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Elwood

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School districts across Long Island have been offering free meals to children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the policy from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the program to the end of the school year. 

Over the summer, at the height of the pandemic, the USDA allowed school districts to apply for free meals for all students. Usually, districts only provide free breakfasts and lunches to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

But the coronavirus prompted the federal government to create child nutrition waivers based upon available funding at the time to end in June, then December and now throughout the 2020-21 school year. 

And it’s benefiting hundreds of students, local school representatives said. 

Mara Pugh, Elwood school district food services director, said when the pandemic started in March, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue gave schools the flexibility and waivers to be able to serve lunches to everyone in the community who were learning from home. 

“Back then, we had a grab and go for any family,” she said. “No matter what the financial eligibility was, they would get a free lunch.”

Before the pandemic, families who were struggling or below the middle-class line were able to enroll their children in the free or reduced-lunch programs. The pandemic, however, affected everyone, and some students who came from middle-income households were now struggling. 

When the waiver was passed again at the end of the 2020, Pugh said it was “a relief.”

“It definitely will help to ensure all the children in our district and community have access to the nutritious foods they need,” she said. 

Whether the student is remote learning or in-person, everyone is eligible if they so choose, no questions asked. 

“We have around 2,500 kids in our district,” she said, “And about 30% to 40% of them are taking advantage of it.”

Remote families are able to pick up their meals at the school, where the district packages meals for two or three days at a time, she said. 

“There’s no enrollment needed,” she added. “With these times, people who were well-off last year may not be well-off this year.”

In a release last year, USDA stated that the challenges facing the country called for an effective way to feed children. The waiver allowed changes, like serving meals in all areas at no cost, permitting meals to be served outside of the typically required group settings and mealtimes, waive meal pattern requirements and allow parents or guardians to pick up meals for their children. 

“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” Perdue said. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.”

Three Village school district also has taken advantage of the waiver. Jeffrey Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, said that he thought it was “a great idea.”

“I’ve felt for a long time that school lunches should be free for all schools,” he said. “Either the district pays for it or the federal government pays.”

Carlson said the free lunches also have gotten better than when parents were in school. 

“It used to be a lot more obvious as to which kids were getting free lunch and then the stigma comes along with it,” he said. “So, if every kid just got lunch in school then we wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

While there are still snacks and extras that must be bought à la carte, he said that daily participation in the program has increased. 

“I think it’ll go up even more after COVID,” he said. “People will be more comfortable with food being prepared for their children again.”

Beth Rella, assistant superintendent for business at Middle Country school district, said they are “thrilled” to be able to offer the program to all of their students — whether they attend in-person, virtual or hybrid classes. 

“Although we began the year starting a little lighter than typical, which was anticipated due to COVID, we have noticed an increase in the number of meals served daily as the school year has progressed,” she said. “We see more and more students enjoying tasty breakfasts and lunches each day. We hope that students, who may have not tried out the food services program previously, use this as an opportunity to taste the various menu items.”

Carlson said that when USDA extended the program, there wasn’t a big announcement about it. Rella added that her district has “utilized ConnectEd messages, board of education meetings, printed flyers, the website and have even encouraged faculty and staff to spread the word about the program.” 

Middle Country students even had the opportunity to design and compete in a “Free Meals for All” poster contest, where the winning poster was used as a promotional display. 

Smithtown school district publicized the program via email to parents. Superintendent Mark Secaur wrote back in September, “The USDA recently announced that all school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program could temporarily serve free lunch to all students until Dec. 31, 2020. We have now also received approval from NYSED to participate in the free lunch offering.”

Memos were sent out to residents within the Port Jefferson School District, too, and Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said that while “around 10% or 15% of students are remote, this brings a level of normalcy to them.”

Leister added his district has also seen an increase in families participating. 

“There’s always a gap of people who don’t feel comfortable with signing up for the reduced lunch program,” he said. “But the federal government, state and Port Jefferson School District all realize that not having a meal is important to keeping students engaged and attentive — and no one will know they got it for free.”

Rella said Middle Country offers a week’s worth of frozen meals so students can continue to enjoy hot meals during their time off. 

