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Port Jefferson School District

Dressed in purple and white caps and gowns, the 97 students who make up the 2017 Earl L. Vandermeulen High School graduating class were presented with diplomas at the annual commencement ceremonies June 23.

In a unique presentation, valedictorian Chiara Rabeno and salutatorian Xinyi Hong shared the stage together and spoke in unison about the gifts and choices each of their peers possess. Their address touched on the honesty of Xinyi and the sentimentality of Chiara, winding up with the ultimate message of needing balance in order to achieve their full potential.

During the commencement, speakers offered congratulations and words of wisdom. Among those addressing the students were Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Principal Christine Austen and Superintendent of Schools Paul Casciano, in his first commencement address as the district’s leader.

The ceremony featured several musical performances by the school’s orchestra led by Michael Caravello; the presentation of the American flag by the Port Jefferson Fire Department; the presentation of the traditional class gift — a new water fountain installed for all students to enjoy; as well as motivational speeches peppered with anecdotes and advice by Student Organization President Rebecca Stafford and Elisa Scott, mother of graduate Charlie Scott, who gave the parent address.

Port Jefferson graduate and Tony Award-nominated director Rebecca Taichman. Photo from Taichman

When Rebecca Taichman was a student at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, starting in 1984, she felt lost. With a reputation since elementary school of being a bit of an oddball, she found it difficult, and unappealing, to fit in with the rest of the pack.

She was an outsider, she said, until her senior year when she took  an acting class offered by Robert Krusemark, an English teacher at the time.

“I burst to life,” Taichman said in a phone interview. She was recently nominated for a Tony Award in the category of Best Direction of a Play for the critically lauded Broadway production, “Indecent.” The show is also nominated in the Best Play category. “I loved it [and] I really found myself there. Mr. Krusemark had a huge impact on me; he suggested that I apply to go to this Yale School of Drama summer program and because of him and that class, I did that.”

From that class, in which she recited monologues by playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, Taichman began her journey that has since seen her direct dozens of New York-based and regional plays, operas, and musicals. She has taught theater arts at NYU, MIT, and Yale and is among just five nominees in her category at the 71st Annual Tony Awards this Sunday, June 11, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“It’s amazing and I’m really proud of her,” one of Taichman’s closest friends Cynthia Lee, a classmate in the Port Jefferson School District from first through 12th grade, said in a phone interview.

Laughing that she and Taichman felt like the offbeat kids in John Hughes’ movies while in high school, Lee recalled her friend’s sudden foray into theater.

“I was kind of surprised…I didn’t realize she had that bug in her and that was something she was going to pursue, [but] then she took off with it in college,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine her not going down that path.”

After graduating high school in 1988, Taichman became absorbed by all things theater, recognizing the art form as her true language.

“I can’t imagine her not going down that path.”

— Cynthia Lee

“I knew it was my vocabulary, that was very clear, I’m still not sure exactly why, but it was clearly my way of thinking,” she said.

It was at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada that she first dabbled outside of acting, taking part in casting, literary management, dramaturgy and eventually directing, cutting her teeth with a production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.”

“It was clear I was a better director than I was at any of the other things,” she said. “I was not a very good actor and as soon as I started directing, it was so clear I never would’ve cast me. That’s where I found my talent lay.”

Five years later, she ventured back to the Yale School of Drama, this time to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing.

Back at Yale, she discovered “The God of Vengeance,” a Yiddish play written by Sholem Asch in 1906, which would become the inspiration for “Indecent.” Taichman’s production is about the events surrounding the early Broadway productions of Asch’s controversial and landmark drama which depicts a brothel owner whose daughter falls in love with one of his prostitutes.

During the original run of Asch’s play in 1923, which featured the first kiss between two women on a Broadway stage, Taichman explained, most of the cast and crew were indicted and thrown in jail for “indecency” and “obscenity.”

“It took my breath away,” Taichman said of the original play by Asch, which she’d adapted as her thesis at Yale and been actively trying to do something more with since 1997.

“I was not a very good actor and as soon as I started directing, it was so clear I never would’ve cast me.”

