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Rocketship Park

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Kids play on the equipment at Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson Village during its grand reopening event in June, following a renovation headed up by L.K. McLean Associates, which received an award for engineering excellence last week. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Residents of Port Jefferson Village have known for decades Rocketship Park is a special place, but now the engineering firm that handled its renovation has the hardware to prove it.

L.K. McLean Associates announced Jan. 3 it received the Diamond Award in the special projects category from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York for its renovation of Clinton H. Lee Memorial Park in Port Jeff Village, or Rocketship Park as it’s commonly known. LKMA is a firm with licensed engineers, land surveyors and architects that has been serving the New York Metropolitan area since 1950, according to its website.

The ACEC of New York has hosted annually for more than 50 years its Engineering Excellence Gala — or the Academy Awards of the consulting engineering industry, as the organization’s website indicates. The event is the culmination of a selection process in which more than 60 firms submit projects to be judged on a rigorous set of criteria, including complexity, innovation and value to society. A panel of industry experts, including military and government officials, leadership from ACEC, educators from college and university engineering departments and others, judges the projects. Winners are selected based on the highest average scores in the various categories.

The Diamond Award is the highest level handed out by ACEC.

“As a parent, it was a rewarding experience to work with the village to renovate the park I grew up playing in,” said Chris Dwyer, an associate at LKMA and the project manager for the Rocketship Park renovations. “The park now gives kids of all ages and abilities the opportunity to play and enjoy such an iconic landmark. We are thrilled at such an honor by ACEC.”

The 4,000-square-foot playground was originally built in the 1970s. The idea to overhaul the footprint can be traced as far back as 2013, after vandals destroyed some of the previous equipment. In addition to extra security features, this prompted the village to look into repairs, according to a previous interview with former village trustee Adrienne Kessel. She is chair of the Treasure Your Parks campaign, a group which spearheaded the upgrade project.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting, but that wasn’t the answer,” she said. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she was glad to hear the park would be recognized for its design.

“The recognition for Rocketship is really meaningful because not only is the park beautiful, it was done to allow inclusion for all children to have access,” she said. “So we made it bigger and more beautiful than even we could have imagined it. I am so pleased that everyday residents and visitors can continue to revisit and build their strong family memories at this beautiful family park.”

LKMA served as the sole engineering consultant and site surveyor, and proposed schematic site plans that were eventually developed and used.

“Equipment selection emphasized a meaningful play design, allowing children the opportunity to choose how they play, while seeing connections with play and choice,” LKMA’s announcement of the award said. “A ‘choose your own adventure’ engages children in the five elements essential to meaningful play: physical, cognitive, social, sensory and communicative. The site plan was arranged to maximize parental supervision with clean lines of sight from dispersed seating areas.”

The park has been under video surveillance since it reopened in June and Garant asked that all those who visit the park help ensure it remains clean, free of graffiti, vandalism and litter.

The total cost of the project was almost $900,000, with $500,000 coming from taxpayer dollars, $265,000 from a New York State parks grant and about $120,000 from donations, according to Barbara Sakovich, assistant to the mayor.

Nicole Christian, grant writer for PJV, helps fund projects by finding hidden dollars. Photo from HB Solutions website

Though the hills might not be saturated with valuable nuggets like the gold rush days of old, hidden money exists for municipalities in the form of state and federal grants for countless types of projects.

For the last eight years, Nicole Christian, a grant writer for HB Solutions consulting services, has been finding hidden dollars for Port Jefferson Village and, as a result, has helped to progress projects that might otherwise not have gone forward. Since 2014, Christian, a 2015 “Forty Under 40” honoree by Long Island Business News, has found more than $3 million to put toward a wide range of projects that have or will positively affect the lives of members of the community.

Her work has been instrumental to advancing the village’s upper Port Jeff revitalization plan. Dubbed “Uptown Funk,” the multiphased project has been building momentum since 2014 and aims to transform blighted properties, better connect residents to work, make the streets more walkable and vibrant, and provide an overall better place to live in the area of the village on Main Street between North Country Road and the Long Island Rail Road train tracks, according to Village Mayor Margot Garant,

At the beginning of 2017, Christian secured $500,000 from Empire State Development through its Restore New York Communities Initiative, and a grant of $250,000 from Suffolk County as part of its Jumpstart program, for transit-based improvements around the Long Island Rail Road Port Jeff train station. In December, the village learned it had received another $350,000 Restore New York grant from the state to go towards the upper Port plan, bringing the total Uptown Funk grant money up to $850,000.

