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Smithtown school district

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

Across the Town of Smithtown, voters headed to the polls May 15 to show their overwhelming approval of their school district’s 2018-19 budgets. Many of the districts are planning to use funds to increase their security measures in schools or make critical infrastructure and building repairs.

Yet, threat of hazardous weather and early evening storms made for a light voter turnout, with fewer ballots being cast than in previous years. This disappointed school officials, who rely on their taxpayers’ votes for critical feedback and as a measurement of community involvement.

Proposed 2018-19 budget

Smithtown voters approved Smithtown Central School District’s $244.9 million budget for the 2018-19 school year by 1,873 votes to 800 votes Tuesday night. The budget represents a 2.3 percent increase, or additional $5.5 million more than the current year.


Smithtown budget results

$244.9M budget: 1,873 Yes votes to 800 No votes
Proposition 2: 2,090 Yes votes to 583 No votes

Board of Education
Seat of Christopher Alcure
Mandi Kowalik: 1,618 votes
Christopher Alcure: 935 votes

Seat of Jeremy Thode
Jeremy Thode: 1,790 votes

The school district’s security will receive a funding increase under the approved budget. The planned security upgrades include vestibules in all school entrances that will be constructed over the summer as well as full-time, unarmed security guards for all elementary schools.

“Full-time security guards began on May 1 in all district elementary schools and will continue as part of the budget moving forward,” said James Grossane, district superintendent.

 

In addition, the district is looking to add an additional school psychologist, one
social worker and a guidance counselor to its staffing to address students’ mental health and well-being.

The district’s spending plan maintains all current programs while transitioning to universal elementary school start and end times from 9:20 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. It also allows the district to offer new elective courses at the high school including adding Advanced Placement Capstone Research in addition to the existing AP Capstone program.

The approved budget will impose a 2.95 percent tax levy increase, which is within the district’s state tax levy cap.

Proposition 2

Residents passed Proposition 2 by 2,090 votes to 583 votes. The measure will allow Smithtown school officials to use the district’s capital reserve funds to complete a number of repairs and renovations. The project list includes repairs to the tennis courts at Smithtown High School East and West, window
replacement in the Accompsett Middle School and roof and skylight repairs at the Smithtown Elementary School.

Smithtown board of education

There will be a new face at the table of Smithtown’s board of education come July. Newcomer Mandi Kowalik, receiving 1,618 votes, managed to unseat incumbent trustee Christopher Alcure, who received 935 votes in Tuesday’s race.

“I am thrilled and honored to have been elected to represent the Smithtown Central School District as Board of Education trustee,” she said. “I thank every single one of my supporters, I absolutely could not have held this strong without all of you standing behind me.”

Kowalik is a 14-year Smithtown resident and a published children’s author. She worked as a school teacher for nursery school through sixth grade for 13 years before leaving to raise her three children. Kowalik has one son starting kindergarten this September with two younger daughters she plans to
enroll in the district.

“I am thrilled and honored to have been elected to represent the Smithtown Central School District as Board of Education trustee.”
– Mandi Kowalik

Kowalik said during her campaign for the board seat that she wants to focus on security as well as the mental and physical well-being of students.

“The security of our students and staff are the most important issue that we are
currently facing,” she said. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our school safe.”

Kowalik said she believes students need time to socialize without adults actively interacting and closely monitoring them. While she said the district has explored this at some levels, she would like to continue to explore further avenues for it.

“I have truly been enjoying all of the meaningful dialogue, and I hope that people will continue to feel comfortable approaching me,” Kowalik said. “Let’s keep engaging in these important conversations, and together we will make a difference.”

Current board President Jeremy Thode ran unopposed for his third term as trustee and was re-elected with 1,790 votes.

Both Kowalik and Thode will serve three-year terms through the 2020-21 school year.

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown might finally be coming together, literally. Town officials are getting appraisals of town-owned property as a first step toward consolidating town departments under one roof.

“We need to consolidate, no doubt about it,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Though how we do it depends on how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer. We’re going to look for the most economical way to do it.”