“Having the USDA free meals for all program has not only allowed more students to participate in the program, it has helped to lessen the financial burden that was produced,” Rella said.

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Local school districts are still maintaining low COVID-19 numbers, while the rest of Suffolk County is nearing 6% in some areas. According to district leadership, that’s because schools have been constantly evolving their plans to keep students, staff and the community safe.

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many continuing to keep students safe. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Middle Country school district covers a large jurisdiction, Dr. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools, said. In non-COVID times, there are roughly 11,000 students within the district, though now approximately 7,500 are in buildings due to hybrid and remote learning options. The district has only had 102 positive COVID cases since the start of school, a 1.3% infection rate — with 52 of those cases coming from Thanksgiving break.

“We have such strong guidelines we’re containing it, not spreading it,” she said. “We know where [students and staff have] been and who they’ve been with.”

Like all the other districts, students are required to wear a mask at all times, except during mask breaks. Social distancing has been implemented with barriers on desks, and teachers are asked to keep their windows and doors open.

If a student is showing symptoms, they are immediately placed into an isolation room and brought home.

But that barely happens, according to Gerold. “The community is doing a good job because they’re not sending us positive kids,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of cases in the schools.”

Ronald Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said that over the summer, local superintendents began putting together plans to better prepare their districts.

“When the pandemic started, there was a feeling of uncertainty,” he said. “But now what we’ve found is we could place a great deal on social distancing.”

Because they have been implementing and following CDC guidelines, he said they’re not seeing spread within the schools.

“Controlled environment helps keep the community safe,” he said. “Even if we see the community numbers rise, I think the government, politicians, leadership and superintendents know how important keeping schools open is.”

A representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office agreed, and said the new guidelines released last month are to keep the doors of local schools open.

“We encourage them to not be closed, but to test instead,” they said.

Guidelines now require mass testing in schools in red, orange and yellow micro-cluster zones before they reopen, followed by vigilant symptom and exposure screening conducted daily. Impacted schools can reopen as early as Monday, however students and faculty must be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to going back to the classroom. New York State will provide rapid test kits for schools wishing to participate.

After a school reopens in a red or orange micro-cluster zone, vigilant symptom and exposure screening must be conducted daily. A quarter of the in-person learning school community — both students and faculty/staff — must be tested per week, and the school should ensure that it provides opportunities to test on school grounds, or otherwise facilitates testing and accepts test results from health care providers.

If the school does not hold a testing event or provide testing on school grounds, test results provided to the school as part of the 25% testing of the population must be received within seven days.

The governor’s representative said that no regions have hit the 9% emergency number, which would close the county again. Schools, however, have flexibility regarding choosing a comfortable closing percentage.

“They can use their own metrics to close down districts or schools as long as those metrics don’t go against the state mandate of 9%,” the representative said. “A lot of things are state law governed. Schools are done by the locals, and we wanted to be within the local district rules.”

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Shoreham-Wading River has seen just a total of 43 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“I would like to thank our parents, staff and students for implementing the required COVID-19 health protocols this year. The daily temperature checks, health screening forms and conversations about washing hands, wearing masks properly and socially distancing have been really effective in keeping or schools open, healthy and safe,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email statement. “The district is fully prepared for a shift to distance learning if a closure is mandated. We have a great distance learning plan and have already shifted this year successfully for a day or two when necessary due to COVOD-19 related school closures.“

File photo of Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that they are hopeful to remain on their current course, but are prepared to pivot their instructional models as directed by the governor’s office.

“Moving forward, our schools will continue to follow the guidance provided at the local, regional and state levels, including any prescribed steps needed should our area become designed a yellow, orange or red zone,” she said. “We are grateful to our students, staff and community for their unwavering support of and adherence to our initiatives. Their collective efforts have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and allowed us to keep our buildings open for in-person instruction.”

Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of Miller Place school district, said schools, to date, are the safest places for children to succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

“We are also fortunate to have the acknowledgement of social responsibility in our community, coupled with everyone’s common goal to keep schools open,” she said.