— Rebecca Taichman

She eventually met and pitched the idea to Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel about seven years ago, and Vogel quickly got on board. Finding its legs at the Vineyard Theater in Union Square before racking up awards on Broadway, “Indecent” is a music-and-dance-filled yet powerful stroll through the decades as a group of actors perform “The God of Vengeance.”

“[It’s] ultimately a love letter to the theater and the power of making art in increasingly dangerous times…it’s an extremely important story, one about homophobia and anti-immigration, similar to what we’re experiencing now,” she said. “It’s quite special to be recognized for this particular piece, having thought about it for decades. People can apparently feel how deeply my heart is in it.”

Taichman’s sister Laura tried to put the Tony nomination into perspective.

“It’s so exciting and totally well-deserved — she has worked so hard, this play has been her baby for 20 years and it’s a heartening experience to watch this happen,” she said. “For the reception to be a Tony Award nomination rather than a conviction for obscenity feels just.”

Finding a parking spot in Port Jefferson is often difficult, but a valet parking service could change things. File photo

By Alex Petroski

Restaurant owners in Port Jefferson Village brought forth an idea to the board that might help to alleviate one of its oldest and most challenging problems. In a June 4 letter to other business owners in the village, John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, announced his intentions, along with other members of the Pro Port Jefferson Association to propose a communal valet parking system. Several restaurant owners attended a June 5 public board meeting to announce their intentions and allow the community to weigh in.

The proposed system would be a contract between the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and the Port Jefferson School District. Currently the plan would see the municipal parking lot on Maple Avenue across the street from the fire department used as a staging area for downtown visitors.

Cars would be dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermuelen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service would cost drivers $7. The pilot program will take place during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays from noon to 11 p.m.

“Parking is the number one issue that affects our bottom line as business owners,” Urbinati’s letter said. “There are not enough parking spaces in the village we love and try to succeed in and customers are turned off when they get tickets. Anytime there are village events going on there are no spaces available.”

Tom Schafer, owner of Schafer’s and Tommy’s and president of the Port Jeff BID, did a bulk of the speaking on behalf of the restaurant owners during the meeting.

“Regardless of anyone’s opinion on what the vision for the future of the village is, the one thing everybody seems to be in agreement on is that there’s not enough parking,” he said. “Maybe there’s going to be hovercrafts in the future, I have no idea, but for now, traffic is a foregone conclusion.”

Many village residents in attendance pushed back against the idea because of the possible increase of traffic on their streets, and because of a lack of public notice or input prior to the imminent implementation of the program, though no date is currently set for its inception.

“Did anybody think to ever let the people know that live on those streets, that buy the houses on those streets, so they can get to know they’re going to have traffic coming and going at all hours,” Marge McCuen, longtime village resident, said. “Each and every property owner is funding what goes on in this village with our taxes. A public hearing should have been held before you ever came up with this. You might have had this grand plan, and I’m not questioning your motives, but don’t question ours either.”

Another village resident asked that studies be done on how often parking is totally unavailable and how much traffic actually flows on the streets proposed for usage prior to the pilot program to see what the impact might be. Village Mayor Margot Garant said she did not anticipate the village committing funds to study that data.

“We’re interested in pursuing this because we think it’s necessary,” she said. “We have an obligation to support the new stores. There are new people making investments in this community every single day and they’re helping us make this community a vibrant and healthy community.”

The program would be cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village. The approximately 300 employees of the restaurants would also use the valet system for their shifts.

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo also voiced vigorous support for the idea.

“I, for one, say if the ‘i’s’ are dotted and the ‘t’s’ are crossed we have to give this thing a chance,” he said.

No official vote was taken during the meeting after a lengthy discussion between several residents and business owners.

This version was updated following the June 5 board meeting.

Unopposed board of education races go to incumbents, one newcomer in Port Jefferson

Compared to Election Day in November, the May version for school district budget votes and board of education candidates in the Port Jefferson area was seriously lacking in drama.

Board of education races came to a close in the Port Jefferson and Comsewogue school districts May 16 with little suspense, as two candidates ran for two open seats in each district. Both districts’ budgets were also passed, with 82 percent of Port Jeff voters and 79 percent in Comsewogue giving their stamp of approval to the 2017-18 spending plans.