“I think Uptown Funk is going to skyrocket this village through its stratosphere,” Christian said in a previous interview. “It’s a destination for young people, families, tourists. I think it’s a fantastic investment for the community, and I think the state knows that too.”

Garant said Christian has been an asset for Port Jeff Village because she is highly personable and understands the community and its needs.

“When it comes to trying to find money, you’ve got to squeeze every ounce of water out and turn over every stone, and that’s what Nicole does,” Garant said. “When you don’t have it in your budget it’s so important to have that lifeline to have someone help you find the money.”

Christian’s impact on the village in 2017 was certainly not limited to development projects. The village closed the iconic Rocketship Park for renovations and began a months-long refurbishment, partly funded by a $265,000 grant from New York State’s parks department. Garant said the village applied for the money multiple times, and prior to the third trip to present their qualifications for the grant, the mayor admitted her hopes were not high.

“We went three times to get money for Rocketship Park and the third time I was like, ‘Guys, I’m not going, why would I go, they never gave us any money the first time,’” she said. “Nicole said, ‘No, you’ve got to go.’”

The village still didn’t get the award, but finished close enough that when the applicant who came in first returned the money, Port Jeff’s application had been next in line.

“I think when you’re a grant writer you have to be persistent,” Garant said.

From left, Leg. Kara Hahn and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant check out the selection of books in the new Little Free Library at Rocketship Park with a young reader. Photo by Kevin Redding

‘Today a reader, tomorrow a leader’ — Margaret Fuller

By Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson’s newest minilibrary has liftoff at Rocketship Park. In a partnership between the Port Jefferson Free Library and the village board, a Little Free Library was recently installed at the family-friendly park, where adults, teens and children alike can reach into the purple-painted wooden box to pick up or drop off a wide array of books. An official ribbon cutting was held last Thursday, Sept. 28.

The library, shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently stocked with children’s titles like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was built from a kit and installed by Stonegate Landscape. It stands as Port Jefferson Free Library’s second book exchange program, with the other unveiled in front of the William Miller House on North Country Road in Miller Place last month.

From left, PJFL Director Tom Donlon, Leg. Kara Hahn, Mayor Margot Garant and Chris Graf, president, Stonegate Landscape in East Setauket. Photo by Kevin Redding

Director of Port Jefferson Free Library Tom Donlon led elected officials, including Mayor Margot Garant and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for what the mayor called a fantastic addition to the town.

“I’m so happy that we can provide some reading for our young children because I think reading a book goes a long way to helping educate them and bring them into the world,” Garant said with giant scissors in hand. “[It’ll make for] a true sense of community, and that’s what makes our village great.”

Donlon said when the park reopened in June, he and the library’s board members knew it was a perfect spot for book-sharing for all ages. “We have families that come here and while the kids are running around, mom or dad or the adult with them might want something to read,” he said. “Giving back to the community is our goal. And you never know what you’re going to find in there … and what adventures await.”

Rocketship Park is located in the Village of Port Jefferson on Maple Place between Mill Creek Road and Barnum Avenue, across from the tennis courts. For more information, call 631-473-0022.

More to come as next location is planned for Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato unveils the new Little Free Library in front of the William Miller house in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Outside the oldest house in Miller Place sits the newest public library on the North Shore.

What might initially appear to be a newly installed, red-and-white mailbox in front of the William Miller House at 75 North Country Road is actually a Little Free Library, where residents of all ages are encouraged to pick up or drop off a book while on the go.

The mini library, which is shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently holds between 15 and 20 books ranging from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to “Goodnight Moon,” stands as the most recent free book exchange program to sprout up on Long Island, with others installed at West Meadow Beach and Heritage Park in Mount Sinai last year.

