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Denise M. Bonilla

Denise M. Bonilla has covered the Town of Babylon since January 2009. Since starting at Newsday in 2003, she has covered a variety of beats, including criminal justice and immigration. In 2006, Bonilla was part of a team honored for Distinguished Breaking News Coverage by the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2010, she received the President’s Choice Award from the nation’s oldest press club, the Society of the Silurians, and a first place features award from the Press Club of Long Island for her series on Alzheimer’s disease.

Twitter: @denisebonilla

Lindenhurst school district proposes $25M bond for building repairs

Lindenhurst school district officials are proposing to bond for $25 million to make what they said are crucial repairs to district buildings.

But dozens of residents at a workshop Wednesday night challenged plans to use some of the money to repair a school that the district has considered selling.

District architect John Grillo said most of the bonding is attributed to a need for new roofs on buildings throughout the district. Of the 758,186 square feet of roofs, only 74,318 square feet is still under warranty, he said, and chronic leaks are present throughout the schools.

PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections

The roof work is divided into three phases, with the high school, middle school and Harding Avenue Elementary School given top priority. Phase two targets the five other elementary schools and the McKenna Administration building. Phase three would replace roofs on two former elementary schools, Bower, which the district has tried to sell, and Kellum.

The estimated cost of all roof replacement is $19.6 million, he said.

School officials are also looking to replace an 80-year-old steam heating system in the middle school. Grillo cited nonworking thermostats and an inability to verify the amount of fresh air coming into the school. The cost of that work is estimated to be $4.4 million.

In addition, the district wants to replace windows at the middle school at a cost of $641,000, and repair the clock tower atop the school at a cost of $185,000.

Superintendent Daniel Giordano said that if the district bonds for the full amount, the annual tax increase for residents whose homes are assessed at an average of $4,500 would be $109.51.

Residents bristled at the increase, with many noting the continued struggles of those recovering from superstorm Sandy. John Lisi, president of the Daniel Street Civic Association, also noted the potential loss of Sandy-damaged homes to the tax rolls, the impact of a veterans' tax exemption that is being considered by the board and other unknowns that could drive up tax bills.

Lisi, like many others, urged the district to sell Bower, saying "to spend any money on repairs for it is ludicrous."

The board last year voted to put Bower on the market and earlier this year received several offers -- largely for senior housing -- ranging from $2.8 million to $5.2 million -- but didn't pursue them. The building is partially leased, but the district pays more than $150,000 per year for maintenance.

Jacqueline Scrio, assistant superintendent for business and noninstructional personnel, stressed the importance of the district's roof replacements, saying "I wouldn't want to live in a home with leaks going into garbage pails and I don't think our students should have to go to school with that either."

Scrio recommended borrowing the money in stages, first bonding for $8 million and completing the first phase of roofing, delaying "the hit to taxpayers for two years" when payments would increase.

The board must first approve an amount of bonding and then a special voter referendum will be held, officials said.

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Babylon IDA lowers tax bill to draw businesses to Wyandanch Rising

Construction continues on Monday, June 23, 2014, on

Construction continues on Monday, June 23, 2014, on a residential complex is being built just north of the Wyandanch train station. (Credit: David Reich-Hale)

The Babylon Town Industrial Development Agency has revised a tax abatement for the developer of the Wyandanch revitalization effort to attract retail businesses.

Albanese Organization Inc., of Garden City, is building two apartment buildings with a total of 177 units and 35,000 square feet of retail space. The buildings are considered a vital part of Wyandanch Rising, the town's massive public-private redevelopment of the community's downtown.

Albanese executive vice president George Aridas said no retailers have committed to the location. The Babylon IDA last year gave Albanese a 15-year tax break on the retail portion: a 75 percent abatement for the first five years, 50 percent for the next five years and 25 percent for the remainder.

The current proposal is for a 100 percent tax abatement for the first five years and then a gradual phasing in of taxes starting in year six with 21.5 percent until reaching the full amount after 15 years. The change will give the company an additional $375,525 in savings, according to IDA chief executive Robert Stricoff. The IDA last year also gave the first residential building a 73.5 percent abatement for 40 years and the second building a 69 percent abatement for 30 years. Albanese's total tax savings is now estimated at $16.6 million.

Wyandanch Rising "continues to be very much a priority for the entire town and our economic development policy revolves around Wyandanch Rising succeeding," Stricoff said, adding that despite the tax break, the property -- which previously held a strip mall -- will bring in more than the $151,000 in taxes it had generated. The estimated taxes for the first year are $163,000.

Aridas believes the abatement will be a motivator by lowering rents.

Aridas said they have received letters of interest from a bank, a takeout restaurant and a shoe store, but getting a commitment from retailers has been difficult. He said the problem is not the area's reputation for criminal activity. "They're not saying, 'I don't want to have a business there,' " he said. "They're saying, 'I don't want to have the only business there.' "

He added, "We're trying to sell the vision, the long term. But if I'm a retailer, long term is next week," he said. "It's been difficult to get stable, neighborhood-oriented retailers to commit to being pioneers."

A public hearing on the abatement will be held Monday at 8:45 a.m. at the IDA offices, 47 West Main St., Babylon.