Port Jefferson

Adam DeWitt. File photo by Elana Glowatz

A second proposition on the ballot in Port Jeff was also overwhelmingly passed by the community, allowing the district to release $456,000 from a capital reserve fund to be used on renovations and infrastructure-related improvement projects.

“On behalf of the Port Jefferson board of education, administration, students and staff, I extend my appreciation to the Port Jefferson community for their continued support of our district,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an emailed statement. “Through the approval of our school budget, our district will continue to offer our students a high quality educational program. Additionally, the support of Proposition 2 allows the district to replace portions of the high school and middle school roof, continuing our investment in district facilities.”

Port Jeff’s 2017-18 budget will be nearly $43 million, a roughly 3.5 percent increase over last year. Almost $36 million of revenue will come from property taxes. The budget was passed with 338 “yes” to 74 “no” votes.

Adam DeWitt will begin his third term on the Port Jeff board of education after receiving 357 votes. He and newcomer Dave Keegan, with 356 votes, each ran unopposed for two seats.

“I am very grateful to the Port Jefferson community for giving me the opportunity to join the Board of Education,” Keegan said in an email. “I am excited to begin my tenure and to contribute to helping keep the Port Jefferson School District among the best public school systems in the country.”

DeWitt said in a phone interview he was thrilled with the support the community showed for the upcoming year’s spending plan.

“I couldn’t be prouder to continue to serve on the board for another three years,” he added.

Comsewogue

Ali Gordon. Photo from Ali Gordon

Voters in Comsewogue passed the district’s approximately $90 million budget by a 789 to 208 margin. The district’s tax levy will be 2.8 percent higher than for the current year.

“I’m very, very thankful to our wonderful community for its overwhelming support of our budget,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in a phone interview.

Ali Gordon, who ran unopposed, will begin her third term on Comsewogue’s board of education beginning in July after receiving 882 votes. Board vice president James Sanchez will also be granted another term, as 846 community members checked off his name.

James Sanchez. Photo from James Sanchez

“There are great things happening in our schools every day, and I’m proud to be part of a team that prioritizes innovation and creativity in education,” Gordon said in an email. She called it an honor to be able to serve the community for a third term.

Sanchez expressed a similar sentiment.

“As an incumbent I am honored to be given the opportunity in serving a third term, allowing me to be the voice and advocate for the Comsewogue families and students,” he said in an email. “I’d like to give a heartfelt thanks for entrusting me as your representative on the board.”

For voters in both the Port Jefferson and Comsewogue school districts, what’s old will be new again. Incumbent Adam DeWitt and newcomer David Keegan will be the only two names on the ballot May 16 for those living in the Port Jeff district with two seats open. Bob Ramus, a nine-year board member, announced earlier in 2017 he would not seek another term. Residents in Comsewogue will also see two names running for two open seats. The candidates are incumbents Ali Gordon and James Sanchez.

Port Jefferson School District

Adam DeWitt. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Adam DeWitt will be elected for his third term on the Port Jefferson board of education. He was first elected in 2013 on an interim basis, then won a seat during the 2014 to begin his first full term. The 42-year-old principal in the Longwood school district lives in Port Jefferson and has two children who attend the district.

He said he initially decided to run four years ago because he was concerned at the possibility of the district losing a substantial amount of revenue based on a legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority and the Port Jefferson Power Station, and is still committed to working on it.

DeWitt praised his colleagues on the board for the environment he has seen develop during his time serving.

“That’s another reason I want to continue to be on it … we created a system of efficiency and collaboration,” he said.

He said one of the things that has happened during his time that he’s proud of playing a part in is the district’s updated rules on transgender students use of bathrooms and locker rooms as of April 2016. The new policy allowed students to identify in their records how they would like their gender to be identified.

David Keegan, 47, has been an information and technology sales professional for the last 24 years. He is currently an area sales manager at Cisco Systems and a resident of Belle Terre.

“As an avid reader of American History I have come to appreciate and understand the importance of civic responsibility and commitment to community,” he said in an email. “As a Port Jefferson community member and parent to two children in the district, I am keenly interested in helping to assure the district continues to strive to provide a world-class education for all of our children.”

He also referenced the situation with LIPA as a deciding factor for his engagement with the school board, though there are other things he said he hopes to help accomplish in his first term, like expansion of STEM opportunities for students.

