackling its parking issues given the proposed development on its horizon. Kevin O`Neill and his business partner, Richard Dolce, both of John W. Engeman Theater, have proposed plans to construct a hotel at 225 Main St. that are moving forward.

“There are people in the area that already can’t access Main Street because it’s too congested with traffic,” said Jim Izzo, vice president of Northport Chamber of Commerce. “This seems to be a viable alternative.”

Izzo, owner of Cow Harbor Realty, said he hopes that Qwik Ride can be part of the village’s multipronged approach to solving traffic congestion. He would like to see village business employees park further from Main Street to open up more spaces for clients and customers, leaving spots that will turn over at a faster pace.

There are people in the area that already can’t access Main Street because it’s too congested with traffic. This seems to be a viable alternative.”

— Jim Izzo

“It would be a big deal to get a lot of the parking spots freed up,” Izzo said.

The chamber’s vice president acknowledged that O`Neill already offers a valet parking system to assist theatergoers and help reduced Main Street backup.

“He’s been trying to solve the problem on his own,” Izzo said. “As a collective, we have a real chance of making a difference, not just a Band-Aid. If everyone got on board, it would behoove everyone.”

Qwik Ride gave a presentation to Northport chamber members at its Sept. 25 meeting. The company will start with two vehicles offering services via an app in the approximate geographic area from Napper Tandy’s on Route 25A/Fort Salonga north to James Street, then from Laurel Avenue west to the waterfront. The service area will be somewhat limited as Qwik Ride uses electric vehicles and given Northport’s hilly
topography.

“Parking is a serious situation that doesn’t get better by ignoring it,” Izzo said. “Some things are going to work and some things will fail miserably. If we don’t take a shot, we’ll never know.”

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Port Jefferson and Northport-East Northport school districts, as well as the Town of Huntington, were dealt a blow in the legal battle against Long Island Power Authority in August. But, it doesn’t mean they are going down without a fight.

Port Jeff board of education voted unanimously — 6-0 with board President Kathleen Brennan absent — during a Sept. 24 special meeting to file an appeal of New York State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson’s Aug. 16 ruling that LIPA “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson school districts not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciapetta said the municipality formally filed its appeal of Emerson’s decision the following day, Sept. 25.

The judge’s ruling dismissed the third-party lawsuits brought forth by Huntington and the two school districts which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The resolution passed by Port Jeff school board authorized its legal counsel, Ingerman Smith, LLP, to file the appeal.

“We do think her decision was incorrect, and clearly we do recommend that the board consider filing a notice of appeal in this proceeding,” said attorney John Gross of Ingerman Smith, LLP, prior to Port Jeff’s Sept. 24 vote.
Northport-East Northport’s board trustees had previously voted to pursue an appeal at their Sept. 6 meeting.

Gross, who has been hired to represent both Northport and Port Jeff schools, said the districts

will have six months to perfect appeals. During this time, the districts’ legal team will prepare a record including all exhibits, witness depositions, and information gathered from the examination of about 60,000 pages of documents. He said a brief outlining the  legal arguments against Emerson’s decision will be crafted prior to submitting the appeal.
LIPA will be given several months to prepare a reply, according to Gross, prior to oral arguments before a four-judge panel in New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Further appeals are possible following that decision. Gross said the process could take more than a year.

Meanwhile, Huntington Town, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid have agreed to pursue non-binding mediation relating to the case, which begins Sept. 26. Gross said while Port Jeff is not a party to the mediation, it will be monitoring the outcome because the process could establish a pattern of resolution for its case. He also said the district can withdraw its appeal at any time, but once that occurs it cannot rejoin the process.

“Legal actions taken by the Town [of Brookhaven], [Port Jefferson] Village and school district to generate an equitable solution to the LIPA tax assessment challenges are intended to protect its residents and children against exorbitant property tax increases; especially in a very short interval of time,” Port Jeff school district said in a publicly released letter Sept. 12 prior to passing a resolution authorizing the appeal. “Please know, that the district fully understands that the decision about engaging legal counsel is one to be made with great care, as it always carries a financial implication while never guaranteeing a verdict in one’s favor.”

Nearly 6,500 runner took to the streets of Northport Village Sept. 15 to participate in the Great Cow Harbor 10K Run and 2K Fun Run. The 41st anniversary of the race drew one of the largest number of participants ever, according to race organizers.

Hartford resident Donnie Cabral,  28, became the first to successfully defend his title as the race’s champion and top male finisher with a time of 29 minutes, 29.54 seconds. Cabral’s average pace per mile was 4:45.