Books inside the new Little Free Library in front of the WIlliam Miller House in Miller Place were donated by the Port Jefferson and Comsewogue libraries. Photo by Kevin Redding

The idea for the book-sharing movement, which has spanned more than 70 countries around the world since the first little library was built by Todd Bol of Wisconsin in tribute to his mother in 2009, is that with a quick turn of a wooden latch, it can increase book access for readers of all ages and backgrounds and to inspire a love of reading and community connection.

Members of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society unveiled their new addition Aug. 9 to a large crowd of smiling faces, which included residents, elected officials and representatives from Port Jefferson Free Library and Comsewogue Public Library. The two libraries partnered with the historical society to buy and sponsor it.

“I woke up this morning and I had the Mister Roger’s song in my head, ‘Oh what a beautiful day in the neighborhood,’” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the historical society, during the ceremony. “This little library is symbolic of how our community comes together … and a community is strengthened when all the different organizations work well together. So when you reach into that box to put something in or take something out, please remember that you’re also reaching into your community. I hope it’s a very active library.”

Tom Donlon, director of Port Jefferson Free Library, said when he and Debbie Engelhardt, director of Comsewogue Public Library, decided to partner up to bring the program to the Miller Place community, they immediately knew the perfect place for it.

Jack Soldano, who has been selling his comic book collection this summer to raise money to help fix the historic William Miller House, was the first to add to the new Little Free Library’s collection. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Right away we thought of the historical society,” Donlon said. “The society really meshes with our libraries’ goals of education, entertainment, enlightenment and lifelong learning and investigation. We love that it’s here, it’s a great spot and I think it’s certainly going to serve the community very well.”

Engelhardt called little free libraries a beautiful concept.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

She added that these mini libraries have also proven to energize the spot they’re put in. For the historical society, whose William Miller House is nearly 300 years old and needs between $18,000 and $28,000 to renovate a collapsing roof and a total $100,000 for a full-house repair, any amount of attention to their cause is welcomed.

“What this does for us is it puts us in the limelight again, so that people are aware of us, they come and visit us and are sensitive to our needs,” Donato said.

Fittingly, although the box was stocked with books already donated by the libraries, the first batch of reading material from the public came from 12-year-old Jack Soldano, who spent the summer raising more than $1,000 for the historical society with his very own comic book stand.

Soldano contributed issues of Captain America, Star Wars and Power Rangers comics to join such titles as “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben and the Grimm fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Over at Heritage Park, next to the Shack concession stand by the playground, the red-painted little free library currently contains more youth-oriented reads. Several books within “The Babysitters Club” series and Walt Disney’s “Fun-To-Learn Library” collection, as well as “Sable” by Karen Hesse, are available for the taking.

Manorville resident Megan Murray, who was at the park with her young daughter, said she’s been a fan of the initiative since a few popped up in her area.

“The concept is great because it’s for everybody, rich or poor,” Murray said. “It’s really sad that so many kids don’t have access to books and I think it’s wonderful.”

Currently there are plans for a little free library to be installed at Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson next month.

By Alex Petroski

It was like Christmas in June for kids in Port Jefferson, as an iconic village park is finally ready for a new launch. Rocketship Park, located on Maple Place between Mill Creek Road and Barnum Avenue, had been closed since the fall for a massive renovation project that saw funds pour in from private donations, fundraising events, grants and taxpayer dollars. At least 200 kids lined the fences June 15 eagerly waiting for the official ribbon cutting to try out the new equipment for the first time, which now includes a tree house, pirate ship and of course, a rocket ship.

The refurbishment effort was done thanks in large part to a three and a half year mission by the Port Jefferson “Treasure Your Parks” campaign, an initiative created to help give a facelift to the more than 50-year-old Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, which has commonly been known as Rocketship Park. Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); Jennifer Martin, a representative from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson Station) office; the 2016 New York State championship runner up Port Jefferson High School girls basketball team, and droves of excited local kids joined members of the Port Jeff Village board and Mayor Margot Garant to cut the ribbon and officially open the park for the summer.

Garant also recognized two Port Jeff kids, Cooper and McKenna Negus, who collected change in a jar and periodically went to village hall to contribute to the fundraising efforts for the park. The mayor said she planned to use the money to purchase a tile to commemorate the generous young donors.