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Three Village has seen just a total of 72 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“Our district continues to follow the guidance of the Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, said. “We are fully prepared to implement any prescribed measures to keep our schools open, safe and operating in the best interest of all of our students and staff.”

Elwood school district Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bossert said he agrees with statements made by Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent joint press conference.

“Governor Cuomo used the words ‘amazing and astonishing’ to describe how low the infection rates are in schools as compared to many of the communities surrounding them,” Bossert said. “We agree that our schools are safe places for students, faculty and staff. The guidelines that have been put in place in collaboration with the Suffolk County Department of Health are designed to keep students and staff safe and school open.”

Bossert said in addition to mask wearing, distancing and appropriate hygiene, it’s important for those who are symptomatic or think they have been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

“We are so very thankful to our parents and community members for demonstrating an understanding of the role we each play and acting out of an abundance of caution when making decisions about their children,” he said. “We are confident that we can keep students safe in our school buildings — where we know they will enjoy the greatest benefit of our instruction program, socialization with one another, and have positive interactions with their teachers.”

Smithtown school district superintendent, Mark Secaur, said he is planning for several different scenarios, including the potential of COVID testing in schools, or going back to completely remote.

“Based on the relative safety of our students and staff, providing education for those two things has been at odd at times,” he said. “But it’s the balance we have to navigate because of the pandemic.”

“We have proven that schools are safer than the outside community,” Secaur added. “Kids have been amazing. They’re excited to be with their friends again, and the kids have been more resilient than some adults.”

 

Elwood Super Ken Bossert said every single school will need to make painful cuts if things don't go their way. Photo from Heather Mammolito

The 5-square-mile hamlet of Elwood is known as a tight-knit community with a strong sense of heritage and pride. So, when Kenneth Bossert joined the Elwood school district, four years ago, to take over as superintendent, he wanted to bring that sense of closeness to the district community as well. 

In those four years he has done just that, and so much more. 

“He has such a dynamic personality, he has made a lasting impact in the community,” Heather Mammolito, district board of education member and Elwood resident said. 

Mammolito said before Bossert took over, the district was in a weird place, with a lot of administrative turnover. 

“The goal was to bring someone that could rein everyone back in, and that’s what we did,” she said. “I haven’t seen a greater sense of pride in the district community in a while.”

The board member said Bossert’s presence at the district has already paid dividends.  

Elwood celebrates members of its community during homecoming festivities. Photos from Heather Mammolito

Last year, Elwood-John H. Glenn High School was designated as a National Blue Ribbon school, which was a huge honor and designation for the district. His other accomplishments include the creation of the Elwood school district Wall of Fame, which honors people who have made a mark on the community before the homecoming football game. He’s opened board of education subcommittee meetings to the public. Under his leadership the district has seen significant increase of reading and writing scores. He also hosts roundtable talks with John Glenn seniors. 

“I feel like he has really started a domino effect … he knows how to work with people, it is infectious,” Mammolito said. “It starts from the top, it has been a culture shift.” 

She said Bossert makes sure every staff member feels accepted and welcomed and is very approachable. 

“He is really present, he goes above and beyond. He makes it a point to get out of his office and visit every building in the district, every classroom,” Mammolito said.  

In April, Bossert was elected to the Executive Committee of New York State Council of School Superintendents. He has also been past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendent’s Association and a member of the Suffolk Superintendent’s Legislative Committee. Over the years, Bossert has worked in the Middle Country, Longwood, Eastport-South Manor, Three Village and Port Jefferson school districts.

Ronald Masera, superintendent of Center Moriches School District, has known Bossert for more than 20 years. They were both in the same Stony Brook University educational leadership program. 

Bossert, left, along with other school officials honor a student-athlete. Photos by Heather Mammolito

“Very early on you could tell he was one of those individuals that had that presence and insight,” he said. “He has always been an engaged and committed person.”

After completing the program, the duo went on to work as assistant principals in the Longwood school district. 

“He just hasn’t been a colleague of mine but a friend as well over the years; this job can be a little isolating with a network of people you trust,” he said. “He’s one of the first people I reach out to if I have an issue or question and we text back and forth.”

Lars Clemensen, superintendent of schools at Hampton Bays, had similar sentiments to say of Bossert. 