At a May 8 meeting, Smithtown’s Town board unanimously approved retaining the services of Mineola-based Michael Haberman Associates Inc. to perform appraisals of four town-owned and operated buildings. The cost of the appraisals is not to exceed $10,000, and Wehrheim said it will be a few months before the town has results.

I don’t see [ the New York Avenue building] as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

– Tom Lohmann

The properties to be evaluated to determine their real estate value are: 40 Maple Ave. in Smithtown, where the town comptroller and assessor offices are; 124 Main St. in Smithtown, currently home to the engineering department and department of environment and waterways; 23 Redwood Lane, which houses the building department and its neighbor, 25 Redwood Lane, which contains both the planning and community development department.

Wehrheim said that the properties chosen for appraisal are already costing the town money for annual maintenance.

“Those structures are pretty old buildings,” he said. “They require a lot of maintenance in terms of heating, air conditioning, … etcetera. We’re gonna save that much money right off the bat for the taxpayer.”

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said that one of the big perks that will come with consolidation will be residents will no longer have to travel a good distance to meet with several different town departments.

We need to consolidate, no doubt about it.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“The other part is one stop shopping,” Lohmann said. “You got to go down to the town clerk, you got to go to the town attorney, the tax receiver’s office, you have the tax assessment, it wouldn’t be a big difficulty. If you have all those entities here you’re not running around all over the place.”

Some town-owned properties are not included in the appraisal because they are simply too large to be included or moving their base of operations would be too costly.

“The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate,” Lohmann said. “Public safety you won’t because there is too much money invested just with the telecommunications systems.”

There are currently two options for consolidating, according to Wehrheim. The supervisor said the town is looking again at potentially purchasing the Smithtown school district’s administrative offices, the Joseph M. Barton Building on New York Avenue, for moving town hall. The second option is for the town to build an extension onto Town Hall itself.

The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate.”

— Tom Lohmann

Smithtown United Civic Association, led by President Tim Smalls, presented a proposed plan for downtown revitalization that pushed for Smithtown town government offices being consolidated into the New York Avenue building.

Lohmann said that he believes the school-owned building is not feasible because of its need for extensive renovations.

You’re talking about over $2 million to do cleanup and an abatement there, then a redesign,” he said. “I don’t see that as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

David Flynn, the town’s planning director, said consolidation is not as big a deal for his department in the age of computers and easy telecommunication.

“Of course, it will make some difference, but in the current world where people use phones and computers for communication it means less than it would of 20 years ago,” he said. “Would it be more convenient to meet with somebody, sure.”

Whether or not Flynn and his department moves is all going to come down to comparing the costs of keeping the buildings or consolidating them.

“It all depends on running out the costs for both scenarios, how much the cost is for heat, light, water and other kinds of maintenance,” he said. “I think you estimate it either way and see what the costs are.”

One contested board of education seat has Mandi Kowalik pitted against Christopher Alcure

Smithtown school district's administrative New York Avenue building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kyle Barr

The school year is almost finished, and while students are sitting at the edge of their seats ready for summer, their parents and other Smithtown residents are being asked to vote May 15 on the school budgets and board elections.

The Smithtown Central School District is including new security measures in its proposed 2018-19 budget, which sets aside funding for new security guards for all seven elementary schools.

The school district adopted its budget of $244,913,464, which represents a 2.32 percent increase, or additional $5,546,259 more than this year’s budget.

“The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible,” Superintendent James Grossane said in a statement.

The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible.”
– James Grossane

The school district’s security was one of the larger areas receiving a funding increase under the proposed budget. The suggested security upgrades include vestibules in all school entrances that will be constructed over the summer as well as full-time, unarmed security guards for all elementary schools.

“Full-time security guards began on May 1 in all district elementary schools and will continue as part of the budget moving forward,” Grossane said.

The budget will also maintain all current programs while transitioning to universal elementary school start and end times from 9:20 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. It will allow the district to offer new elective courses at the high school including adding Advanced Placement Capstone Research in addition to the existing AP Capstone program.

