“It would make it so much easier to have a...

“It would make it so much easier to have a recreational facility in the community,” said Huntington Station resident Judith Thompson, shown at the vacant James D. Conte Center. Credit: Rick Kopstein

With much fanfare, Huntington Town officials in 2017 unveiled design plans to transform the former state armory in Huntington Station into a grand community center, but funding issues have prompted the town to nix that plan and instead build a field house adjacent to the armory.

Plans for the armory on East Fifth Street, named the James D. Conte Community Center for the late assemblyman who served the hamlet for 24 years, included an outdoor theater, an exercise area, basketball court, arts and crafts room, and a recording studio, Newsday previously reported

“This is exactly what my father would have wanted for this community,” said Sarah Conte when town officials unveiled plans during Thanksgiving weekend in 2017. “We are looking forward to having the building built out and to start seeing the community members enjoy the space,” she said.

But renovation plans stalled over funding issues and the COVID-19 pandemic, Town Supervisor Ed Smyth said.

“It’s a much-needed and anticipated project that Huntington Station, and the residents have been asking for and patiently waiting for and they have waited long enough,” Smyth said of returning the town's focus to building a community center.

Initial 2019 estimates for construction were about $10 million, Smyth said.

After the pandemic, estimates came in at about $14 million, which the town could not afford, Smyth said. 

Smyth said he now envisions building a steel field house on a parcel of land adjacent to the armory with an indoor soccer field, an indoor basketball court, an elevated running track and meeting rooms.

A field house is a large building that offers such amenities as well as other sports-related accommodations including lockers, bathrooms and storage, the town said.

Smyth did not have cost estimates for the field house, but he said it would cost the town less to build an adaptable structure than to renovate the armory.

Conte's widow, Debbie, said she was not aware of the change of plans. She said while she understands cost savings, having a community center to service youth, seniors and veterans in the area is the most important thing. Still, she said she would like for her husband to be memorialized.

"I would hope they would still recognize the center as the James D. Conte Field House," she said. 

Town Board member Sal Ferro said the idea is to stretch the budget the town has set for the project as far as possible.

"The feeling is how can we give the community as much as possible with the budget we have," Ferro said.

Judith Thompson, who lives within walking distance of the Conte center, is unfazed by the town's change of plans.

Thompson said she drives her daughter, Isabella, 8, for indoor playdates from house to house or to the local YMCA, so she's happy to hear of the town's plans no matter what form it takes. 

“It would make it so much easier to have a recreational facility in the community,” Thompson said. “It would also bring up the morale and value of the community.”

The state conveyed the armory to the town in May 2013 and since then the building has had extensive environmental remediation and renovation work done to remove asbestos, lead and mold.

The Conte building would be used as a town storage facility, he said, adding the funding for the field house comes from $8.5 million in approved bonding with the remainder coming from grants.

The grants include $1.5 million from  Empire State Development to renovate the armory and a $50,000 grant from the state Dormitory Authority for architectural and engineering fees. The Dormitory Authority provides construction, financing and other services to municipalities.

Smyth said he is seeking permission from Empire State Development and the State Legislature to repurpose the grants allocated for the original project. Once he gains approvals, Smyth said, the town will issue requests for proposals for construction. 

Assemb. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who represents the area, said he supports the town’s revised plan should the community desire it. 

“Anything I could do to be helpful to the town’s efforts with a state agency I look forward to doing that,” Stern said. 

Conte was elected to the Assembly in 1988 to represent Huntington Station. While in office he prioritized getting the armory transferred to the town to be used as a community center. He died in 2012 of T-cell lymphoma.

The Rev. Bernadette Watkins, a longtime community activist and youth advocate, said a facility with recreational, athletic and meeting rooms in that area would be a game changer. She said she wasn’t aware of the change of plans but welcomes anything that embraces the community and supports young people.

“There’s already a park there, the playing fields and the spray park,” she said. “An indoor facility within walking distance for so many would be a nice addition to the area.”

Plans for the armory building

October 2012: The town board voted unanimously to name the armory in memory of Conte, a Republican assemblyman, who represented the Huntington Station district for 24 years.

April 2013: New York State transfers ownership of the 3.6-acre site and building to the town. Conte was instrumental in securing the transfer of the decommissioned building, which was used by the New York Army National Guard before it closed June 1, 2011.

2017: Empire State Development awarded $1.5 million to the town to renovate the armory. Also that year design plans for the proposed center were unveiled.

2018: The town received $50,000 grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York for architectural and engineering fees.

2019: Construction cost estimates come in at approximately $10 million dollars.

2023: Town Supervisor announces new plan for the armory.

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