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repairs

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Elwood school district opened its doors to residents last week for a night of building tours in anticipation of the Nov. 28 bond referendum vote to spend $38.2 million on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

School administrators guided parents through the district’s four buildings Nov. 8 — Harley Avenue Primary School, James H. Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — to provide firsthand glimpses of the proposed numerous critical repairs and renovations within each school. The projects are addressed in two propositions community members will be able to vote on Nov. 28.

The tours were considered effective by the small — yet invested — group of parents who walked through each school.

“You can tell me all you want that there are cracked tiles but seeing it actually brings it to life and makes you see the real needs here,” said Michael Ryan, whose daughter is a graduate of the district. “We have a responsibility to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to education.”

Marianne Craven, an Elwood resident for 40 years, thought it was a good idea for the school to host the tour.

“We’ve had all sorts of bond issues over the years, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a tour,” Craven said. “Those that didn’t come lost the visual. A picture is not worth a thousand words, and actually seeing it makes all the difference.”

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The first proposition of the bond totals $34.5 million and will cover major projects like the installation of new roofs on each school which currently leak and cause flooding whenever heavy rain occurs.

In observing the leaky ceilings throughout the middle and high school, Jill Mancini, a former district clerk at Elwood, said, “I moved here in 1975 and the roofs have been leaking since then. All of them.”

Also included under Proposition 1 are repairs to cracked sidewalks and curbing and the refurbishment of auditorium spaces and cafeterias, which need air conditioning as well as furniture replacements. In the middle and high school, the consumer science labs would be upgraded, along with the art rooms, locker rooms and a guidance suite.

“We need to bring them up to 21st century learning environments,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, who led the tour of the middle school. “Some folks who visit our facilities feel like they’ve stepped back in time when they enter [some] classrooms and it’s just not the right environment to teach our students the new skill sets they need to be successful.”

Karen Tyll, the mother of an Elwood seventh-grader, said seeing all the infrastructure problems was eye opening.

“They haven’t done enough throughout the years to maintain the schools and replace the things that are required replacements,” Tyll said, pointing out the importance of stable roofs. “We’re reaching a point where everything is sort of coming to a head, and we need to make the schools better in terms of health and safety for the kids.”

Although she said it’s unfortunate the district needs such an expensive bond, Tyll hopes it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Some of the items are unnecessary because they’re more wants rather than needs,” said one mother on the tour who asked not to be named. “A roof is definitely needed, but the new guidance suite is a want. Our taxes are going to go up and they should’ve separated some of these.”

The superintendent said he felt the Nov. 8 tours were productive in helping residents understand the scope of the proposed bond. 

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of the needs of the facilities solely from the use of pictures and videos,” Bossert said. “I believe residents left with a greater understanding of the priorities the district has brought forward.”

The steeple of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Northport has been leaking for more than a decade. Photos by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport congregation is praying for community help in order to save a pinnacle of the town’s history and landscape.

St. Paul’s Methodist Church has launched a capital campaign seeking to raise $300,000 to make structural repairs to the building’s historic steeple and preserve the sanctuary’s stained glass windows. The parish has found innovative ways to deal with the leaking steeple for nearly a decade, but the need for restoration has heightened as more extensive damage has occurred over time.

Pastor Kristina Hansen, religious leader of St. Paul’s, said the issue of rainwater leaking into the church’s sanctuary predates her arrival in 2010. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, who has been at the church for 26 years,  said determining the leak’s source took a lot of guesswork. Churchgoers used pots and pans to catch the water for years, and Hansen said the church even replaced the building’s roof “at hefty cost,” which did little to solve the problem.

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” she said. “The steeple was the culprit all along. It’s gotten to a point we can’t ignore or make do anymore.”

The church’s original steeple, built in 1873, is iconic, made of white-painted wooden boards with a copper dome on top. It’s steeped in more than rainwater, as throughout the decade parishioners have signed their names on the walls of the bell tower as they’ve made confirmation or held a position of service in the congregation.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Edwards-Bourdrez said the steeple’s leak has gradually limited church activities, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performance of the bell choir during inclement weather.

St. Paul’s has had a number of different construction firms come to review the damage and give estimates on the cost of repairs to preserve the historic structure, Hansen said. Initial prices range from $125,000 to $150,000, according to the pastor, but that could increase once scaffolding is built and a closer inspection is made of the two- to three-story high structure. The church has had temporary repairs done to prevent any further damage at the moment.

“Right now, for the first time in a decade, it isn’t leaking, but it’s not going to hold,” she said.

In addition to repairs to the steeple, the pastor said that the church is seeking donors to help preserve the sanctuary’s turn-of-the-century stained glass windows. The leading between sections of glass has started to deteriorate, which leaves the weight of the stained glass unsupported and prone to collapse. The estimated cost of repairing a single window can run more than $20,000, according to Hansen.

“I don’t know how much of the original work is still being done anymore,” she said. “It’s a part of the character of the sanctuary.”

The parish is hoping with the community’s support to upgrade its bathrooms, which are frequently used by residents for athletic events, artistic performances and local organizations like the Boy Scouts. This past Cow Harbor Day, churchgoers invited runners and spectators in need of a restroom inside to use the outdated facilities. The church wants to update its bathrooms and stairways to be fully handicapped accessible.

“With how many people we have in our building, we want our hospitality to be better,” Hansen said. “Any way we can make it more accessible, we want to do.”

The church’s capital campaign has already found support in the Northport community with John W. Engeman Theatre at Northport offering to donate $25,000 over the next three years. Hansen said a golf fundraiser is being held Oct. 16, with more events being planned in the upcoming weeks.