Elaina Tabb, a 26-year-old from Watertown, Massachusetts, won first place in the women’s division with an overall time of 33:37.08, or a pace of 5:25 per mile.

Both Cabral and Tabb were presented with a $3,500 check from event sponsor People’s United Bank.

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Laurel Hill Road at Elwood Road in Northport. Photo from Google Maps

Northport parents are calling on school and town officials to examine what traffic improvements can be made to Laurel Hill Road after a teen was struck by a car outside Northport High School last Tuesday.

Miles Lerner, a 14-year-old preparing to begin his freshman year, was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan while crossing Laurel Hill Road Sept. 4 on his way to cross-country practice. While Northport-East Northport school district residents called the accident “upsetting” and “disturbing,” they weren’t surprised.

“If my complaints over the past few years had been heeded, it probably would have prevented this accident,” Jeantet Fields, a Laurel Hill Road homeowner said during a board of education meeting Sept. 6.

“If my complaints over the past few years had been heeded, it probably would have prevented this accident.”

— Jeantet Fields

Fields said he provided Suffolk County police officers with a video recording of the Sept. 4 accident captured by his home surveillance cameras that shows Lerner being struck and launched into the air “like a rag doll.”

“It was very disturbing” he said. “It’s one of those things you cannot unsee.”

The four-year Northport resident has admitted to being a bit of a squeaky wheel on the issue of traffic safety along Laurel Hill and Elwood roads. Fields said it’s a multifaceted issue resulting from insufficient parking, drivers not obeying the 20-mph school zone speed limit and traffic frequently backing up at the high school during drop-off and dismissal. He said buses and cars back up at the traffic light on Elwood Road, waiting to make the left onto Laurel Hill Road, and then again while trying to make left turns into the high school’s parking lots. Some drivers resort to using the shoulder of the road to pass on the right.

“I’ve gotten the middle finger salute for trying to pull out of my driveway,” Fields said.

Northport resident Michael Hawkins, whose son is also a member of the cross-country team, said traffic was worse than normal the morning of Sept. 4 as the district was hosting a superintendent’s conference day at the high school.

“I believe the district is partially to blame for the security guards who were standing at the entryway to every parking lot, asking every person who went into the parking lot for ID,” he said. “What happened is it backed up traffic for blocks and blocks and blocks around the high school.”

Hawkins asked Northport’s board of education and school officials to consider this a “teachable moment” and ensure steps are taken to increase parking spots and resolve traffic concerns.

Fields said he believes a more active approach to revamping traffic flow on the roads surrounding Northport High School is needed. The father said he observed a truck passing over the double yellow line, to the left of a stopped school bus, while at the end of his driveway to picking up his 6-year-old daughter. Upon reviewing the security footage, Fields compiled a video documenting about 25 drivers utilizing the westbound shoulder of Laurel Hill Road to illegally drive past stopped buses and cars in a roughly 30-minute time frame Sept. 6.
The Northport homeowner said he has shared the video with Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct Community Oriented Police Enforcement and offered to share it with Town of Huntington and school official in the hope of encouraging action.


There was a speed radar sign posted at the end of Fields’ driveway Sept. 6 to make passing motorists aware of their speed. He said he believes an unmarked patrol car was keeping watch near the end of his driveway the following morning.

“People were slowing down for the first time,” he said. “It was a short-term behavioral change, and there’s a need for long-term change.”

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) had received several phone calls from concerned Northport-East Northport residents by Sept. 7, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

“I’ve spoken with Superintendent [Robert] Banzer and their safety team has reached out to Steve McGloin [town Director of Transportation and Public Safety] to see if there are any improvements on Laurel Hill Road to be made,” Lupinacci said in a statement. “Superintendent Banzer is reaching out to the county in regard to Elwood Road.”

Fields said he plans to start an online petition to ask town and county officials to conduct a traffic study of the intersection on how it can be improved.

“My goal right now — honestly and a bit selfishly — is to change the behavior of motorists on this street before my daughter has to cross the street to go to high school,” he said. “I have seven years. If I could, I’d do it in less.”

Ayla Lerner with her brother, Miles. Photo from Fundrazr

The sister of a Northport High School student-athlete who was hit by a car Tuesday morning has launched an online fundraiser to help her brother on his road to recovery. In less than four days, it has already raised nearly $85,000.

