Advocate wants veterans care in armory

The Town of Huntington is planning to use The Town of Huntington is planning to use the New York State Armory building on East 5th Street as a community center. (Oct.16, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Plans to repurpose the former armory in Huntington Station would address some needs of the community, its youth and former military members, but don't go far enough to aid homeless veterans, an advocate says.

The Town of Huntington plans to use the East 5th Street facility, the James D. Conte Community Center, as a recreation facility with a full-sized indoor basketball court and meeting rooms, while also providing space for Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244, which does not have its own building.

"The community fought to get this center so this is great," town Supervisor Frank Petrone said. "And if we can help the Greenlawn Post, and through it other veterans, that's great too."

But Eric Farina, director of Veterans Affairs at Farmingdale State College and co-founder of the Long Island Veterans Initiative at Farmingdale, has lobbied to have a dedicated space at the facility as a veterans' enrichment center for job training and educational, psychological and employment counseling, as well as temporary housing for homeless vets.

"Getting the American Legion in there is a great idea," Farina said. "But there is no reason why they can't share that space. It's a military building with more than enough room to serve various veteran needs."

In his experience, he said, there are between 2,000 and 5,500 homeless or potentially homeless veterans on Long Island at any given time.

Petrone pointed out when the town lobbied the state to take over the 25,255-square-foot building, town officials stipulated the building would be used as a community center. He said housing right now is not a priority for that facility.

Farina said he has spoken with town board member Gene Cook, who is challenging Petrone in this November's supervisor's race, and he has promised to consider getting some of the programs Farina is pushing to get into the building.

"I have no problem with discussions about veterans being there and using it as a meeting hall," Cook said. "But as far as the other stuff I'd have to think about it and have discussions about what they are looking for."

Since April when the town took ownership of the building, Petrone said the town has spent about $2,000 for an analysis of the building's records to see what materials were used in its construction. He said $30,000 has been allocated for a physical analysis of the building, which will evaluate what remediation is needed in the 5-decade-old building, which has asbestos in its pipes and tiled flooring.

The town has also retained an engineering firm to lay out the different layout options for the building, plans Petrone expects to have in hand by year's end.

The town recently applied for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Cleaner Greener Communities Program to seek a $4.5 million grant for an energy-efficient renovation and adaptive reuse of the building. Petrone said the grant would require the town to chip in an additional $1 million for the project.

Bob Santo, commander of Post 1244, approached the town a couple of years ago with his idea about placing the post in the community center.

"This would be a post that would be open to the community a little more and not such a closed society," Santo said. "I think we'd be a good anchor for it."

The building:

-- Built in 1960, the 3.6-acre site and building was used by units of the New York Army National Guard before it closed June 1, 2011.

-- The town took possession of the building in April.

-- Last year it was named in memory of state Assemb. James Conte, who represented the Huntington Station district for 24 years before dying in October 2012.

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