Town Unveils Plans for Conte Center
$10 million project will transform former State Armory into community activity hub
With 150 of his family, friends and colleagues looking on, the Town of Huntington unveiled concept plans November 25 for transforming the former New York State Armory into a community center to be named after the late Assemb. James Conte.
“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said during a program held in what was the armory’s vehicle storage area and what is slated to become a full-court basketball court. “Many of you know that Jimmy worked very hard to retain this facility for the residents of the Town of Huntington. We know that his special love when he served in the Assembly was for Huntington Station, where he grew up, where he raised a family and where he lived. It is so appropriate that this facility would be named after him and to unveil what the plans look like.”
The project, which is budgeted at $10 million, will convert the 1958-vintage, 22,500-square foot building into a facility with space for possible uses such as arts and crafts; a computer lab; a recording studio; an all-purpose gymnasium, strength training, cross fit, rock climbing and exercise area; a senior/veterans meeting area; a multipurpose room; classrooms; office space; and an elevated indoor running/walking track. The Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244 has also been promised space to run a veterans canteen. Possible outdoor uses include an amphitheater, meditaton gardens, a spiritual walk and bench seating.
The Town took title to the Armory in May 2013 and since then had undertaken a thorough environmental remediation, removing asbestos, lead and mold. The Town also conducted an extensive community outreach process, which substantiated overwhelming community support for the proposed center.
Earlier this year, the Town Board retained the firm Savik & Murray for design and engineering services. The firm produced various designs and held meetings with Town officials to discuss various proposals. Earlier this month, the Town Board approved the 2018 Town budget, which includes $3.75 million for the first phase of the work. The Town also obtained a $1.5 million state grant. The Town anticipates completion of the project in 2019.
Assemb. Conte was a lifelong resident of Huntington Station, attending elementary school at St. Hugh of Lincoln R.C. Church and Huntington High School. He graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in economics and political science and worked for various state legislators before being elected to the Assembly in 1988. He served in that body for 24 years, rising to the post of minority leader pro tem, the Republicans’ second-ranking post. A two-time kidney transplant recipient, he was a leading advocate for organ donation and championed Lauren’s Law, which seeks to increase organ and tissue donations. He passed away in October 2012, losing his courageous fight against T-cell lymphoma. He was survived by his wife, Debra; a son, Jeffrey; and two daughters, Sarah and Samantha.
Shortly after Assemb. Conte’s passing, Supervisor Petrone sponsored the resolution to name the community center after him.
Among those attending the announcement of the plans were Huntington Town Board members, Assemb. Conte’s colleagues from Huntington on the State Legislature and representatives from school, fire, ambulance and community groups with which Assemb. Conte worked closely over the years.
“The past year, as a Town Board member, working on and consulting with the architects on the design of this project, it really has been a labor of love,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson said. “They came in with some things that were sort of out of the box, and we tweaked what they had, and I think the final product is something that needs work but is something that is a really, really good start.”
Councilman Eugene Cook said, “We want to make this something for the residents of the Town of Huntington and for the Conte family. It’s a great way of honoring Jim.”
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said, “Jim was involved in everything. He made this Town a better place. He continues to make it a better place. I can’t wait to see the end product here because it is going to be a testament to him and to his family.”
Assemb. Andrew Raia said, “There are so many things in my life that are better because of Jimmy Conte. He cared from the bottom of his heart. Jimmy Conte always did the right thing because it came from his heart, it came from bhis head, it came from his family and it came drom his love of this town.”
Assemb. (and Supervisor-Elect) Chad Lupinacci said, “It took a lot of work to get to this day, and it shows you how all levels of government can work together for the progress of our Town. This building is built of brick and mortar, but the name has much farther significance. We know that even though he is gone, his legacy will continue. It will continue through his family and through the many generations of children who will walk through this building and of course, the veterans who will have a special place on Fifth Street. We know that his legacy will continue for many generations to come.”
The final speakers were Assemb. Conte’s daughters, representing the family.
“A couple of months ago, my mother and I went down to Town Hall to view the plans that are going to be on display today, and we were just blown away,” Sarah Conte said. “This is exactly what my father would have wanted for this community. And myself and my family, we are so honored to be here and to have this named after him, and we know he would be honored as well.”
Added Samantha Conte, “He would be jumping up and down and dancing in this room if he knew Huntington Station was going to get a project this big. He valued the community. He knew the value of what a building like this could offer.”