How Town Departments Are Making a Difference in the Community During the Pandemic
It’s been a long five months as we have endured an unimaginable global health crisis, civil unrest, economic turmoil and the stress of everything in between. In March, I created a communication matrix designed to get people the help they required, ensuring no one was forgotten during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was nothing short of a miracle to witness so many acts of kindness and selfless gestures take place throughout the community. I am humbled and honored to share with you how our Town Departments have kept the miracle going over the last few months. Each department has found ways to give the community a sense of normalcy we all desperately need right now, from delivering fresh grown vegetables to homebound seniors, evolving services and entertainment to fast tracking park renovations and beautification projects. I couldn’t be prouder of our essential workers, who have found so many special ways to touch the community in these perilous times.
As we prepared for the summertime, one major priority was our youth and their parents who dualed as teachers while working from home for three months. The Department of Recreation, led by Tom McCaffrey succeeded in a mission to not only create new programming, but they are responsible for evolving the entire recreation schedule so kids could enjoy the summer safely. The department facilitated virtual Mommy and Me classes, and created low-risk activities such as horseback & trail riding instruction. They began a new beach camp, and relocated the playground program (previously held partially indoors at various schools) to the Town parks. A pod system was implemented to socially distance each group, using color coded backpacks. Every camper receives a drawstring backpack filled with their own weekly craft supplies and water bottle so they are not sharing materials. Rigorous safety measures have been put in place, including daily temperature checks, a meticulous sanitary routine, and the installation of shade structures to keep the kids safe from those humid mornings. Because of the Recreation Department, our kids who’ve spent all of Spring glued to computer screens for Zoom Classes are now enjoying the great outdoors, swimming in the sound and learning how precious our natural habitat is.
In addition to the Summer programming, the Recreation Department went to great lengths to get the Town pool up and running in time to celebrate Independence Day. Director McCaffrey and his team, who were supposed to be off enjoying a long weekend, came back to work, to ensure every single safety guideline was properly followed without a hitch. While it would have been easier to close up shop for the year, the Recreation Department took every opportunity to think outside the box, to give our youth (and their parents) a little reprieve from these uncertain times we are living in.
As part of the Town’s initiative to help those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I tasked our Public Information Officer and Public Safety’s Technical Services Unit with producing Virtual Tours of local shops. Each video focuses on how individual businesses have been able to safely accommodate their patrons, with options like curbside pickups, installing plexiglass barriers, expanding seating outdoors and offering online classes.
In addition to filming Virtual Tours, Public Information Officer Nicole Garguilo teamed up with the School Districts in the town to produce a surprise Graduation Production. The video featured inspiring messages and advice from noteworthy Alumni, and Residents along with photo montages, sent in by proud parents and members of the school districts administration. We had over 10,000 people take to Facebook to watch the video message, which is also available to watch on YouTube and on GTV (Channel 18 on Cablevision, Channel 27 on Fios.)
As most are already aware, our revered Senior Center has been closed to the public since the very beginning of the Pandemic. However, the incredible staff led by Laura Greif, have found new and inventive ways to stay connected with our most vulnerable residents. Harris Friedman and the transportation unit continue to drive seniors to shop for groceries, and doctor’s wellbeing visits. Patty Bornhoft has maintained the edible garden in the pavilion, delivering the weekly harvest of vegetables, fruit and herbs to the members of the Garden Club. Senior Center Manager, Victoria Rice has sewn over 400 face masks, giving them out to anyone in need of a face covering. Our volunteer drivers continue to deliver weekly meals to high risk seniors and our Home Repair crews have focused on facilitating outdoor projects, such as cleaning gutters and other minor exterior home maintenance. If you were to ask any one member of this team, why they go to such lengths, they will all say; because our members are our family.
The Horizons Counseling & Education Center have done a noble job maintaining virtual counseling services, tending to the needs of each client on a case by case basis. Additionally, the Horizon’s team and the Smithtown Youth Bureau have put together a host of virtual events, from screening a mental health documentary called “Angst” to arranging for an Instructor-led virtual DIY Paint Kit Night with AR Workshop in Smithtown. Most recently, the team at Horizons and the Youth Bureau have partnered with Public Safety Waterways and Navigation division in a visual arts content submission, to raise awareness about the dangers of boating while under the influence of a substance. The pandemic has had such a stressful impact on the mental wellbeing of so many. I am so grateful for the creative ways which Horizons and the Youth Bureau have been able to reach the community.
In addition to a variety of services offered, the Youth Bureau has done tremendous outreach work encouraging our children to give back during these times of great need. They’ve conducted a kindness rock campaign, collected Thank You signs for essential workers and most recently, facilitated an Animal Food Drive for the wildlife at Sweetbriar Nature Center.
When we got the word that Restaurants would be able to open as a part of Phase 3 for Suffolk County, Councilman Tom McCarthy knew that capacity was going to be an issue that could result in businesses not surviving. Thanks to his fast actions and the skillset of the teams at Planning, Building, Environment and Waterways, Engineering departments alongside support from our Fire Marshall, the Town of Smithtown was able to launch an online system to file for temporary outdoor accommodations. This one page application was designed to assist existing restaurants in the Town who are authorized by the Governor to re-open, but lack the indoor space to accommodate social distancing requirements. With a fast turnaround of three days or less, we’ve succeeded in issuing 61 permits for outdoor dining.
