Sweetbriar Nature Center may need more than $1 million in renovations, Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said, prompting the town to seek grants to cover the cost of the repairs.
The town owns the center's 54-acre Eckernkamp Drive site, which was bequeathed by the Blydenburgh family in 1966 and includes garden, woodland, field and wetland habitats on the Nissequogue River.
Nonprofit Environmental Centers of Setauket Smithtown operates the center, which rehabilitates injured wild animals and offers hiking and educational programs to visitors. It is open to the public year-round.
Several of the aging nature center buildings need what Wehrheim said last week was “extensive work” including gutter repairs and their first paint job in about 20 years.
Smithtown’s budget allocates $32,000 annually for Sweetbriar operations, including $15,000 for regular maintenance. The town would treat more extensive repairs as a capital expense. But with what will be a “streamlined capital budget” in 2023 due to higher operating and borrowing costs for many other projects, officials will seek grants to cover the project cost, Wehrheim said in an interview.
Sweetbriar executive director Marie Smith declined to comment.
Nature center volunteer Jane Lombardo said at a June 7 town board meeting that windows in the nature center buildings “are old and rattling,” with broken floor tiles and shutters and some outbuildings “that are actually leaning,” according to meeting minutes.
“We'll do the best we can either to obtain grants or we will look at the possibility of putting some funding in the capital budget for 2023 to at least begin to address some work,” Wehrheim told her at the meeting.
In the early months of the pandemic, Sweetbriar leaders were forced to suspend programming for schools and families with children, one of its chief revenue sources, along with a major fundraising event.
Sweetbriar’s last available IRS filing, for the year ending March 2020, listed revenues of $496,995 and expenses of $439,633. It had 12 employees and 25 volunteers.