“He is my top go-to person to reach out whenever I have a question,” the superintendent said. 

He said Bossert is a student-first and community-oriented administrator. 

“He really looks at the big picture and tries to do the best he can for the public,” Clemensen said. “It is not surprising to hear of he’s been able to build at Elwood.”

The Hampton Bays superintendent said as they both became parents over the years they become close friends and is proud of the work Bossert’s been able to accomplish. 

“He has that gene, whenever he walks into a room he is seen as a leader,” Clemensen said. “When you are a superintendent you are the face of the school … he has done great work and the community is proud.”

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By Bill Landon

The Port Jefferson Royal’s boy’s basketball team looked to notch their first league victory Jan. 8 but had their hands full when Elwood-John Glenn came knocking. The Knights overpowered Port Jeff 77-50 dropping them to 0-4 in this early season. 

Eighth grader Drew Feinstein had the hot hand for the Royals draining 4 triples, banking a pair of field goals and netting 5 from the charity stripe to lead his team in scoring with 21 points. Senior forward Grant Calendrille followed with 2 treys along with 2 field goals putting him up 10.  

The Royals search for that elusive league victory when they hit the road to take on Mattituck Jan. 11. Tip-off is at 5:45 p.m.

Children enjoy the grand opening of Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park in Elwood. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Huntington is temporarily re-opening the Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park at Elwood Park due to the heat wave the area is currently experiencing.

Huntington officials announced the spray park will be open Sept. 6 and 7, from noon to 6 p.m.  The hours for the week starting Sept. 10 will be determined based on the weather. Town of Huntington beaches will remain closed due to a lack of available lifeguard staffing, according a statement from the town.

The park is 4,900 square feet in area with 2,500 square feet of active play features, according to town Civil Engineer Ed Parrish, the project manager for the spray park. Parrish added that the spray pad water runoff will be collected and reused for field irrigation at Elwood Park.

The interactive spray park contains multiple water features, including several button- activated water jets, water spraying hoops and overhead buckets that fill up and dump down onto children’s heads. The largest bucket that hangs several meters off the ground is labeled with big block letters spelling “NYPD.” 

The spray park, located at Elwood Park on Cuba Hill Road in Elwood, is open to residents with Resident Recreation Photo ID Cards (children under 13 years old will be able to use the spray park if accompanying parent/guardian shows a Resident Recreation Photo ID Card – exception only for those who have Picnic Permits for that day), Non-residents may only enter the spray park if they are accompanied by a resident with a Resident Recreation Photo ID Card.

 

It was no sweat for the Town of Huntington officials to open their first interactive spray water park July 11 to the sound of children laughing and playing in the summer heat.

The Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park, located along Cuba Hill Road in Elwood Park, is  dedicated to Huntington native and fallen New York City police Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo whose family attended the park’s opening.

“Happiness was something that Paul brought to everyone he met,” Tuozzolo’s wife, Lisa, said. “Even though the smiles don’t make up for all the heartbreak that my family and I have suffered, it does prove just how much Paul did and how much he meant to his fellow officers and his community.”

“Happiness was something that Paul brought to everyone he met.”

– Lisa Tuozzolo

The interactive spray park contains multiple water features, including several button- activated water jets, water spraying hoops and overhead buckets that fill up and dump down onto children’s heads. The largest bucket that hangs several meters off the ground is labeled with big block letters spelling “NYPD.”

A 19-year veteran of the NYPD, Tuozzolo was working for the 43rd Precinct in the Soundview section of the Bronx in November 2016 when he was shot and killed responding to what was initially reported as a home
invasion, and later found to be a domestic incident. A police dispatcher told responding officers that a man who had broken into the home was fleeing in a car, which Tuozzolo swiftly tracked down. Upon approaching the vehicle, the suspect shot Tuozzolo, who later died of his injuries.

“The Sergeant made the ultimate sacrifice, he warned other officers of the same fate,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “But let’s not reflect on how he died, but on how he lived. He believed in service and love for the community.”

