Responding to a yearslong demand from residents for a community center in Huntington Station, town officials thought the recently shuttered state-owned armory on East Fifth Street would be ideal, especially with its proximity to Manor Field Park.
But Eric Farina, director of Veterans Affairs at Farmingdale State College and co-founder of the Long Island Veterans Initiative at Farmingdale, said he has a better idea, befitting the building's military connection.
"Use it as a veteran's enrichment center where vets can receive job training and educational, psychological and employment counseling," Farina said. And for homeless vets, he said, it could be "someplace to stay for up to six months . . . with their families in a safe, secure environment while they get back on their feet."
The Long Island Veterans Initiative at Farmingdale was formed last winter to serve as an umbrella group to fill gaps between agencies that serve veterans. Its first endeavor is to get the state to transfer the armory to the town expressly for homeless veteran enrichment. The group wants state-owned armories in Freeport and Patchogue used for similar purposes.
But Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the neighborhood needs a facility for youth and adult programs; since he and state Assemb. James Conte (R-Huntington Station) discussed using the armory for a community center in late 2009, they have been working toward that goal. He said he looks forward to hearing Farina's ideas but does not envision the building being dedicated to one group.
"There have been people fighting for the community center for years," Petrone said. "There are so many pressing needs as well as the veteran housing need."
Last month, the town board passed a resolution to apply to the state to have the town take over the decommissioned armory which was completed in 1960. The unanimous vote allowed the town to further the process of assuming control of the 3.6-acre site, which was used by units of the New York Army National Guard before it closed June 1, 2011.
Earlier this month, the town board adopted a resolution to urge the governor and legislature to adopt legislation sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) and Conte to "transfer and convey" the armory to the town.
Marcellino said he was willing to help Farina work with the town to find a resolution.
"The needs of the Huntington Station community and the needs of returning vets kind of coincide with a lot of what the town is talking about doing," Marcellino said. " . . . I wouldn't doubt an accommodation could be made."
Farina said helping veterans should be a priority.
"At any given time, from Long Island City to Montauk, there are between 2,000 and 5,500 homeless vets," Farina said. "They're doing a great service for this nation overseas and to come back to lose their business, lose their home, fall on hard times because of their service, I think the country owes them a little in return."