“The response has been tremendous,” said Ayla Lerner, a junior at Northport High School. “Our local community has been absolutely amazing in showing their support.”

Lerner’s 14-year-old brother, Miles, was on his way to cross-country practice Sept. 4 when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound on Laurel Hill Road at 8:06 a.m., according to police. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.

“Our local community has been absolutely amazing in showing their support.”

— Ayla Lerner

Lerner launched a FundRazr site titled “Please Help Miles Lerner’s Road to Recovery” to reach out and ask for the Northport-East Northport community’s support for her brother and her family in the aftermath of the accident.

“The media has reported that the driver who hit him is uninsured, which adds an element of financial strain,” she wrote on the website.

Miles was preparing to start his freshman year of high school Sept. 6. He was excited to be a member of Northport’s cross-country running team and Freshman Choir, according to Lerner.

“To give you a sense of his energy level, Miles participated in a three-week bike tour this past summer and biked 55 to 75 miles a day while carrying his belongings on the back of a bike,” she wrote.

After launching the website, she reached out to members of her brother’s cross-country team hoping given their connection to him, they would spread awareness of the cause and help her family. Word of her brother’s accident and her fundraising efforts has spread quickly and further than Lerner said she ever expected.

“I know all parents mock social media, but in this age, the Internet has allowed us to receive support from so many communities — we’ve received support from as far as Indonesia — they are treating us like family,” she said.

In addition to the donations, Lerner said her parents have been completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and well wishes they have been receiving. She said community members have brought her family food, offered to pack her lunch, and even reached out to offer her transportation to events like an upcoming ACT exam.

“I know that he doesn’t know it right now, isolated in his hospital room, but he is really being backed up by all the people he knows and loves.”

— Ayla Lerner

“We are incredibly gratified by the response,” she said.

Continued donations are most appreciated as the family anticipates medical bills for their son’s continued hospital care, according to Lerner. For those anxiously awaiting updates on Miles’ medical condition, the family will be hosting a table at the Northport Cow Harbor Day race Sept. 15 to share information with the community and sell navy bracelets bearing the slogan “Miles4Miles.”

“I know that he doesn’t know it right now, isolated in his hospital room, but he is really being backed up by all the people he knows and loves,” Lerner said.

Northport’s cross-country team will be participating in the Great Cow Harbor 10K race this year to show its support for Miles, according to Lerner, running the miles that he cannot.

His sister said the traumatic accident has changed her view on being an older sibling.

“Everyone has siblings, and sure, sometimes we annoy each other, but when you see your brother lying on a hospital bed in front of you, your perspective changes,” Lerner said. “I want to do everything I can to help him. I miss him.”

Gunther's Tap Room in Northport is ready for business. Photo from Facebook.

The iconic Gunther’s Tap Room is reopening for business.

The Main Street watering hole in Northport built by Peter Gunther Sr., the late ex-chief of Northport Fire Department, has been rebuilt by the community it once served. Now, it’s ready to become the “bar of the people” again.

“As long as all goes well, we are looking to open for business Thursday or Friday,” co-owner Brad Vassallo told TBR News Media Aug. 31. “We have 20 to 30 people a day who pop their heads in here to ask, and we are excited.”

Everybody loves Gunther’s, it’s the late-night place to go. “It would have been really upsetting to see it not reopen and become something else.”

— Vince Terranova

It’s been more than a year since an early morning fire gutted the historic bar May 23, 2017, where one from locals to American novelist Jack Kerouac have sat down to have a pint.

“It was very emotional for all of us, as we’ve all felt the pain,” Northport native Bob Hagan said. “Being personal friends with the original owner, it was really difficult to see that happen.”

Hagan and his business partner, Eddie Carr, donated custom hardwood flooring to replace the former linoleum tiling. The 10-inch planks were installed and sealed with the final coat of stain earlier this week.

“It was probably more emotional than financial on our part as we wanted to see it rebuilt as quickly as possible,” he said.

Northport resident Vince Terranova also stepped forward and helped the Northport bar by donating to the reconstruction and renovation of the bathrooms, according to Vassallo.

“Everybody loves Gunther’s, it’s the late-night place to go,” Terranova said. “It would have been really upsetting to see it not reopen and become something else.”

Gunther’s co-owners, Vassallo and Eddie McGrath, had only taken over running the bar for roughly a year before it burned down, which hit home as they appreciated the local history it contained.

It has that same Gunther’s feel that it always had, which is always what we were trying to do.”