“Everyday we were building this park we’d have kids hanging out on the outside of the fence saying ‘when can we come and play,’” Garant said. “It’s all about the kids right?”

Garant added the park will be under video surveillance and asked that all those who visit the park help to ensure it remains clean, and free of graffiti, vandalism and litter.

The total cost of the project was about $900,000, with $500,000 coming from taxpayer dollars, $265,000 from a New York State parks grant and about $120,000 from donations, according to Barbara Sakovich, assistant to the mayor.

This version was updated June 16 to include the total cost and breakdown of funding for the park renovation. It was edited June 19 to correct that it will still be officially called Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park and commonly referred to as Rocketship Park.

On April 8, Heritage Park in Mount Sinai and Rocketship Park in Rocky Point held their annual egg hunts.

During the sold out event at Heritage Park, children had the chance to take a picture with the Easter Bunny and enjoy refreshments following the hunt.

At Rocketship Park on Hallock Landing Road, children got their face painted and took part in various arts and crafts while listening to music provided by Parties by Ziggy during the event.

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Mayor Margot Garant, Trustee Larry Lapointe and Trustee Bruce Miller prepare for Rocketship Park renovations with members of Cub Scout Troop 41. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson’s iconic Rocketship Park is getting a facelift this winter. Village board members, mayors past and present, local politicians, community members and donors gathered at the park Oct. 13 to commemorate the kick-off of the project.

From left; Trustee Stanley Loucks, Mayor Margot Garant, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Jennifer Martin, a representative from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright's (D-Port Jefferson) office, help to kick off Rocketship Park renovations. Photo by Alex Petroski
From left; Trustee Stanley Loucks, Mayor Margot Garant, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Jennifer Martin, a representative from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson) office, help to kick off Rocketship Park renovations. Photo by Alex Petroski

“In the seven years that I’ve been your mayor, we’ve done a lot of projects here in Port Jefferson … but of all of those projects, I don’t think one is more important or near and dear to our hearts than this little park, because Rocketship Park is really the heartbeat of the community,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

In all, nearly $275,000 has been raised toward the project, in large part thanks to the efforts of the Village’s Treasure Your Parks campaign.

On Oct. 9, a 15K Run to the Port Jeff Brewing Company hosted nearly 1,000 runners and raised more than $5,000 toward the renovations. The brewery’s owner, Mike Philbrick, said he decided to donate the proceeds from the race toward the Rocketship Park initiative because he has four kids and the cause is very personal to him.

Local Cub Scout Troop 41 held a bake sale and sold candy and popcorn for movie night events at Harborfront Park during the summer to raise money as well, and representatives from the group were in attendance Oct. 13 to hand over a $350 check to Garant.

“It takes a village to rebuild Rocketship Park,” Garant said. “It’s about our children and it’s about the local economy, because parks are critically important to our community.”

Former village trustee and a member of the fundraising committee, Adrienne Kessel, thanked those involved for their hard work.

“No one does this alone — we have a committee that has worked tirelessly for the last four years to get us to where we are today,” she said.

Garant also recognized the long list of private donors who supported the fundraising efforts.

The park will be dismantled beginning in late November, equipment will be ordered and installed, and a ribbon cutting ceremony for the brand new Rocketship Park will be held sometime in late April or early May, according to an estimate from Garant.

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The remnants of Hurricane Matthew made for a sloppy morning, but that didn’t stop more than a thousand runners who laced up their shoes and hit the streets of Port Jefferson for a good cause.

The 15K Run to the Port Jeff Brewing Company took place Oct. 9 to raise money for the Port Jefferson “Treasure Your Parks” campaign, an initiative created to help refurbish the more than 50-year-old Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, which is commonly known as Rocketship Park.

The roughly nine-mile race began on West Broadway near Schafer’s restaurant, and concluded on Mill Creek Road near the Port Jeff Brewing Company, where participants celebrated the run with a cold beer. Runner Chris Steenkamer crossed the finish line first, and Chris Koegel came in second.

An event to kick off the refurbishing process, called the Rocketship Park Launch Off, will be held Oct. 13 at 4:30 p.m. at the park located behind Port Jefferson Village Hall about a half a block away from Port Jeff Brewing Company. For more information visit www.rebuildrocketship.org.

