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Village board expected to approve basketball court construction next week; Trustee Pucillo will not be present for vote

Village

by Chrissy Ruggeri and Joanne Kountourakis | Thu, Feb 29 2024

At a workshop earlier this week, Deputy Mayor Meghan Dolan showed Mayor Donna Koch and fellow board members an image detailing the size of a basketball court expected to replace the existing court at Cow Harbor Park in Northport Village.

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A workshop meant to more clearly define the particulars of a years-long basketball court revitalization project took place Tuesday, February 27, at Northport Village Hall. The project, which will replace and expand the existing court in Cow Harbor Park, could gain the final go-ahead to begin construction at the regularly scheduled board of trustees meeting next Tuesday, March 5. 

This week’s workshop focused on the construction and financial aspects of the project, topics that – as a Village election nears – became political talking points for some trustees. Those present at the workshop included Mayor Donna Koch, Deputy Mayor Meghan Dolan, trustees Ernest Pucillo and Dave Weber, Assistant to the Mayor Don Tesoriero and Village Administrator Roland Buzard; Trustee Joseph Sabia was absent. The workshop was open to the public, though audience members could not comment. 

If approved, demolition of the existing basketball court and site preparations will begin immediately. Construction of the court is expected to start around April 1, with an anticipated finish date in May. 

To date, project organizers – all members of the Northport High School 1995 Long Island Champion Boys Basketball team – have raised over $110,000, including a recent and successful push to raise the final $20,000 to fund the entire bid proposal. These donations and a state grant secured in 2021 will fully cover construction. 

“Thank you so much to the generous organizers and community members who have donated to make this a reality,” Deputy Mayor Dolan said at the workshop upon announcing that all funding is in hand. Without the donations and NYS grant secured by the Village, Dolan added, the project would have needed substantial Village funding. “We’re thrilled that all of these pieces are in place now,” she said. 

The bid proposal being voted on next week is from The Landtek Group, the contractor used by the Town of Huntington for all court resurfacing projects; the total cost of construction has been set at $159,986. This includes all elements of phase one: the fine grade subgrade at the base of the court, RCA (recycled concrete aggregate) subbase and post tension concrete surface, backboards and hoops, and black vinyl-coated chain link fencing. The only differences between the modified phase one plans and those approved to go to bid by the board unanimously in January 2023 are the reduced hardscape and changes to the elevation and fence line. 

Some elements of the project will be provided by the Village’s highway department, including  demolition (removal of the existing court, basketball hoops and fencing), disposal of debris, which will bypass Village dumpsters and be made directly to the dump site, the removal of three trees, and site leveling in preparation for construction. 

When court construction is complete, Village workers will return to the site to install a French drain on the west side of the court and permeable “True Grid” drainage system, and complete final grading and seeding around the court. The trees slated for removal include two that are adjacent to the court along Woodbine Avenue (one on the northeast corner and one small “withering” pine) and one tree on the border of the Woodbine Marina property that will be removed for fence installation. 

All labor will be done during regular business hours at an estimated value of $29,100. Buzard noted, for reference, that the amount for labor is just over the cost of a recent project completed on Lisa Drive that involved removing the sidewalk. The estimated cost of materials is $10,680, which will be covered by existing funds within the 2024-25 Village budget and requires no additional cost to taxpayers. “Keep in mind, these are normal materials that we, in the parks department and highway department, purchase on a regular basis to make repairs and modifications, and do maintenance,” Tesoriero explained. 

The Town of Huntington, which owns the Woodbine Marina, has agreed to shoulder the expense of several bushes where Cow Harbor Park meets the marina and allow for a small section of the marina parking lot to be used as a staging area during construction.

Additional landscaping and a rain garden in the area around the court will be completed during phase two of the project, if and when funding is secured from the town’s EOSPA (Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Advisory) committee. The bathrooms are expected to be renovated this spring and will be funded with a $300,000 donation made by Village resident Arlene Handel. 

Expenses to date, that have been paid for with money raised for the project by private donors, total $25,737 and include initial and modified engineering plans by J.R Holzmacher, boring testing by McDonald Geoservices, and surveyor services by Paul J. Ruzenski.

At the workshop, Deputy Mayor Dolan went through the timeline of the project, starting at the first presentations made to the previous board of trustees in 2021, followed by additional presentations, a public hearing and compromise on court size, the unanimous vote to move forward on sending the project out to bid, meetings with the EOSPA committee, and plan modifications made to complete the project in two phases. 

“Now here we are again, having another public workshop to present these plans and let everybody know that we have achieved the financial goals and have a plan that works. I know all of these board members have been here at all of our meetings,” Dolan continued, “and you know that you have heard from a diverse and varied group of people in support of this court for the last two years. It’s not the same people every time.” She said that through emails and in-person support at meetings, the board has seen that people are in favor of the court and can’t understand how it's been so derailed. 

“In so many ways, this deserves to be completed and we deserve to move on as a community to face the bigger issues in this Village,” Dolan said. 

Mayor Koch agreed with approving the project for construction: “We’ve done our due diligence for the last two years to make sure the Town of Huntington was on board with the project, to make sure the scope of the project was reduced,” she said. 

Trustee Ernest Pucillo acknowledged at the workshop a “tremendous effort by everyone to move this project forward.” He did question the costs to the Village through labor and materials, to which Trustee Weber replied, “Are there any other projects, off the top of your head, that have an over 90% donation from outside sources?”
Pucillo replied “no.” 

Koch said that to her, the revitalization of the basketball court is a beautification project. The current court and fence, which is at the entryway to the Village, is an eyesore: “I think people are going to come down into the Village and say, ‘Wow, what was all the controversy?’” she said. 

At the workshop’s end, Weber read an impassioned statement to the board regarding the court project. In it, he reiterated the love for Northport that has been behind the private donations. He recalled how divisive events in the community centered around politics led him to meet with State Senator James Gaughran in 2021, when he secured the $75,000 grant. Those funds were meant to bring something positive into the community, a project that would bring people together and bridge divides, Weber explained. 

He said that much has happened since that day, including a concerning incident during which a “fellow board member” told Weber – who is running for reelection – to “think long and hard on how you vote on this court,” because, as election day approaches, votes would be riding on it. The fear of political pushback from residents who oppose the project has stopped some board members from supporting it, he said. 

“I’m going to say to that board member, you might not have been listening to me over the last three and a half years,” an emotional Weber continued. “Pay close attention, I have not wavered one ounce since taking office.” He said that the board needs to move this project forward for the betterment of our children and other community members. 

“I want to clap,” responded Mayor Koch, who has been an advocate of the project since calling for – and reaching with the project’s organizers – a compromise to reduce the size of the court in summer 2022. 

Dolan made several statements about the importance of this project and what it means to community members. Among them, she said, “I’ve heard people say recently – there’s campaigning going on – that people want a ‘vibrant, inclusive and successful community.’ This is a project that accomplishes all of these goals, these are the details of the project, and I am optimistic that this good-willed community project will move forward soon, and thank you to the people who have been supportive.” 

Koch is anticipating putting a resolution on the March 5 agenda to approve The Landtek Group bid and begin construction of the court, she said. Pucillo will not be present for that meeting, he announced – the last one before the Village election in which he is up for another term as trustee.

The project is expected to pass with a majority vote.

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