If approved, the 2018-19 budget represents a 2.95 percent tax levy increase, which is within the district’s state tax levy cap. Because the district stayed within the tax levy cap, it only needs a simple 50 percent majority vote to pass the budget.

In addition to security, the district is looking to add one additional school psychologist, social worker and guidance counselor to its staffing.

The ballot will include a proposition for the use of capital reserve funds to complete a number of repairs and renovations in the district. This includes repairs to the tennis courts at Smithtown High School East and West, window replacement in the Accompsett Middle School and roof and skylight repairs at the Smithtown Elementary School.

Smithtown board of education

Two seats on the Smithtown school board have come up for re-election but only one race is contested. Newcomer Mandi Kowalik is competing against incumbent trustee Christopher Alcure for a trustee seat. Incumbent and current board President Jeremy Thode is running again for his seat unopposed.

Christopher Alcure. Photo from Alcure

Alcure is finishing his second term on the board and he is looking for a third.

“I am running for re-election in 2018 as there is still more to be accomplished,” Alcure said.

Alcure is a 15-year Smithtown resident where he currently operates a small business. In addition, he works as project manager at CA Technologies based in Islandia.

Alcure said he has two daughters currently enrolled in Smithtown schools. His experience raising his kids as well as his six years on the board, including three years as board president, has given him plenty of experience to deal with today’s challenges.

“I am battle tested and I have thick skin,” he said. “These are very important qualities for public service. I survived the economic downturn where the board had to make difficult decisions in terms of balancing the budget and making sensible cuts to programs that would not overly impact students.”

Alcure said he wants to focus on investing in additional security options for Smithtown schools, maintaining low class sizes and improving district facilities.

“I’m looking for ways to continue to improve educational opportunities for students, at all levels, on the path toward college and career readiness,” Alcure said.

Mandi Kowalik. Photo from Kowalik

Kowalik is a 14-year resident of Smithtown and a published author of the children’s book titled “Stella, Or Star: Coping with a Loss During Pregnancy.” She has worked as a school teacher for nursery school through sixth grade for 13 years before leaving to raise her three children. She has worked on a number of school committees including as area representative and member of the board for the Teacher Center of the West Hamptons.

Kowalik has one son starting kindergarten this September with two younger daughters she plans to enroll in the district.

“Our school board needs a mom with school-aged children,” Kowalik said in a statement. “My family will be attending Smithtown schools for 16 more years. I am very heavily invested in the welfare of the district.”

Kowalik said she wants to focus on security as well as the mental and physical well-being of students.

“The security of our students and staff are the most important issue that we are currently facing,” she said. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our school safe.”

The board candidate said she believes
students need time to socialize without adults actively interacting and closely monitoring them. While she said the district has explored this at some levels, she would like to continue to explore further avenues for it.

Go vote

The budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Depending on your election district, residents can vote at the Smithtown Elementary School gymnasium, the St. James Elementary School gymnasium, the Nesconset Elementary School gymnasium or the Accompsett Elementary School gymnasium.

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen. File Photo.

Following the Parkland school shooting in Florida Feb. 14, there is no denying there’s been a raging national debate over gun control measures and school safety. As the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have spoken up, their actions have rippled outward creating a call for activism by students nationwide to have their voices and opinions on gun control heard. It has reached Long Island.

On March 14, the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to walk out of schools for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 Parkland victims, beginning at 10 a.m. The purpose of the protest, according to a website promoting it, is to shine a light on Congress’ “inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” The walkout is being promoted on social media using the hashtag #ENOUGH.

Town of Smithtown school districts and officials are weighing how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.

I firmly believe that giving students a voice in the running of their school and community is paramount to the education process”
— Timothy Eagen

“I firmly believe that giving students a voice in the running of their school and community is paramount to the education process,” said Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen.

Eagen said he had Lino Bracco, principal of Kings Park High School, meet with the student council last week to gauge what they were thinking of and planning for March 14.

“Our goal is to understand what our students are thinking and feeling, and best support their voice,” Eagen said.