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Lindenhurst schools to meet with community to discuss bond referendum

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The Lindenhurst school district will hold a community workshop next week to discuss a bond referendum.

The forum is intended as a way for the district to receive community input about a proposed bond referendum for capital projects. The board of education will discuss potential plans for "critical building renovation projects," according to a district statement. These projects involve "critical infrastructure updates in order to ensure the health and safety of district students and staff," the statement said.

District spokeswoman Alison DeMaria said that among those projects are new roofs for every district building. She said officials are unsure of the amount of the bond at this time.

PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections

DeMaria said there is not enough money in the district's capital projects fund to make the upgrades. She said the fund is budgeted for $350,000 for the school year and most of that money is slated for a project to upgrade the high school's fire alarm system. She said the state will fund 69.3 percent of capital projects through state aid that is distributed throughout the term of the project.

According to DeMaria, the last time the district issued bonds was in December 2011 for $5.5 million for an energy performance contract that provided a series of energy conservation upgrades.

The community input workshop will follow a special meeting of the board of education on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the McKenna Administration Building.

The district is asking residents before the meeting to participate in a survey about the district's facilities. The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/s/NJCMV5N

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English language school in Deer Park grows, wants to expand on Long Island

Graduates of the El Centro Comunitario de Educacion

Graduates of the El Centro Comunitario de Educacion program in Deer Park say goodbye to Alexis Shore, 16, a volunteer teacher in the program on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (Credit: Johnny Milano)

Maria Morales, 33, wants to become a pharmacist. Tony Agurcia, 29, wants to help his daughter with her homework. Mariaes Quiñones, 53, wants to get a job in a day care center.

Although their reasons vary, all of the students who come to El Centro Comunitario de Educación in Deer Park have one goal in common: improving their English skills.

The group, which has a sister campus in Brentwood, celebrated its 10th anniversary last month and is preparing to take its mission across Long Island.

Operating out of Ascension Lutheran Church on Bay Shore Road, El Centro began after Marlene Ramos-Velita, 49, who emigrated from Peru in 1982, saw a need for more outreach to the Latino community. With the church's support, she began to hold English as a Second Language classes on site, with her teenage sons and a handful of church volunteers as teachers.

At first, the students who showed up were all young males and they were often shy and embarrassed, she said. To keep the classes going, Ramos-Velita turned toward her existing job as a Spanish teacher at Syosset High School. She thought the experience could benefit her Syosset students, whom she said did not have any personal experience with immigrants.

"I was looking at who wanted to take this beyond the classroom and make this symbiotic," she said. With former El Centro teachers returning as mentors, Ramos-Velita said she has created a self-sustaining model that now attracts students from other than just Spanish-speaking countries. For 10 weeks each summer, 12 of Ramos-Velita's junior or senior high school students teach free classes at El Centro twice a week.The program has become an internship that has helped many get into Ivy League schools. "It's become very competitive," she said. Lynn Hur, 17, of Syosset, taught this year and realized she's "making a difference" but also learned that "these people are very wise and have much more experience in life so I'm always interested in listening to what they have to say as well." El Centro will undergo a change next year: Ramos-Velita has left her job in Syosset to be an administrator and middle-school teacher in Great Neck. She's hoping now to attract teachers from high schools across Long Island to El Centro. She said the group is in the process of becoming a nonprofit and would like to open another location.

"There is a growing need," she said. "We want to give immigrants the resources to empower themselves."

There now are whole families who come, she said, with children taught separately while their parents attend the beginner, intermediate or advanced classes. The group also has GED, computer and citizenship classes and served about 30 students this year. The Brentwood program begun three years ago has 50 students.

Tony Agurcia, 29, was one of the first students at the Deer Park El Centro. As a single Honduran immigrant, he said he "didn't even know the ABCs" when he started. This year he returned to El Centro, married with three children. He took the advanced English class, he said, because he wants to be able to help his daughter Valerie, 7, with her homework and better understand what is discussed during school meetings.

"If you live in this country, you need to know English," Agurcia said. "It's everything."

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Lindenhurst starts academy for high school students who need social, emotional support

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The Lindenhurst school district has introduced a new program for students who need more support at school.

The Lindenhurst Academy, which will open this month with 11 students, is geared toward high school students in need of additional social and emotional support, district spokeswoman Alison DeMaria said.

Nancy Scaccia, an assistant principal at the high school who is overseeing the academy, said the program will be "an extension of the high school." Speaking before the board of education last week, Scaccia said the academy will give students the opportunity to "thrive in an accepting, nontraditional academic setting that is the least restrictive environment."

PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections

Scaccia said the district based the program on a similar one started last year in the Three Village school district.

The academy will have eight teachers, she said, with social workers and psychologists also available. Staffing will come from the high school, as well as some individuals who had been laid off by the district. Students will be able to participate in all high school functions, clubs and sports.

"They are definitely going to feel more a part of the community and feel less isolation than they normally would," Scaccia said. "We're really trying to establish a safe haven for these kids. This is going to be a place for them to grow and succeed."