I would also like to commend our Community Development coordinator in the Planning Department; Kelly Brown, who literally hand delivered the Jumpstart contract, at the peak of the pandemic, to Suffolk County so we could begin the construction of the Pulaski Municipal lot in Kings Park. Because of her tenacity, our funding was secured in the nick of time. To date, we’ve completed the clearing of the lot and drainage work. Upon completion, the municipal lot will feature 23 parking spaces for Restaurant Row, state-of-the-art LED lighting, stunning landscaping with irrigation and the Town’s second Electric Vehicle Charging Station. This vital project will assist in the leasing of long-time vacant shops, improve pedestrian foot traffic and create a walkable, centralized sense of place.
The Department of Environment and Waterways, together with the team at MSF (Municipal Services Facility) were able to safely host the Household Hazardous Waste event, which resulted in the collection of 22 tons worth of toxic materials. In order to provide this service, town employees emptied the cars for residents, who were asked to wear face masks and remain in vehicles to keep everyone safe from the spread of coronavirus. The team worked for 14 hours straight in the summer heat, wearing face coverings and gloves.
With less traffic on the roads during the pandemic, our Highway department has been able to complete a number of major projects in a short period of time.
In Commack, the highway department has begun a major reconstruction of the sidewalks at Scholar Lane. Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy has been working in coordination with the Commack School District to not only replace the sidewalks and trees, but will add new landscaping to improve beautification and increase privacy for residents who live close to the ball fields. Additionally the highway department has recently repaved Indian head Road and Somers Lane.
In Hauppauge, Highway teams completed brand new driveway aprons and planted trees along Chester Street. They completed pavement work along Robin Drive, Gull Drive and Wren Drive. Together with Traffic Safety highway teams have completed the widening of New Highway and Adams Avenue. The finished project included sidewalk repairs and replacements, modern mast arm traffic signals, new lighting, landscaping & signage, offering safer roads for bicyclists, runners and pedestrians in addition to motor vehicle traffic.
In Kings Park, the Highway department has completed all new sidewalks and roads along Park Avenue, Collins Avenue, Dawson Avenue,Meridian Avenue, Terrill Lane, Burr Avenue, and the entire stretch of Kohr Road.
In Nesconset, Highway teams completed the paving of Terry Road, and Browns Road, towards Lake Ronkonkoma. Additionally, they reconstructed all concrete and pavement work, restored landscaping and the irrigation system at the Nesconset Fire Department.
In Smithtown the highway department has just completed the paving of the Forestwood Area (New Mill Rd, Flamingo Dr, Larkspur Dr, Cygnet Dr, Teal Ln, Dove Ln, Mark Dr.)
In St James, the Engineering department partnered with Highway on a reconstruction project of Gabrielle Court, which was funded with money from a defaulted bond. The completed project includes beautiful brand new landscaping, drainage, curb and road work, and the removal of five dead pine trees, replaced with new trees. The highway department worked with residents on choosing tree species to replant in the court. Currently the highway department is completing the construction of all new sidewalks along Mills Pond Road from Moriches to the Railroad tracks. New tree plantings along the road are slated for the Fall.
If there is one department with a workload which has increased, evolved daily and become even more essential than before, it’s the Parks, Buildings and Grounds team. Led by Joe Arico, the Parks department has had to outfit town buildings and public spaces with a variety of COVID-19 safety measures from installing plexiglass windows and hundreds of new signs to creating social distancing markers, and sanitizing buildings, parks and open space areas daily. They’ve done all of this, while conducting the normal lineup of repairs, maintenance work and the opening of the parks and beaches for the season. We are all able to safely enjoy the beaches and the park system this summer, because of the hard working team at the Parks, Buildings and Ground department.
Finally, it is my pleasure to announce a little silver lining in the wake of the pandemic... the Lake Avenue Revitalization Project is approximately eight to nine months ahead of schedule. The last piece of the sewer line and water main, which will shoot underneath the railroad tracks, has been issued the required permit by the MTA and should be completed by the end of next week. The Highway Department and Traffic Safety recently completed three decorative crosswalks along Lake Avenue, south of Woodlawn at the new LED pedestrian crossing signals. The highway department is at the halfway mark with the installation of all new drainage systems and have begun concrete curb work along Lake Avenue. Sidewalks are expected to be completed within the next two months. The road bend removal (being done block by block), grading and repaving began last Friday, starting at Patrick’s Way to Woodlawn. We expect Lake Avenue from Woodlawn to Railroad Avenue to be paved by the end of August/beginning of September. The last and final phase is the streetscape, led by H2M and Traffic Safety director Mitch Crowely. Victorian Ornamental street signage will compliment the decorative crosswalks and stamped concrete running along the sidewalks. The streetscape phase also involves the utility companies removing cluttered old poles, replacing them with new ones.
However, the pièce de résistance will undoubtedly be the new park and off street parking lot, where the Irish Viking is currently located. I am pleased to announce that we’ve approved the intergovernmental purchase of the land through Suffolk County and are expected to begin the planning phase of the park during the month of August.
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