Jo Ann Katz, owner of Northport Plays, said the church has “been her home” for Northport Reader’s Theater and the Northport One-Act Play Festival over the years. It has provided a location for Long Island theater groups and actors to come together, with the yearly festival taking place on the parish’s stage in the gymnasium.

Katz will coproduce a special performance of “Ever Random,” a new play written by Long Island playwright Patrick Sherrard, to benefit St. Paul’s Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. The play is described as a touching comedy that explores a family’s struggles in the wake of a great loss. The show recently finished its September run at Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

Tickets cost $15 and reservations can be made by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099845.

Hansen said St. Paul’s members are grateful for the community coming together to support the steeple’s repair.

“You can see the steeple from the harbor as you are coming up the street. It’s one of those iconic marks,” she said. “The fact is it’s compromising this beautiful sanctuary.”

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Port Jefferson high school could look very different in the coming years if a $30M bond proposal is approved by the community. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson School District has its sights set on a massive face-lift that would impact all of its buildings, but it will come at a substantial cost.

District administration presented a $30 million capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during a board meeting Sept. 12 which would feature a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school and lights for the elementary school field, and many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million total.

Proposal highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new central administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

The district will need community approval on a referendum currently slated for a vote Dec. 5 to be able to proceed with obtaining the bond and ultimately beginning construction. If approved the construction would tentatively begin in 2019 and payments would be made annually beginning at about $1.5 million and concluding with a final $2.5 million installment in the 2033-34 fiscal year. The project would result in a homeowner who pays $4,000 annually in school taxes being asked to contribute an additional $200 per year. The district plans to post a “school tax calculator” tool on its website in the coming weeks to allow residents to check how much their tax bill would increase with the additional $30 million burden, on an individual basis. The ask comes at a time of financial uncertainty for the district, which along with several other municipalities on Long Island could potentially lose a substantial amount of property tax revenue pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority.

“Regardless of what happens with LIPA, we to need to take care of the schools,” District Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “The best investment you can make, and I know I’m a public school educator so you expect me to say stuff like this, but the best investment you can make is in your schools, and it affects your property values. To neglect the schools is not really a wise move in terms of investment.”

Port Jefferson resident Drew Biondo was one of several community members in attendance who expressed concerns about an “all or nothing” referendum, as he said he viewed some of the components of the proposal as vital and others as less urgent. Casciano and Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister both said during the meeting the district hadn’t yet decided how the referendum would appear on the ballot, be it broken up into more than one component to be voted on or a straight, “yes” or “no” vote on the proposal in its entirety.

“I’d have to think hard about a turf field and lights,” Biondo said. “I understand the need, but when we’re facing possible closure of a power plant … I haven’t made a decision, but one of the things that will probably sway me is if this is an all or nothing. If it’s all or nothing, I don’t know which way I’ll go.”

The district is seeking more community input on the proposal through a survey on its website which was originally going to close Sept. 15, though Casciano said it may be left open for longer. Public tours will be held Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the elementary school and Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. at the high school for those interested in seeing the areas designated for upgrades.

UPDATE: The district has extended the window for community members to complete the bond proposal survey on its website through Oct. 9.

The Smithtown Residential Repair Program team prepares for a day full of helping elderly citizens. Photo from Laura Greif

By Joseph Wolkin

Smithtown’s Residential Repair Program is out in full force this summer. With no cost of labor, participants must only provide the materials being used.

Assisting seniors 60 years old and over, the repair program looks to make an impact on the local community, giving back to those who don’t want to risk any injury while making a repair.

Laura Greif, program director, said residents are responding well to the service.

“I think people love this program,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s nice to know the community can assist seniors in their homes. This program is for renters also. You can have someone come do a repair for you instead of having the charge of paying for a plumber or electrician. But it’s only minor repairs.”

The repair program has five part-time workers, with hopes of hiring a sixth one shortly, Greif said. Serving anywhere from 10 to 15 people a day, the program director believes the organization is making a great impact on the local community.

Services range from changing light bulbs and smoke detectors, to repairing faucets and even cleaning first floor gutters.

Funding for the Residential Repair Program is provided by the New York State Office for the Aging, Suffolk County Office for the Aging and Town of Smithtown.

“The program is a state, county and town-funded program,” Greif said. “The idea of this program is to keep our seniors safe in their homes. We provide small repair services for them, like light bulbs changed, smoke detectors, weatherization, their faucets are leaking or they need them changed, and all they do is pay for the materials.”

Steve Ingram, an employee who works for the program, recognizes the impact they make within the Smithtown community.

“We go into the homes and work on minor plumbing, replace a faucet, the insides of a toilet, minor electrical work, replace light switches and outlets, change light bulbs that the seniors can’t reach, minor carpentry and just safety-related items,” Ingram said in a phone interview. “We do minor repairs that don’t require a licensed electrician or plumber to do the work.

But Ingram said the safety jobs are the most crucial service they provide to seniors.

“The most important things we do are the safety-related items, like changing carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, because it’s just important we get right on top of those,” he said. “When they call those in, we’re usually on them by the next day.”

The employees are maintenance mechanics, but are not licensed plumbers or electricians, Greif said.

The positive feedback ranks among the most enjoyable parts of helping out the seniors of Smithtown, according to the workers involved.

“It is a great feeling to help the seniors,” Ingram said. “When I first took the job, I anticipated that I would get some type of satisfaction in helping them. The feedback that we get from them is what helps the program as well. It’s great for all of us.”

For people who want a service performed at their house, call the organization’s office at 631-360-7616. All patrons must complete a work order that states what services they need done, along with answering a few additional questions for the program’s reporting purposes.