The police officer is survived by his wife and two young sons Austin and Joseph. The family was strongly involved with the initial proposal for the park and later its design, according to former Huntington
Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) when the project was first announced in September 2017.

“This is absolutely fantastic — one of the best dedications I’ve ever seen,” Terry Monahan, NYPD’s chief of department, said. “To have this in his hometown really means something.”

This is absolutely fantastic — one of the best dedications I’ve ever seen.”

– Terry Monahan

The park is 4,900 square feet in area with 2,500 square feet of active play features, according to town Civil Engineer Ed Parrish, the project manager for the spray park. Parrish added that the spray pad water runoff will be collected and reused for field irrigation at Elwood Park.

Right up until a week before the park opened last minute touches were being added, including the gate’s memorial trellis, which was installed July 5. Town spokesperson Lauren Lembo said that the project was
finished on schedule, but a new sanitary system for the park is expected to be finished by spring 2019.

Ridge-based Laser Industries Inc. and its subcontractors were paid approximately $610,000 to build the spray park, which included installing the new waterlines, spray features, concrete and safety features as well as the custom park benches and memorial trellis. Town of Huntington employees were paid $50,000 to install a new 4-inch water line into the park as well as the sprinkler system, sidewalk and fencing.

Parrish said that trained staff are being provided with first aid equipment and umbrellas to monitor the kids at play.

Only children age 13 or younger are allowed to use the spray park. Parents or guardians must show a Resident Recreation Photo ID or that day’s picnic permit to gain access to the park. Official hours will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., but with this year’s planned playground camp being held at Elwood Park, it will be open to the public from Monday through Friday, 12:30 to 8 p.m. now through Aug. 10.

Developer withdraws application for Elwood Orchard hours before public hearing; vows to revise plans

More than 650 Huntington residents attended the May 17 town board meeting to take a stand against Villadom Corp's proposed development. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A developer’s decision to pull its proposal to build a 486,000-square-foot commercial development off Jericho Turnpike did nothing to stop hundreds of Huntington residents from coming out to participate in a three-hour rally against downzoning in their community.

Town of Huntington officials announced May 17 that Villadom Corp. had officially withdrawn its
application for the proposed Elwood Orchard project, hours before the public hearing was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. at Elwood Middle School.

Huntington town officials received a May 17 letter from, Syndicated Ventures, LLC, the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, indicating it was withdrawing its request for a change of zoning application from R-40 to C-5 and C-6 in order to construct a mixed commercial development on Jericho Turnpike, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

We are the messengers who say we don’t want Villadom’s project in any form.”
– Gail Jospa

“As there is no longer an application in front of the town board, the public hearing for this project is canceled,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said to the more than 600 gathered. “While the applicant may submit a new application in the future, they would need to start the entire process from the beginning, submitting a new plan to the town, having it reviewed by the planning board, which then would make a recommendation to the town board regarding the scheduling of a new public hearing.”

There was a thunderousround of applause from the hundreds of residents holding bright yellow “Stop Villadom” signs or wearing T-shirts reading “Stop Villadom Mall.” There were 99 public speakers who signed up to talk, many of whom demanded answers and sought to hold the town board accountable.

“We are here tonight speaking for thousands of Huntington residents, taxpayers and voters,” Gail Jospa, of Dix Hills, said. “We are the messengers who say we don’t want Villadom’s project in any form. We don’t want anything Mr. [Kris] Torkan has to offer.”

Elwood resident Andrew Kaplan recalled how he first learned Great Neck-based developer Kris Torkan, president of Syndicated Ventures and Villadom, had proposed to build a mixed-use commercial development in Elwood while attending a Feb. 28 planning board meeting.

Shocked, Kaplan said he and Lisa Bloomstein were calling a March 11 meeting at Half Hollow Hills Library with 22 of their neighbors to organize an opposition.

His actions speak louder than his words. Pulling the Villadom application proves his commitment to the Town of Huntington.”
– Maria Mediavilla

“That night we started a petition,” Kaplan said. “A friend opened a Facebook page, we sent an email to everyone we knew in our email boxes. In a week we had 1,000 signatures, and we come here tonight with 10,0000.”