The village has scaled back a plan to stripe its basketball courts for pickleball after one resident said it would be a big dill to hoops players. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Village officials are making a compromise to avoid a pickle.

The basketball courts at Rocketship Park in downtown Port Jefferson were due for a redo, and while a Long Island company was repairing the court surface, village Trustee Stan Loucks had arranged for workers to also add stripes for people to play pickleball when the four hoops were not being used. But that plan has changed.

Pickleball is a sport that involves paddles and a net and has similarities to tennis and badminton. Officials added pickleball striping at the basketball courts at the park, between Barnum Avenue and the municipal parking lot behind Village Hall, to other work — which included repairing cracks, and dips in the surface that attract puddles — to embrace the growing sport trend.

But one resident was half-soured on the idea of basketball players potentially turning green with envy as they lost out on court time while others were playing pickleball.

Myrna Gordon called the courts a spot that “attracts many people from surrounding communities” in a letter to the editor last month, an opinion she also expressed to Loucks in person during board of trustees meetings in recent months.

“Culturally diverse people come to play pick-up games,” she wrote. “Converting this area for dual purposes would be an especially negative act when there are alternative sites for pickleball in the village.”

Gordon has suggested using the park on Texaco Avenue in uptown Port Jefferson, across from the upcoming apartment complex, for pickleball to avoid taking away court time downtown and to potentially attract people to the blighted uptown area.

Loucks announced at the board meeting on Monday that the pickleball proposal would be bumped back to keep ballers cool as cucumbers.

Instead of putting down lines for the sport on the basketball courts at Rocketship, the village is going to start by running a one-hour pickleball program on the court with removable nets and stripes, as a method of gauging resident demand for a venue for the activity.

The program will take place in the middle of the day, while young players are in school, the trustee said.

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A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

By Elana Glowatz

The new Rocketship Park’s entrance will be a blastoff to the past.

A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village
A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

Port Jefferson Village announced on Tuesday that TRITEC Real Estate Company has built and donated a rocket ship model to go in the playground once it’s reconstructed, paying tribute to its past.

While it’s formally known as Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park or Kip Lee Park, the spot off Barnum Avenue at Roessner Lane got the Rocketship nickname from a popular piece of playground equipment that has since aged out of use. Some residents have lamented the loss of the rocket and the fact that the design plans for the new park, which began forming a few years ago, didn’t include one.

The plans call for more natural-looking playground equipment with a high level of handicap-accessibility, including what looks like a giant tree house and a pirate ship that harkens back to the village’s shipbuilding days. There are also plans for swings with different types of seating, walkways, picnic tables, plantings and other play equipment.

Adrienne Kessel, the chair of the Treasure Your Parks Committee that has fundraised for the park reconstruction and operates under the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, previously said play equipment that looks like a rocket is hard to find.

Kessel launched the effort to revamp the downtown children’s park when she was a village trustee. After looking at security features in the wake of vandalism at the site, Kessel saw the need for a full makeover.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting but that wasn’t the answer,” she said in a previous interview. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

She focused on increased accessibility for kids with special needs because, “Every child should have the chance to play. I couldn’t imagine a park a child couldn’t utilize.”

The reconstruction is expected to cost roughly $550,000 and as of this week, village spokeswoman Jill Russell said, the committee had brought in more than $200,000 toward that goal, between donations of both money and services.

According to the village’s rocket announcement, the first work phase is scheduled to start in October.

TRITEC, which is also working on an apartment complex on the other side of Barnum Avenue at West Broadway, built the rocket ship so that when the park is redone, it “will serve as a lasting reminder of the original rocket ship that first graced the park in 1972,” the village said in a statement.

The company worked on the project for the nonprofit Long Island Home Builders Care, with the help of Huntington-based Kleet Lumber Co., Long Island-based Pro-Coat Painting, and sprinkler system contractor Central Outdoor Services in Port Jefferson Station.

“The model will be placed alongside the entranceway to the new playground and will incorporate ornamental plaques into the design that will highlight the park’s history as well as the generous contributions from the playground’s in-kind donors,” the village said.

Russell explained that the historical information will make mention of the previous rocket: “So that when you come to Rocketship Park, you actually know why it’s called that.”