The district expects to enroll a maximum of 25 to 30 students and also expects to save money in the long run. Sending a student to BOCES programs costs the district $62,000 per year. The program's start-up costs were $53,207, which were covered through a federal special education grant.

The budget for the academy is $746,000, said Superintendent Daniel Giordano. The district stands to break even compared with BOCES, and could see cost savings as more students enroll.

The program, which will be housed in the district's McKenna administration building, will include individual and small group academic instruction, as well as supplemental special education services.

There will be resource room support, individual and group counseling as well as optional family counseling in the evenings. The family counseling will be provided for free, courtesy of Clair McKeon, Babylon Town's executive director of youth and disabled services.

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Lindenhurst fire department hires paramedic trained to administer narcotics

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The Lindenhurst Fire Department has hired a new paramedic to help meet a state mandate after officials said the man previously hired for the job never showed up to work.

The department has hired Christopher Tremblay, a Lindenhurst resident who is a paramedic in Fairfield, Connecticut, as a part-time controlled-substance agent/paramedic. He replaces Justin Krause, who was terminated by the village last month after being hired in June. When reached for comment, Krause, who is listed as a lieutenant with the Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Corps on its website, said he no longer worked for Lindenhurst.

"He wanted the job, but he never showed up," said Lindenhurst Fire Chief Michael McCloud, adding that Krause "never even returned our phone calls."

PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections

The Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance website states that Krause has been with the department since 2007 and "frequently puts extra time into the department."

Krause had been hired to assist Lindenhurst in meeting a new state mandate that goes into effect May 1. To keep its status as an advanced life-support provider, the department must now carry and administer narcotics. These drugs include Valium and morphine, which can be used to treat seizures and heart attacks, respectively. The narcotics will be kept in safes in the firehouse and the ambulances.

Tremblay began work last month, McCloud said, putting in 16 hours per week at a rate of $23 per hour.

"He's been working out, doing all the paperwork, actually doing some on his own time," McCloud said. "He made some recommendations, and we did a little cost-cutting and shifting around of things, and it looks like we're going to be getting on the road pretty soon."

McCloud said his department is one of 65 in Suffolk County that are seeking to meet the mandate. McCloud estimates that meeting the mandate could cost the department as much as $30,000.

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Rents for affordable housing apartments that are part of Wyandanch Rising are set

The monthly rents have been announced for apartments

The monthly rents have been announced for apartments being built in Wyandanch as part of a revitalization effort in that community, the latest effort in a push for affordable rentals in Suffolk County. (Credit: Wyandanch Village Rendering Overall View)

The monthly rents have been announced for apartments being built in Wyandanch as part of a revitalization effort in that community, the latest effort in a push for affordable rentals in Suffolk County.

Wyandanch Village, two apartment buildings with retail space that are still under construction, is now accepting applications. Of the 177 apartments being built by Albanese Organization Inc., of Garden City, 121 units have been designated income restricted, or affordable housing, according to executive vice president George Aridas: 4 studios, 62 one-bedrooms, 46 two-bedrooms, and 9 three-bedrooms.

The affordable housing units require incomes that are at 50, 60 and 90 percent of the area's median incomes. According to data used by Albanese from Novogradac & Company of Manhattan, Suffolk County's median income for a family of four is $102,000. For a single person, it's $36,800.

The first building, with 91 units, will be completed later this year, Aridas said. Monthly rents for a one-bedroom apartment are estimated to range between $985 and $1,525. By comparison, one-bedrooms at another recently built complex with affordable units, Avalon Bay in Huntington Station, run from $932 for income restricted to $2,675 for current market rate units. At Wyandanch Village, two-bedroom apartments will run between $1,146 and $1,915 and three-bedrooms are from $1,319 to $2,315. The second building, with 86 units to be completed next year, will also have studios renting from $1,014 to $1,335. Each building has 17,500 square feet of retail space.

In June, Albanese announced that about 1,500 people had expressed interest in the apartments, which are being built as part of the massive Wyandanch Rising redevelopment that was launched more than a decade ago. The public-private endeavor aims to revitalize Wyandanch's downtown, centered around the LIRR station.The redevelopment plans include a new train station and parking garage, as well as a plaza with concert space, fountains and an ice-skating rink.

To apply, potential renters for the affordable units must meet minimum and maximum income and family-size requirements. They must also have a "favorable credit report," which Aridas said is not based on a specific score but determined by a risk management firm, SafeRent, which he described as "an objective third-party matrix that makes a composite of multiple variables" in determining eligibility. Anyone with a felony conviction within the past five years will not be considered, he said.

The applications are being screened by Conifer Living, a Rochester-based developer specializing in affordable housing, with assistance from the Long Island Housing Partnership. Once criteria are met, applicants will be included in a lottery that will take place in September.

LIHP president and CEO Peter Elkowitz said the apartments are a "real positive for the community." Only 20 percent of the housing stock on Long Island is rentals he said, compared with 41 to 43 percent of the housing stock in similar areas.

"We're a little behind the curve in getting affordable rentals here but it's critical to keep our young and seniors who want to downsize," he said. The deadline to apply for the affordable units is Aug. 29. For more information go to liveatwyandanchvillage.com or call 631-253-0004.

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