Many spoke out against the downzoning of the proposed 49-acre site from R-40, which permits single-family homes on one-acre pieces of property, to C-5 and C-6 commercial zoning, which permits for shopping districts and general business.

“The last administration downzoned every piece of property that came before the board,” Commack resident Nancy Gambi said. “There’s not a need for this, we should not downzone our property anymore.”

Many residents pointed to The Seasons at Elwood, a community of 265 units for senior citizens, which is currently under construction, as downzoning granted by the former town administration.

“Most of us have elected two of you as you promised us to stop the overdevelopment that was happening in Huntington,” said Becky Marcus, a Huntington resident and a trustee on Elwood’s board of education, pointing to the newly elected Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smythe (R). “We want, the people in this room, want equal protection under the laws — the zoning laws.”

Several speakers suggested concerned residents should consider seeking the services of a professional land use attorney should Villadom resubmit a new application in the future.

Maria Mediavilla, daughter of the property owner, spoke up in defense of Torkan and the project.

“The developer is a man of great integrity that cares about the community,” Mediavilla said, over boos as Lupinacci called the crowd to order. “His actions speak louder than his words. Pulling the Villadom application proves his commitment to the Town of Huntington.”

Mark Smith, Villadom’s spokesman, said the developer intends to continue revising and revamping his proposed plans.

“What you see here behind me is not a fluke. This will be here at every turn, at every decision.”
– Patrick Deegan

“In the next ensuing months, we will be directing our design professionals to make modifications to the plan, while at the same time, we will continue our community outreach,” Smith said.  This is a very special parcel of land, upon which something wonderful and community oriented can be developed. We intend to build that plan. Withdrawing our application at this time provides us with sufficient time to prepare that new plan to better serve the community.”

Many Huntington residents issued calls for the members of the town’s planning board to resign or be replaced, so they would not oversee Villadom’s next application.

“The planning board gave recommendations to the developer on how to amend the project,” Dix Hills resident Tracy Kleinberg said. “They are appointed to work for the constituents, not out-of-town developers. Replace them and appoint new planning board members whose views are more aligned with the new direction of town board.”

Community members were more than willing to step forward with ideas for the future of the land, including the town purchasing it to preserve as open space parkland or creation of a town ecology site to work in conjunction with Manor Farm Park and Berkley Jackson County Park.

Many speakers made clear they are not interested in entertaining any future proposals from Villadom, no matter how scaled back.

“What you see here behind me is not a fluke,” said Patrick Deegan, calling to the crowd. “This will be here at every turn, at every decision.”

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Huntington, voters went to polls May 15 and gave their stamp of approval to their districts’ 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 some board of education members, who rely on their taxpayers’ votes as a critical measure of community feedback.

Harborfields 2018-19 budget

Harborfields voters approved the district’s $86,086,696 budget for the 2018-19 school year, by 966 votes to 275 votes. The approved budget is an increase of nearly $2 million over the current year and will impose tax levy increase of 2.19 percent for district taxpayers.

“The community’s continued support of the district allows us to provide a ‘world-class’ education to the children of our community,” Harborfields Superintendent Francesco Ianni said. “We look forward to implementing several enhancements to the curriculum for next year, including the restructuring of the high school science research program and a new literacy curriculum. In addition, the proposed budget will allow us to enhance security throughout the district.”

Harborfields votes by the numbers

$86M budget: 966 Yes votes to 275 No votes

Board of education
Suzie Lustig: 949 votes
Steve Engelmann: 862 votes
Joseph Savaglio: 744 votes

The superintendent said the district will reorganize its pupil personnel services department to include a chairperson of special education, allowing the school psychologist more time for child-focused responsibilities.

The proposed spending plan features funding to restructure Harborfields High School’s science research program to allow the teacher to have dedicated time set aside to support students in their individual pursuit of science inquiry. Other enhancements contained in the district’s approved budget include a new literacy curriculum; additional resources for science classes districtwide; and new educational classes in engineering, computer science and business entrepreneurship.

The average Harborfields school district resident will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $222.80 per year. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $4,000, in which an assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

“The community’s input was vital to the creation of this budget, so I thank those residents who participated throughout the process and those who took the time to vote,” Ianni said.