Kings Park’s student council was instructed on what boundaries they must operate within March 14, according to Eagen, and the plans will incorporate aspects of remembrance, unity and an education activities aimed at
remembering the 17 lives lost in Parkland. Specific details were not made available in time for publication.

Prior to the Parkland shooting, Kings Park held a “leadership summit” consisting of 32 adults and students in which it was felt that the district needs to work together with the community to better address “the increasingly complex issues that are impacting our students and their families.” A forum is set for March 13, 7 p.m. at Kings Park High School cafeteria to address topics including cyberbullying, social isolation, the effects of social media addiction, and the need for volunteers to serve as positive role models. A recreational night will be run in the gymnasium by National Honor Society students for students and children while the forum is underway.

Commack school officials said they are still discussing the walkout with their students, and what if any events will occur, according to spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch. No solid information regarding the event or district’s stance was available as of press time.

We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that.”
— National School Walkout Website

Neighboring school administrators in Smithtown Central School District declined to comment on their plans for March 14.

A second unconnected protest is being planned for April 20 to coincide with the anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The organizers of this event, simply called National School Walkout, are also calling for those in school buildings to stand up and exit at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence, followed by an “open mic” session in which students will be encouraged to voice their opinions. The organizers of the walkout envision a day-long event.

“We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that,” the website for the event reads. “The issue needs constant attention if we hope to change anything, so multiple events on multiple days is a productive way to help fight for our cause, a safer country.”

While the federal government deals with the political gridlock long associated with gun control, New York State is working on action to at least improve safety in the short term, though not to address gun laws.

“Every New Yorker and every American is outraged by the senseless violence that is occurring in schools throughout the country,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a Feb. 28 statement.

The state Senate approved a series of bills March 5 that include more funding for security cameras, armed police officers or security personnel for districts that want it, panic buttons, active shooter drills, better emergency response plans, hardening of school doors and more. A package of gun control measures proposed by Senate Democrats was rejected.

Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane. File photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Kevin Redding

Smithtown school administrators have unveiled their first draft of the 2018-19 budget, which calls for a larger increase than prior years.

Smithtown Central School District presented its preliminary 2018-19 budget of $244,526,399 at their Feb. 6 board of education meeting. The district’s projected budget is about 2.16 percent higher than the current school year, which was adopted at $239,567,205. Administrators anticipate asking taxpayers for  $5.52 million more this May.

The increase in preliminary 2018-19 budget comes mostly  a $3.4 million increase in district employee salaries due to state-mandated  contractual obligations to contribute to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and Education Resource Strategies, and a 3 percent increase in health premiums, anticipated to cost $700,000.

School officials also propose to cut five elementary classes due to declining enrollment across the district. Superintendent James Grossane said the district currently has 661 fifth-grade students but has seen a decrease in the number of incoming students in recent years. While Grossane said he
anticipates kindergarten enrollment to be close to 500 again this year, similar to last.

Budget highlights

Preliminary 2018-19 budget debuts at $245M,  a 2.16 percent increase

Officials suggest cutting 5 elementary classes, decreasing max class size

March 13, 7 p.m.: Presentation on district’s proposed instructional budget

The district’s declining enrollment allows school administrators to contemplate shrinking maximum number of students in each class. Last year, in the 2016-17 school year, the limits were set at: 25 students per kindergarten class, 26 students per class in grades 1 to 3, and 28 students per class in grades 4 to 5, according to Grossane. Under the proposed 2018-19 budget, school administrators are suggesting reducing the number to 25 students per class through fifth grade.

“This is the second year in a row of reducing class sizes in our elementary schools,” the superintendent said.

Unfortunately, the district expects to receive approximately $45.7 million total in state aid, roughly $1.5 million less than last year as the plans of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)  call for increased funding to “high-need” districts.

The district plans to reduce its assigned fund balance, which has been increased by $1.5 million in order to balance the 2018-19 budget and increase its year end fund balance to “build up reserves.”