Comsewogue School District

Ali Gordon. Photo from Ali Gordon

Ali Gordon began her time on the school board in 2011. She is begining her third term in 2017. Gordon currently works as a senior advocate for the Suffolk County Office for the Aging. The 45-year-old has lived in Port Jefferson Station since 1999 with her husband and three of her four children, two of which are still attending Comsewogue schools.

Gordon said she originally ran for the position as an extension of her own advocacy and activism in local government. She spent several years in the PTA for Terryville Elementary School and even organized letter-writing campaigns for the district to address local issues in education with elected representatives.

She shared why she decided to run again this time around.

“I’m running again because Comsewogue has made incredible strides toward providing all of our students with a well-rounded, student-centered education, but there’s always more that can be done,” she said in an email. “Within my next term I look forward to advocating for Comsewogue to secure permission from New York State to officially be part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, and expanding opportunities for students to earn college credit during high school.”

James Sanchez. Photo from James Sanchez

James Sanchez is the vice president of the Comsewogue board.

He is 62 years old and has lived in the district for 27 years. He works at the Port Jefferson Ferry as a dock master. He was first elected to the board in 2011 and said his goal when he first decided to run was to do anything he could to foster high student achievement through optimum, responsible use of taxpayer funds.

During his tenure he has served on the budget and finance, buildings, grounds and maintenance and board and district policies committees.

Sanchez shared some of his goals for his upcoming third term in an email.

“Developing a safe and secure school in which we have the mindfulness to protect all against bullying, harassment and discrimination is essential for providing a student friendly classroom,” he said. In this way we can create a safe and supportive school environment.”

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School board president Kathleen Brennan. File photo

For the immediate future, the Port Jefferson school district is in a stable financial position as they plan for the 2017-18 school year, though a February petition filed by National Grid could impact the district’s outlook sooner rather than later.

The district’s assistant superintendent for business Sean Leister presented a second draft of the budget for next school year. Currently the plan includes a rollover of all curriculum in the current year’s budget, including some recommended enhancements, and also adds funding for four new staff members district-wide, two of whom will be full-time employees in the special education department. After accounting for contractual increases in staff member salaries and benefits, as well as several infrastructure-related capital improvement projects, the result is a $43,293,012 budget, which is about $1.9 million more than the 2016-17 version. The district will see savings due to a reduction in New York State pension system rates, which Leister’s presentation indicated as a contributing factor in maintaining academic programs despite a slight increase in expenses.

Leister summed up the district’s current financial situation during the presentation.

“We’ve reduced borrowing fees on our money through prudent cash management, we’ve entered into an energy performance contract to save money on lighting and heating efficiency, we continue to review the allocation of staffing, greater stability in administration has led to a reduction in mentoring costs and a high school electrical upgrade will give us different solutions enabling us to operate more efficiently,”
he said.

The budget includes a 2.35 percent tax levy increase, which after exemptions will allow the district to collect the maximum allowable revenue from property taxes while remaining below the state-mandated 2.0 percent cap.

About $35.6 million of the district’s revenue comes from taxpayers, though that number could be slashed drastically in the coming years, pending a lawsuit filed by the district in conjunction with other local municipalities to prevent LIPA proposals to reduce its tax burden. Almost half of the district’s property tax revenue comes from the Port Jefferson Power Center.

Recently National Grid, which provides energy to Long Island in partnership with LIPA, filed a petition with the New York State Public Service Commission in an effort to lift maximum restrictions on peaker units, which are additional power generators designed to be used during times of peak power consumption. Village residents said during a public hearing on the matter March 22 the petition is the first step in an impending fight over the repowering of the now-closed baseload plant, a solution the district and Port Jefferson Village have pushed as a compromise to LIPA’s proposals, though the power authority has deemed the plant “obsolete.”

At the March 21 board of education meeting, district superintendent Paul Casciano called the petition a “piece of the larger puzzle” in the dispute, which could significantly impact future revenue. Nothing imminent is expected relating to the district’s revenue from the plant.

Some of the infrastructure-related capital improvement projects include replacing the roof and electrical improvements at the high school, façade repairs and resurfacing of the high school track. Replacing the high school roof will require a second referendum to be voted on by the public because it would require the release of about $400,000 from the district’s capital reserves. Leister addressed the need for some of the various projects during
his presentation.