— Brad Vassallo

The walls have been repainted in the same original orange-and-brown color scheme with a red door that’s all “part of the history,” according to Vassallo. A few of the old pieces of memorabilia, photos and mirrors dug out after the fire, will be hung back on the wall over time. Vassallo said he has reached out to Gunther’s daughter, Lori Kerman, in an attempt to get replicas of the old newspaper articles that used to decorate the bar.

“It has that same Gunther’s feel that it always had, which is always what we were trying to do,” the co-owner said.

One infamous piece that’s been removed is the structural support pole near the pool table, according the owners. It was no longer needed when the 100-year-old building was reconstructed to modern safety standards.

“It’s a big change,” Vassallo said. “We plan on putting the pole back up near the bar for the nostalgia.”

He said one key piece at the heart of Gunther’s Tap Room that was salvaged is the original bar top. The piece has been painstakingly restored by Northport painter Robert Sturner. He said it required stripping the bar top down to its original wood, restaining it and layering six coats of polyurethane over it to preserve it.

“I polyurethaned right over the burns,” he said. “It adds something to it — it tells the story.”

“So many situations have happened in Northport like this, and over and over again, the community steps forward to pick up the pieces and help out.”

— Brad Vassallo

Even more important than the bar itself, Vassallo said the tap room’s bartenders and staff will be returning to pour a glass for their regulars. Many have already committed to their old shifts.

“It’s the people who make Gunther’s what it is,” he said.

Many had taken up a hodgepodge of shifts at other local establishments in order to offset the financial hardships for the last 16 months. Community fundraisers were launched to raise funds to help employees pay their bills, with more than $8,000 raised via GoFundMe for employees of the business.

“Northport is a close community and people here seem to take care of each other,” Vassallo said. “So many situations have happened in Northport like this, and over and over again, the community steps forward to pick up the pieces and help out.”

Sturner said he’s just glad to be one of the dozens who lent a hand in helping Gunther’s start its next chapter.

“I am grateful to have been a part of it,” he said. “They are my friends, and that’s my bar.”

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Suffolk County police have arrested a Northport-East Northport school district employee who allegedly while driving hit a student on his way to athletic practice at the high school Tuesday morning.

Janet Aliperti. Photo from SCPD

A 14-year-old Northport boy was walking westbound on Laurel Hill Road, when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound at 8:06 a.m. Sept. 4, according to police. The teen was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the student and we will support him and his family in any way needed,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said in message posted on the district’s website. “We will also cooperate with the Suffolk County Police Department as they conduct their investigation of the accident.”

The alleged driver of the Honda, Janet Aliperti, 57, of East Norwich, was not injured in the crash. Aliperti is an employee of the Northport school district, and a LinkedIn profile listed under the same name notes her position as a food service worker.

Suffolk police arrested Aliperti and charged her with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, operation while registration is suspended, and having an uninsured vehicle. The car has been impounded for a safety check, according to police.

Northport students’ first day of classes for the 2018-19 school year is Sept 6.

As school begins for our students on Thursday, September 6, the district reminds all residents to please drive carefully as our buses and student-pedestrians will be back on the roads” Banzer wrote. “Keeping our students safe as they travel to/from school and school-related events is a top priority of the district. Let us work together as a community to ensure the safety of all of our students throughout the year ahead.”

The investigation into the crash is ongoing and police are asking anyone with information to contact the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

Setauket Elementary School students were ready for the first day of classes, Sept. 5. 2017. File photo by Rita J. Egan

It’s back to school time, and we want to help you commemorate the occasion. If your child attends one of the following school districts and you’d like to submit a photo of their first day of school attire, them boarding or arriving home on the school bus, or waiting at the bus stop, we may publish it in the Sept. 6 issues of Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Just include their name, district and a photo credit, and send them by 12 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5 with the subject line “Back to school,” and then be sure to check Thursday’s paper.

Email The Village Times Herald and The Times of Middle Country editor Rita J. Egan at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Three Village School District
  • Middle Country School District

Email The Times of Huntington & Northports and The Times of Smithtown editor Sara-Megan Walsh at sara@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Huntington School District
  • Northport-East Northport School District
  • Harborfields School District
  • Elwood School District
  • Smithtown School District
  • Commack School District
  • Kings Park School District

Email The Port Times Record and The Village Beacon Record editor Alex Petroski at alex@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Port Jefferson School District
  • Comsewogue School District
  • Miller Place School District
  • Mount Sinai School District
  • Shoreham-Wading River School District
  • Rocky Point School District

Happy back to school!

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