Harborfields board of education

There were three candidates running uncontested for three seats on Harborfields board of education in this year’s election.

Current Vice President Suzie Lustig received 949 votes and was re-elected to her seat. Newcomers Steve Engelmann received 862 voters and Joseph Savaglio received 744 to join the district as board trustees starting in the 2018-19 school year.

Elwood school district

Elwood taxpayers passed the district’s $61,606,082 budget for the 2018-19 school year by 896 votes to 327 votes. The adopted budget is an increase of nearly $1.3 million over the current year. It represents a tax levy increase of 2.71 percent, which fell under the state-mandated tax cap.

Elwood votes by the numbers

$61.6M budget: 896 Yes votes to 327 No votes
Proposition 2: 854 Yes votes to 345 No votes

Board of education (uncontested)
Heather Mammolito: 918 votes
James Tomeo: 983 votes

“On behalf of the entire administration and board of education, I would like to thank all residents who voted in support of the proposed 2018-19 budget,” Elwood Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said in a statement. “Your support will allow the district to continue to enhance our academic program for our students, as well as increase security throughout the district. We are continually grateful to the Elwood community for its support of our district.”

Proposition 2

Voters cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 2, approving by 854 votes to 345 votes. The measure will allow school officials to create a capital reserve fund for future improvement projects that were not included in the bond approved earlier this year. Under the terms approved, the district will set aside a maximum of $500,000 a year, not to exceed a total of $5 million over a 10-year period to help pay for capital projects.

Elwood board of education

Two incumbent Elwood board of education trustees ran unopposed for another term serving their community. Trustee Heather Mammolito received 918 votes and trustee James Tomeo, received 983 votes to be re-elected to their seats.

An artistic rendering of the proposed development on Elwood Orchard site along Jericho Turnpike. Rendering from Villadom Corp

Town of Huntington officials have decided to use the public hearing on contentious plans for a proposed Elwood mall as the trial run for taking town board meetings on the road.

Huntington Town board members voted 4-1 to reschedule public comments on the proposed Villadom Mall to a May 17 town board session that will be held at Elwood Middle School.

“This will be our test case,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Lupinacci, during his 2017 campaign for town office, had proposed rotating where town board meetings are held in attempt to increase accessibility to residents. He said he felt the strong community interest in developer Villadom Corp’s proposal to construct a 486,380-square foot mall with mixed retail and office space on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood provided a good opportunity to try relocating.

“I once again stand in strong opposition to the Villadom project…”
— Steve Stern

“The middle school auditorium has more seating,” the supervisor said. “I am sure it will be a long hearing of several hours of comments.”

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against relocating the Villadom hearing, citing security concerns and potential confusion for concerned residents.

Many area residents voiced their opinions on the proposed mall at the April 10 town board meeting. The first among them was former Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

“I once again stand in strong opposition to the Villadom project and overdevelopment in our area which will have a tremendously adverse impact on the aquifer, already heavy traffic and the quality of life,” Stern said.

He said the Suffolk County Legislature previously voted against Orchard Park, a prior proposal to build 360 luxury apartments in addition to retail and office space, on the same site as Elwood Orchard, Villadom’s proposed project.

“There are doomsday predictions of traffic counts, megamalls and tax breaks that are non-existent.”
— Robert Rocklein

Robert Rocklein, a member of the civic group Huntington Matters, said he is supportive of Villadom’s plans.

“I see the glass as half full, not half empty,” he said. “I see a lot of benefits that could be bestowed on the community.”

Rocklein said he believes residents’ fears of the mixed-use project have been created by information circulating on social media. He once viewed a similar development in Short Hills, New Jersey whose tenants he said have given more than $1 million a year to community organizations and groups.

“There are doomsday predictions of traffic counts, megamalls and tax breaks that are non-existent,” Rocklein said. “Elwood school district stands to have the most to gain, but also the most to lose.”

An online petition started against the proposed Villadom Mall has gathered more than 4,000 signatures in the last three weeks. Residents have voiced concerns about the potential environmental impact of the development’s storm water runoff on drinking water as well as potentially increased traffic on Jericho Turnpike, Old Country and Deer Park roads.

