Struggling to keep warm
The historic Gillette House

SCN/Finnegan

Struggling to keep warm

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
1/18/2018


SAYVILLE—The Islip Town-owned stately colonial on the east side of Gillette Avenue has long been significant to the local community and beyond. The former home of an Islip Town supervisor, Capt. Charles Z. Gillette, is now the headquarters for Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts. It’s also used as a meeting center for various groups, but it is mostly known as the location of the Greater Sayville Food Pantry. However, now those who depend on the building are concerned for its future if necessary repairs are not completed in a timely manner.

 Last week, Chestene Coverdale, director of the food pantry, held a meeting inside the building to address this issue, which was attended by representatives from the Sayville Chamber of Commerce, Sayville School District, Sayville Rotary, BAFFA members and Suffolk County Legis. Bill Lindsay. She explained that the building does not have heat because the oil boiler shut down during single-digit temperatures, which caused some pipes to freeze and rupture, thus causing water damage inside of the building.

“We are operating in the freezing cold,” Coverdale remarked, noting that after she contacted Islip Town she was told the repairs wouldn’t happen for two to three months. She said that the town suggested the pantry either close or move. “I said we’d rather not. The people who come here… know where we are.” Coverdale added that to move would disrupt the routine of those who rely on the food pantry and in some cases, their ability to get there. 

At least part of the pantry is heated with baseboard electric. A room in the rear of the building that was not part of the original structure was completed in 2007, which is where the food is kept. However, the main section of the house where people line up to receive those provisions remains unbearably cold. Coverdale said Brinkmann Hardware donated space heaters, and she purchased insulating curtains to place over doors and windows to keep out drafts. “People used to come into the Gillette House for food and for comfort by [getting out of the cold].”

Every month, the Greater Sayville Food Pantry, which operates three days a week, helps around 150 people from the communities of Sayville, West Sayville, Oakdale, Bayport, Blue Point and Bohemia. Many of those are regular visitors.

At the meeting, local residents Michael Alcabes and Dennis Demetres said they evaluated the needed repairs to the building, which included replacing a rotted flue pipe and installing a new burner. “Whatever came down the chimney leaked onto the burner head,” said Demetres, noting that only the burner needs to be replaced and not the whole boiler. 

“It’s not major stuff,” added Alcabes, who is also the pantry’s treasurer.

Over the years, the building has experienced structural issues: swelling doors, animal infestation and a leaky roof. After years of dealing with the leaks – using garbage cans to collect the water – Coverdale said the roof was replaced last summer after pressuring the town to do so. In 2015, the outside oil tank tipped over and spilled 100 gallons of heating oil into the ground around the Gillette House, requiring an inspection by the Department of Environmental Conservation and then remediation. That incident was documented in this newspaper in two articles: “Oil spill and Gillette House,” April 9, 2015 and “It’s all cleaned up,” April 16, 2015.

“There’s no reason to let this [Gillette House] fall apart,” said Coverdale. “We need to have more respect for these older buildings.”

Carole Shepphard, president of BAFFA, said she is very concerned about a donated piano that’s in their section of the building since the instrument would not be able to tolerate extreme temperatures. The piano and some of the other equipment remains covered in heavy blankets and waterproof tarps.

“It’s the town’s responsibility to fix the furnace,” said Shepphard. “This is their building.”

“This should have all been dealt with months ago,” said Sayville resident Linda Leuzzi, and compared the situation to the recently reported deplorable conditions at New York City Housing Authority, a low-income housing agency where residents demanded accountability for neglected buildings in such severe disrepair that they pose unhealthy living conditions. 

Legis. Lindsay said that the town’s options were not viable. “How do you tell a food pantry to close during the winter when it’s most [needed]?” he remarked. “It doesn’t make sense.” He advised Coverdale to obtain estimates for the repairs and said he’d try to get in touch with the town. He noted, however, that he usually gets a better response from Brookhaven Town than Islip Town. “I will reach out to councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen, though,” he added. Lindsay also noted that he’d look into county funding as he was able to procure $5,000 for a new furnace for the boathouse at Long Island Maritime Museum.

Coverdale pleaded with all in attendance to come together to save the building, noting that she’s lost sleep over the situation.

“I know the people who are coming here are desperate,” she said. “That’s got to break your heart.”

Tom Owens, Islip Town commissioner of parks and department of public works, said the town offered to move the pantry to another temporary location until repairs can be made, but that offer was refused. He said the town is very committed to repairing the Gillette House. “We are absolutely actively working on it. It’s important to us,” he added.