“The district is currently in the preliminary stages of budget development for the 2018-19 school year, with an anticipated adoption date of April 10,” Grossane said in an emailed statement. “As we do every year, the board and administration are working collaboratively to develop and present a budget to the community that is clear, transparent and fiscally efficient while preserving or increasing opportunities for our students.”

The school district’s next budget workshop will be held March 13, at 7 p.m.  to discuss the instructional budget for the elementary and secondary schools. The superintendent’s final proposed budget will be presented March 20 for adoption by the board of education.

The district’s preliminary 2018-19 budget of a 2.16 percent increase falls within the state tax cap and, as such, will only require approval by the simple majority of voters.

“The district will likely go to the voters right at or slightly below the cap,” Grossane said.

The budget vote will be held May15.

Chris Crespo scores 16 points in victory

Denis Sullivan carries the ball toward the basket. Photo by Bill Landon

By Jim Ferchland

Senior guard Chris Crespo was the catalyst for Smithtown West in a 57-42 victory over Newfield Jan. 23. He had 16 points on the night, scoring seven of the Bulls’ 19 first-quarter points.

Chris Crepo squeezes between defenders for a bucket. Photo by Bill Landon

Newfield head coach Anthony Agostino said Crespo made solid plays for his team all game.

“He makes everybody else around him better,” Agostino said. “He sacrifices his own individual points to get the ball where it needs to be. That’s why he’s a scholarship player.”

Crespo said he loves getting everyone involved in the game.

“I’m pretty sure every single one of my points were a layup or a foul shot,” Crespo said. “We hit a lot of threes today. When everyone is involved like that, it makes things a lot easier. It definitely feels good to get the ball moving and everyone scoring.”

Three players scored in double figures for the Bulls. Matt Behrens and Michael Gannon each added 11 points and combined for five 3-pointers. The team made eight triples on the night.

With the win, Smithtown West improves to 8-1 in League III, just behind undefeated Half Hollow Hills East, which outscored the Bulls in the county finals last year.

“It’s really about playing good basketball and us being able to hit our stride toward the playoffs,” said Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino, Anthony’s brother. “We played well. The core kids who got a lot of playing time played great.”

Xavier Martinez shoots. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Paul VonVoight contributed for nearly half of Newfield’s points. He led all scorers with 20. He got rolling in the fourth quarter, knocking down three 3-pointers to help Newfield outscore the Bulls 16-6, but it wasn’t enough.

Newfield falls to 2-7 in League III play and 4-11 overall. The Wolverines have lost three of their last four games. Despite the loss, Tony Agostino took some positives from the game.

“My guys fought till the very end,” he said. “Our goal was to keep them under 59 points. They scored 57, so we achieved one of our goals.”

Crespo said Newfield sat in their zone defense, which Smithtown West is used to seeing, so his team exploited that.

“Teams tend to struggle when playing us man-to-man,” Crespo said. “We have a lot of weapons. When teams play zone, we like to shoot threes. That’s what I like about us. When you play us, we play defense as hard as we can. We play a team-oriented style of basketball. In Suffolk County, we are a dominant force. That’s why we’ve won back-to-back league titles.”

Newfield is scheduled to play at Huntington (2-7, 3-12) Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m. Smithtown West will host crosstown rival Smithtown East (3-6, 6-9) the same day at 5:45 p.m.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Kings Park

The Kings Park school district has only one seat available this year for a board of education candidate, and three residents vying for the opportunity.

Trustee Joe Bianco is looking to continue his work with a second term.

“I believe my experience on the board over the last three years has affirmed that given my background in accounting and law … I have the technical skills and experience to help the [board] address many of the issues it faces today,” he said in his candidate statement.

Bianco has worked as a lawyer since 1995 and has volunteered for different athletic activities  in Kings Park including the Kings Park Youth Athletic Association.

“If re-elected, the board’s first priority is to finalize a new contract with our teachers,” he said in an email. “Sustainable, predictable and equitable revenue streams and contracts are critical to our long-term success as a district and to the long-term security and empowerment of our staff.” He also talked about the importance of continuing the bond project and facility upgrades.