The Greater Huntington Civic Group, a nonprofit organization of multiple civic associations in the Town of Huntington, will be hosting a public meeting with the developer April 18 at 7 p.m. prior to the town hearing. The event will be held at the Huntington Moose Lodge, located at 631 Pulaski Road in Greenlawn.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said public hearing set for May 15 may be pushed to June

An artistic rendering of the proposed development on Elwood Orchard site along Jericho Turnpike. Rendering from Villadom Corp

Though its little more than plans on paper, Huntington residents are furiously voicing their opposition to a proposed Elwood megamall.

More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition in the last week whose aim is to stop the proposed construction of the Villadom Mall off Jericho Turnpike. The proposed development on what is known as the Elwood Orchard site is being headed by Great Neck-based developer Villadom Corp.

“Over the years the project keeps coming back to life, the zombie project,” Huntington resident Patrick Deegan said. “Hopefully, this is the last time this project comes up.”

The petition is in response to Huntington Town Board scheduling a public hearing on the mall proposal. The meeting was originally scheduled for May 15 at the Huntington Town Hall, though Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said that most likely the meeting will be moved to sometime in June and will be hosted in the Elwood school district.

The developer has proposed to construct a 486,380-square-foot mall with retail and office space including a fitness center on the 50-acre property. The Elwood Orchard website claims the development will create 750 jobs during construction and 950 permanent jobs once completed.

Over the years the project keeps coming back to life, the zombie project.”

— Patrick Deegan

A representative of Villadom was not available for comment.

Residents are afraid of what environmental impacts the proposed development could have on the area’s drinking water.

According to a draft environmental impact statement filed for the project with the town in 2015, the stormwater runoff is not anticipated to contain significant amounts of pollutants. Though several petitioners reject that claim and say that because the area is at a high elevation — 284 to 296 feet above sea level — there is risk of pollutants getting into the water system from construction and vehicles.

“All this water flows to the south. With a 2,000-car parking lot, with 50 acres being disturbed, do you not think this is going to affect the quality of that well?” civil engineer Paul Besmertnik said. “It may not cause a problem in the first year, but the problem is cumulative and every year it adds up to more and more.”

Bob Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District, said it can take up to 20 years for stormwater runoff or groundwater to reach the wells, at which point the real impact can be determined. 

“What man does today the future generations will find,” Santoriello said. “But if they properly design it, if there is a proper sewage treatment plan that is allowed by the county, then I don’t think there would be a great impact.”

Residents have also expressed fear of what could happen to the already congested roadways in that area of Elwood, especially on Jericho Turnpike.

Petitioners point to an independent study published by Greenman-Pedersen Inc. in 2016. The traffic study said that the northbound approach of Old Country Road at Deer Park Road would “operate at an unacceptable level of service.”

You always want to have a balancing act between the financial benefits and the environmental impact.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I think a well-executed study without the flaws found in the developer’s study would have produced even worse implications on the traffic impact.” Huntington resident Andrew Kaplan said about the environmental impact statement: “But we don’t need additional analysis to tell us that a project of this scale will only exacerbate an already recognized material issue affecting our quality of life in Huntington.”

The proposed mall would add approximately 1,339 more drivers on the surrounding roads during the evening rush hour. The developer has proposed some of these traffic problems could be mitigated by building additional lanes for cars making turns onto the property.

“When you have something like this, you’re always looking at impacts, whether its traffic, environmental or community-wise,” Lupinacci said. “You always want to have a balancing act between the financial benefits and the environmental impact.”

In order to move forward with construction, the developer requires approval of a change of zone application by the town. Residents say Huntington officials would have to change the town’s comprehensive plan and alter its zoning laws.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said that he is skeptical about any rezoning request.

“Whenever an applicant seeks a zone-change classification, they come out of the gate with the heavy burden of persuading me why it should be granted,” Smyth said. “However, I am keeping an open mind until after the public hearing.”

A public hearing on the proposed mall will likely be pushed back to June, according to Lupinacci. The supervisor encouraged concerned residents to attend.