“We have some loose bricks that we need to tighten up for health and safety reasons,” Leister said of the façade repairs, which are slated for the high school and middle school. He also justified the need to replace the track. “The track has reached its useful life and if we don’t resurface it now for $360,000, we could be facing a million-dollar, full replacement.”

Leister added during the village board meeting the district has about $1.7 million in unused fund balance, which the district is allowed to keep as a “rainy day” fund as long as it is less than four percent of the total budget.

“You can see here we have a very healthy district and healthy reserves currently on our books,” he said.

The budget vote will take place May 16.

A view of the main page of a piece of Reclaim NY’s Transparency Project. Image from ReclaimNY website

Transparency and honesty play a major role in healthy democracies, and now New York State municipalities will have a watchdog tracking their effectiveness, providing feedback publicly to concerned citizens, by concerned citizens.

Last week, Reclaim New York, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to “educate New Yorkers on issues like affordability, transparency and education,” launched a website designed to rate government accessibility and transparency based on an index of recommendations.

The site is part of the group’s New York Transparency Project, an initiative launched in 2016, which kicked off with 2,500 Freedom of Information Law requests for basic expenditure information to county, town and village governments, as well as school districts across Long Island and the state.

“This is an accountability tool,” Reclaim New York Communications Director Doug Kellogg said. “Anybody who wants to help do something to make government more accessible and accountable, go spend 30 minutes and input ratings.”

The new system allows citizens to grade local governments based on 29 indicators, including whether contracts are posted on the internet, there’s access to expenditure records, notices of meetings and the minutes to the meetings are available and contact information is listed for elected officials. The municipalities will receive an overall, objective grade. The grade will indicate which are transparent and law-abiding, as budget information and records access officers need to be publicly available.

“Anybody who wants to help do something to make government more accessible and accountable, go spend 30 minutes and input ratings.”

— Doug Kellogg

“Citizens can hold their governments accountable at every level if they have the right tools for the job,” executive director for the organization Brandon Muir said in a statement. “This is a truly unprecedented moment for New Yorkers who want to reclaim ownership of their government. Working with this new site they can make proactive transparency a reality.”

To input data, users must register with an email address. When data is put into the system, it is vetted and sited prior to going live to avoid a “wild west” feel, according to Kellogg. The process of imputing data to extract a rating for municipalities has only just begun. Kellogg said it will take time to have an all-encompassing collection of information.

In May 2016, Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district failed to comply with FOIL requests as part of the organization’s Transparency Project.

New York’s FOIL requires governments and school districts respond to records requests within five business days, whether with the information requested, a denial or an acknowledgement of the request. The response needs to include an estimated date when one of the latter two will occur. Denials can be appealed but  not allowed “on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome, because the agency lacks sufficient staffing.”

As part of a project it dubbed the New York Transparency Project, Reclaim New York sent 253 Freedom of Information requests to school districts and municipalities on Long Island. It reported on its findings, saying that while many entities complied with state guidelines on processing such public records requests, and after the findings were released, Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district eventually complied with the requests.

Entities that it said complied included Suffolk County; Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns; Belle Terre and Lake Grove villages; and the Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Huntington, Smithtown, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts, among others.

To become an evaluator for the website or to view data, visit www.reclaimnewyork.org and click on the Transparency tab.

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Benjamin Perez-Flesler is honored at a board of education meeting with board member Ellen Boehm and Superintendent Paul Casciano. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

An 11-year-old at Port Jefferson Middle School is using technology to improve his preparedness for quizzes and exams, but he’s also looking out for the school’s entire sixth grade.

Benjamin Perez-Flesler was preparing for a test on ancient civilizations in his social studies class in November when he decided to create a study guide modeled after one he’d seen created by his LOTE (languages other than English) teacher Robert Farenga to get himself ready to ace the exam. Once he was finished making the quiz list, he though he’d share it with his classmates.

“I think initially it was mostly for myself, but I decided it was easier to share with everyone,” Benjamin said.

His classmates were grateful for the emailed study guide they received, according to Benjamin, so he decided to create more. That’s when he borrowed another idea from Farenga, to take the studying to the next level. His teacher hosts the study guides on a Google site accessible to anyone with the address, so Benjamin decided to make a website of his own.