“We must continue to challenge ourselves, our administration leadership, our staff and our students to embrace new ideas and developments in a manner that stays true to the goals and values that are important to our community,” Bianco said.

Katy Cardinale is looking to unseat Bianco, a 10-year Kings Park resident herself.

Cardinale has volunteered for several district committees, including the facilities and legislative committees.

“Positive things are happening and the tone is enthusiastic and collaborative [in the district],” Cardinale said in her candidate statement. “I aim to continue the momentum in that direction.”

But Cardinale said she is concerned about state and federal overreach and its effect on the Kings Park district. She said the current board’s decision to not pass a resolution rejecting Secretary of Education Betsy Devos inspired her to run.

The candidate said she also thinks the board needs to protect school funding more vigorously.

“I feel that our school board needs to be very loud when it comes to protecting every last penny,” she said in her candidate statement.

J.P. Andrade is the third candidate looking to represent the Kings Park community.

Andrade is a Kings Park graduate and recently worked as a diversity advisor and surrogate for then candidate Donald Trump. He has been a television contributor for multiple news stations. He said he also volunteers for various Smithtown groups.

Where Kings Park is concerned, Andrade said his diverse background can be an asset to the board.

“My various work in the government, political field, and the community will be beneficial in serving this community,” he said. “I want to be able to bring some youth, diversity and innovation to Kings Park.”

Andrade said he wants to continue to keep a close eye on common core curriculum, calling the implementation a “disaster,” and wants to bridge the gap between the schools and the community.

“[I want to] ensure that the students are equipped with the best possible educational team, and to make sure they get the top-notch education they deserve,” he said.

Smithtown

In Smithtown three seats are up for election this May, with two of the three uncontested.

Long-time incumbent Gladys Waldron is hoping to continue her service, with no challenger looking to unseat her.

“I’d like to continue with the board, providing a financially responsible budget,” Waldron said in a phone interview. She also said she’s in support of many of the programs being expanded at the district now, including AP Capstone seminars and other educational opportunities for students.

“We’ve also replaced study halls with elective programs which has been a great success, and been able to maintain small elementary class sizes, all without piercing the tax levy cap,” she said.

Incumbent Vice President Joanne McEnroy is also looking to move forward with the district.

“Serving on the Smithtown Board of Education gives me a sense of pride,” she said in an email. “I love the place that I have called home for over five decades and in particular, I love our schools.”

McEnroy, who first ran six years ago, said she is proud of what she has accomplished so far.

“I am very proud to have lived up to the campaign promises … which was to balance fiscal responsibility with quality education,” she said. “We have remained within the tax cap while continuing to restore or build on our already outstanding educational program to make it even better.  The expansion this year of our full-time integrated co-teaching program so that it now encompasses kindergarten thru grade 12, is a source of pride and accomplishment for me as it was just one of the many program improvement goals that I hoped to achieve as a board trustee.”

She is also running unopposed.

Incumbent Grace Plourde is the third incumbent running for re-election; however, she does face a challenger. Newcomer Matthew  Gribbin has thrown his hat into the ring.

Plourde said simply why she’s running again.

“The job is not done yet,” she said in a phone interview. “I’ve been on the board six years and we’ve gotten through some tough times.”

Plourde referred to the state-mandated tax levy cap as one of the issues the district has had to work on to create a budget that still benefits the district and the students.

“It’s all about sustainability,” she said. “We have to make sure we go forward and match revenue to expenses to maintain high-quality programs while staying within the cap.”

Gribbin did not return requests for comment.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

After plans for an apartment complex on the site of the Smithtown school district administration building on New York Avenue fell through earlier this year, a new plan is in the works.

The Smithtown town board recently hired real estate firm Michael Haberman Associates to appraise the building, after Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) proposed the town purchase the property, suggesting the land and building could be used for offices and a park.

At recent town board meetings, residents have been more supportive of this proposal than the former plan. At school board meetings earlier this year residents roasted the administration for a lack of transparency, and argued an apartment complex would not be a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.

“I just want to thank Supervisor Vecchio and the board members,” Smithtown resident Bob Hughes said at the Feb. 23 meeting. “Mr. McCarthy had proposed exploring the purchase of the New York Avenue building and it was approved by the board and we appreciate that. We want to thank you for better transparency than we had with the school board. You’ve taken our phone calls, you made phone calls and you met with us.”

At the March 7 meeting Smithtown resident and local architect Mark Mancini weighed in on the future of the property.

“My thought process would be fully in support of what you’re proposing and I hope that you’re proceeding forward … I think it’s going to be an overall benefit for the town,” Mancini said at the meeting. “I think the whole plan looks like a great idea to us.”

Hughes returned to praise the idea and asked if a timeline had been established yet.

“A lot of the residents think it would be a great thing for the community especially to develop the grass area, the vacant land to a downtown central park for the community, keeping the activities local here to the downtown Main Street which would eventually help to increase patronage to downtown shops and the restaurants,” he said. “Just curious, is there a time frame when you expect to get the appraisal back?”

Smithtown attorney Matthew Jakubowski said it’s not yet clear, but a rough estimate suggested the process wouldn’t begin for a few months.

“We have to look at it from two different approaches: purchasing the building as is and what the possible fair market value is were it available commercially,” he said.

Not everyone in the community is on board with the effort.

“I think it is an ideal spot for condos for young people,” St. James resident Rose Palazzo said at the March 7 meeting. “I believe it’s about time to have affordable condos built. How can our residents forget that these young people would like to have their own home in Smithtown—then when they have a bigger family, they will buy the homes of those residents who are downsizing? It is a win for young people and a win for the town.”

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Smithtown residents are up in arms about the sale and potential development of the district’s administration building on New York Avenue.

At the Dec. 13 Smithtown school board meeting, citizens gathered to express their dissatisfaction with how the board has handled the plan and criticized them for a lack of transparency.

Joe Fortunato, a Smithtown resident, said he came to the meeting to express his disappointment with the board.

“I understand the need for development in this town, but 250 units on 13 acres is ridiculous,” he said. “The zoning has to be changed, and we’re being almost railroaded into having to accept four-story structures in a neighborhood that we moved into 25 years ago that was very quaint in nature. To be forced to hear that we have to accept this as part of Smithtown revitalization is ridiculous.”

Fortunato said he doesn’t agree the plan will benefit the whole community in part because the increase in traffic will actually cause more problems.

“To be forced to hear that we have to accept this as part of Smithtown revitalization is ridiculous.”

— Joe Fortunato

Dennis Bader, like Fortunato, is a Smithtown resident who said he has lived through many development projects in the area. He asked the board how they came to the decision about the amount of structures in the complex, which the board said they had no control over.

“That was up to the developer,” district Superintendent James Grossane said.

Community member Richard Cardone said the board does not have their best interests at heart.

“Do you think all these people would be here if you had the town’s best interests?” he asked. “You’re going to lose the horseshoe of people that live around this school because nobody is going to want to live in a community with 200 plus apartments, with cars going all around here, the streets can’t handle anymore traffic than we have now. This community does not want this. I’m telling you it doesn’t belong here. Shame on you.”

Grossane addressed the audience before the public comment period.

“This decision was reached following several months of careful planning and extensive research,” he said. “This decision was not made lightly.”

Grossane said the New York Avenue building is more than 80 years old, and is in dire need of repairs, which the district would receive no state funding for because the building is used for administration and not instruction.

“Our enrollment continues to decline each year, by approximately 300 students per year,” he said. “In fact, our enrollment has fallen from a recent high of 10,800 in 2009 to the current 9,300, and is projected to continue to decline until it reaches approximately 8,500 students a few short years from now.”

He said one of the board’s primary responsibilities is to be fiscally prudent to the residents of the entire Smithtown district.

“The sale of the New York Avenue property amount to approximately $15 million or more to assist the district with future budgetary concerns,” he said.

Grossane said the district worked with town officials throughout the year to find the right bidder and to help a plan come to fruition, and he was surprised to hear Supervisor Pat Vecchio’s (R) comments that the school board had no communication regarding the property.