“Over the Thanksgiving break I thought about how much the first study guide had helped my classmates,” Benjamin said during a presentation on technology in the classroom, made to the board of education Feb. 14. “I decided I would continue making study guides for more tests as they came and realized I would need somewhere to put them … after making the site I shared it with everyone in the grade and all of my teachers. Some of my teachers showed everyone how to get to it and what it was, so many more people started using it.”

He said soon after, a few of his friends asked if they could help with the website.

“With their help, many things were added to the website such as calendars, a feedback page, more study guides and games,” he said.

“I’m very, very partial of course, I’m the proud mom. He really likes challenges, and he’s fascinated by computers and the things you can do with them.”

—Daniela Flesler

Currently, the site has three social studies guides, two for science, three for math and four for LOTE, and Benjamin is still going strong. He and his classmates who helped with the site also offer extra help sessions for students in need at the high school library.

“I was surprised and amazed — kind of in awe of the things that he’s doing by himself,” Benjamin’s mom Daniela Flesler said. “I thought it was wonderful. I was so moved that he decided to share this with everyone else in his class.”

Benjamin’s father Adrian Perez said he would be very curious to see how his son’s endeavor has impacted test scores of student throughout the grade, and praised his son for taking on the responsibility of helping the entire sixth grade.

Benjamin’s parents were far from alone in heaping adulation on the 11-year-old.

“Benjamin, I see a business endeavor in your future, but most of all I would say congratulations on being such a wonderful peer mentor and peer supporter,” school board president Kathleen Brennan said after the presentation. “What a great idea to try and help your fellow students — truly impressive. Thank you for that.”

Middle School Principal Robert Neidig expressed a similar sentiment.

“I am so proud of Benjamin’s commitment to assisting his fellow students with their academic success,” Neidig said when Benjamin was honored by the board earlier in the school year. “His actions demonstrate his selflessness and compassionate nature.”

Benjamin, who’s father is from Spain and mother is from Argentina, said he hopes to be a teacher or a marine biologist when he grows up.

His mom had a hard time holding back her pride in her son’s accomplishments.

“I’m very, very partial of course, I’m the proud mom,” she said. “He really likes challenges, and he’s fascinated by computers and the things you can do with them.”

Students and parents interested in accessing Benjamin’s study guide can visit https://sites.google.com/a/portjeffschools.org/6th-grade-study-guides/home.

Port Jeff school district’s facilities administrator Fred Koelbel shows off the high school’s green roof during a workshop for other districts, municipalities and members of the public interested in the technology. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson school district recently installed a bed of vegetation on the roof of the high school as a way to curb its impact on Port Jefferson Harbor and the Long Island Sound by reducing and filtering stormwater, and now other municipalities and districts are taking notice.

The district’s facilities administrator Fred Koelbel spearheaded the mission to obtain a grant from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund as a part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Projects program in 2016. As a result, the district received money to cover all but $68,000 of the $275,000 total cost to install a 3,400-square-foot bed of pre-grown sedum, a large perennial plant, on a portion of the school’s roof. The district also has an educational element planned for the new roof, to allow students to take a hands-on approach to tracking how much stormwater the roof helped to treat and prevent from entering the harbor and Sound.

Port Jeff’s green roof at the high school provides environmental and educational benefits. Photo by Alex Petroski

The project was overseen by Siplast, a commercial roofing manufacturer who specializes in installing green roofs in New York and across the country. John A. Grillo Architects of Port Jefferson installed the roof. Siplast’s district manager for New York Michael Balaban and field sales representative Colby Devereux were at Port Jefferson high school Jan. 26, to host an informational workshop for administrators from other school districts, members of the public, a representative from Port Jefferson’s board of trustees and building department, among others who might be interested in installing a green roof on their school, home or municipal building. Balaban said most of the company’s work has been done in New York City, and he isn’t aware of any other school district on Long Island with a green roof, currently.

The representatives from the company presented the many public and private benefits to the attendees, and held up the district as an example for what is possible if others were to follow Koelbel’s lead.

“For our kids, now this is something that we do — we made it normal,” Koelbel said to the workshop attendees.