“The school board is being presumptuous in assuming the town board will change the zone,” he said in a previous interview. “There must be a public hearing and the people will be heard for or against such a change.”

The Smithtown school board voted at the Oct. 25 meeting to approve entering a contract with Southern Land Company LLC, for the sale of the property and the surrounding land.

According to Grossane, Southern Land Company is planning to building one- and two-bedroom apartments that will be “in keeping with the architectural style of Smithtown.”

The district was encouraged to explore the sale of the building by members of the community in the spring, in the hopes of avoiding the closure of Branch Brook Elementary School.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Victoria Espinoza

Smithtown school district’s headquarters on New York Avenue, which currently houses administrative offices, could soon become an apartment building.

The Smithtown school board voted at the Oct. 25 meeting to approve entering a contract with Southern Land Company, for the sale of the property and the surrounding land.

Smithtown Superintendent Jim Grossane said in a letter to residents he believes this is a positive decision for the community.

“The board of education and administration believe that the proposed use of the property is one that would benefit our school community,” he said. “If finalized, the sale will potentially expand our tax base, lowering the burden on our residents, and provide additional resources to enhance our educational programs.”

According to Grossane, Southern Land Company is planning on building one- and two-bedroom apartments that will be “in keeping with the architectural style of Smithtown.”

“Though still in the early stages of the contract, if finalized, the district would receive the greater of $71,000 per approved unit or $14,768,000 for the sale of the building,” Grossane said. The superintendent added that the contract has a 75-day due-diligence period, where the company has the right to back out of the purchase.

Jena Armistead, vice president of marketing for Southern Land Company, said the organization is very excited to start working with the community.

“We are proud to be selected by Smithtown school board to be the developer for a new residential community in the neighborhood,” she said in an email. “Having been selected in the competitive process, we will now turn to working with the community to develop an overall plan. In the coming weeks we look forward to engaging neighbors and town leaders in an open dialogue that will make an important contribution to the vision, design program and schedule for this project.”

Armistead said the plan is tentatively for the building to have about 250 apartments, although the company does not want to finalize a plan until after they have had discussions with the Smithtown community.

“We want to create something that will benefit the community,” she said in a phone interview.

The New York Avenue property is the site of the Arthur House, a historic home once owned by John Arthur, a prominent member of Smithtown in the mid-1700s.

But Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio said the plan requires zoning changes and the school board should not get ahead of themselves.

“If finalized, the sale will potentially expand our tax base, lowering the burden on our residents, and provide additional resources to enhance our educational programs.”

— James Grossane

“The Southern Land Company must apply for zone change to the town board,” he said in an email. “The school board is being presumptuous in assuming the town board will change the zone. There must be a public hearing and the people will be heard for or against such a change.”

Agnes Vion, an administrative assistant on the Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals, said the property absolutely needs a zoning change, but they cannot be sure of the particular zone change because Southern Land Company has not submitted an application to the board yet.

According to Vion, the New York Avenue property is currently in a central business zone and an R-10 zone, meaning the property is only allowed to have single-family homes with lot sizes of 10,000 square feet minimum. Multifamily-style housing is not permitted in the current zone.

The zoning board employee said the property would need to be changed to garden apartment zoning, or R-6 zoning which allows for town houses.

In order for Southern Land Company to be granted a zone change, it would need to schedule meetings with the planning board, the town board and the board of appeals, but the exact route the company would have to take is not clear because it has not yet submitted an application.

In any event, they will have to change their zone, unless they want to create only single-family homes,” Vion said in a phone interview.

In February, the school board made the controversial decision to close Branch Brook Elementary School due to a lack of enrollment and shrinking district revenue, and some residents pleaded then that the district should work on selling the administrative building on New York Avenue instead of closing a building used for instruction.

Trustee Gladys Waldron was the lone “no” vote on the decision and her reasoning was the same as many community members.

“I think our energies and effort of administration and board should be placed right now on the selling of this building,” Waldron said at that meeting.

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