The concept of installing green roofs in the United States began in 2005, according to Balaban, and there are numerous environmental benefits. The vegetation catches rainwater, filters it and slows down its progression through municipal drains, and thus reduces the dangerous impact stormwater can have on Long Island’s water supply. According to the presentation, green roofs also increase a building’s energy efficiency and work as insulation for noise from within a building.

With green roofs, according to the presentation, water is stored at the surface and taken by the plants, where it is returned to the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation. Green roofs not only retain rainwater, but moderate the temperature of the water and act as natural filters for any of the water that happens to run off.

Devereux praised Koelbel’s vision and the multifaceted benefits of installing a green roof on a school. Balaban had kind words about the actual execution of the project at Port Jefferson.

“We look at a lot of roofing every day … this is just really, really, really well done,” he said. “The roofer deserves a little applause here as well.”

Bruce D’Abramo, a member of the village board of trustees and liaison to the building and planning department, attended the workshop on behalf of the village.

“The reason we brought the planning board here is so that we can encourage, especially with our redevelopment, the use of this kind of roof,” he said. He added that the village will encourage business owners to venture to the school to take a look at the roof and gain an understanding of its benefits, to possibly add vegetation when they are in need of a new roof.

Port Jeff’s green roof at the high school provides environmental and educational benefits. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A facilities administrator in the Port Jefferson School District is doing his part to reduce the district’s impact on the quality of the Long Island Sound’s water.

Finding innovative ways to improve and protect Long Island’s water is a priority for state and county governments, environmental groups, businesses dependent on marine life and concerned residents. Last year, Fred Koelbel, Port Jeff’s facilities administrator, was able to secure a grant funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund as a part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Projects program.

The grant paid for the district to install a bed of vegetation on a 3,400 square foot portion of the high school’s roof to serve as a basin to catch and treat stormwater prior to discharging it into the village’s stormwater system, according to Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the DEC.

“It rains on this, the water filters through and is held in the growing medium,” Koelbel explained while looking over the dual-purposed roof, which will be used for middle school science lessons beginning in the spring in addition to its environmental benefits. “It’s a drop in a bucket, but it’s meant to be a demonstration project. It demonstrates to the kids what the potential is; it demonstrates to the community what the potential is if you did this on a larger scale.”

Koelbel said he frequently monitors grants made available by New York State, and after being denied for this particular project once, the district was approved to receive the funding in 2016. The total cost of the project was about $275,000, though the grant covered all but about $68,000. Koelbel added that the area of the building was in need of a new roof anyway, and it would have cost the district more than $68,000 to install a conventional roof.

“It’s a really great thing. This is the kind of stuff I like to do.”

— Fred Koelbel

“It was a win-win because it gave us all of the benefits of the green roof, plus saved us money on the installation,” he said. The previous roof was made of a material that reflected sunlight and caused a glare and higher temperatures in a wing of classrooms in the building’s middle school, which is adjoined to the high school. Koelbel said the district first installed air conditioners to alleviate the problem, and then put a reflective film over the windows, but the green roof provides much greater benefits in addition to fixing an existing problem.

“The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School green roof is an excellent example of New York State’s statewide investments in green infrastructure,” Montalvo said in an email. “The green roof will reduce the overall pollutant loading entering Port Jefferson Harbor, as well as educate students and the public on the benefits of green infrastructure.”

Port Jefferson is the only district on Long Island to install a green roof. Koelbel said some districts have reached out to him with questions about the project, though none have visited yet. He added he has plans to host a workshop in the near future for Port Jefferson Village roofing contractors and commercial property owners who might be in need of a new roof to advocate for the installation of more green roofs.

“For the next generation, this is something we do now,” Koelbel said. The district also has solar panels installed on some buildings, which are used to teach lessons about energy use. They also replaced many lighting fixtures with LED lighting in the past. Koelbel said he was proud of the example the district is setting for students about reducing environmental impact.

“When you’re doing public works type stuff, getting innovative sometimes is difficult, so the fact that we could set it up this way where it was a savings to the district over what we would have done if we just did what we had always done, and now we get to demonstrate the benefits to the students — it’s a real plus,” he said. “It’s a really great thing. This is the kind of stuff I like to do.”

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