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School District Considers Leasing Watermill Property

Proposals From Firefighters and Park District

The Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education is reviewing proposals from the Great Neck Park District and the three Great Neck fire departments for the lease of the school district’s property on Watermill Lane. The park district would like to use the former Cuttermill School site for athletic fields, while the Alert, Vigilant and Manhasset-Lakeville fire companies would like to use the site for fire-fighting training. Both have stated that they would be willing to share the lease on the now-vacant 3.74 acre piece of land located within the Town of North Hempstead.

At the board of education’s June 8 public action meeting, Board Vice President Fran Langser (presiding in the absence of President Barbara Berkowitz, who was ill) announced that the district had received inquiries regarding the property from the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department, asking to develop the site as a training facility, and from the park district, “inquiring about developing this unimproved property for community recreational use.” She stated that the board is “interested in hearing comments” from the two parties interested in this property, and, as well the board is interested in hearing public comments too.

Ms. Langsner went on to explain that the school district acquired the property in the early 1950s, but there is a restrictive covenant on the property regarding usage. She said that last year when the school board entertained bids for sale of the property they finally considered the fact that it was a poor real estate market and not the right time to sell for the best price. Thus, they withdrew the offer to sell. Now, though, the board is willing to consider leasing the property.

The first to speak was Alert Fire Company Chairman of the Board Michael Greene, accompanied by Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department Secretary Rudy Barranco. Mr. Greene said that for the past three or four years the Alerts have been looking for a site for a “burn facility.” He explained that, with new home fire safety guidelines, there are many less fires than in the past and the new firefighters need to train. Mr. Greene said that Nassau County is not able to offer proper training, with only so many dates each year for each fire company.

Mr. Greene explained that, if the three Great Neck fire companies were to lease the property, they would build a facility, including a burn building,” that would be a training facility. The building, he assured, would be self-contained, with natural gas, and would produce “clean burn.” Practice fires would not be able to burn beyond the building as there would be three levels of security that would prevent the fire from growing out of control. Plus, he stated, the water would not be contaminated and could go back in to the ground.

Should the firefighters be given a lease, the three companies would split the cost and split the usage. The site, Mr. Greene, emphasized, is off of a main road and would not impede traffic. This, he said, would be helpful to avoid traffic tie-ups and would provide a safe, off-street venue for the firefighters.

Mr. Greene stated that the fy would “appreciate your support.” He said that he recognized that people would probably not want such a site “in their own backyard,” but they would work with the school board and with the community to assure “as little an impact as possible.” And, additionally, he noted that with such a training facility, the firefighters would also be able to offer training to residents and to such organizations as civic groups.

The fire training building, as proposed, would be two-and-a-half stories and about 1200 square feet. Mr. Greene said that when they first drew up their proposal, the fire companies were not aware of the park district’s interest; their plans are “not set in stone.” He said that the fire companies are “open” to suggestions, but they “really need this …”

Mr. Greene also mentioned that the firefighters know of no other such available property in Great Neck.

Mr. Barranco also emphasized the fact that fewer fires today afford fewer actual firefighting training opportunities. He said, to further minimize impact, the fire companies would commit to specific times for training, generally in the early evenings, as the firefighters are volunteers and have jobs during business hours.

Speaking for the Great Neck Park District, Superintendent Neil Marrin noted that the park district had discussed the property with the school district at a prior date and wanted to revisit the possible use for parks and recreational usage. The property at issue, he said, abuts park district property, property that could be opened for further public use. Also, he emphasized, the park district needs more soccer field space to accommodate “the ever-growing demand,” including use by the Great Neck Soccer Club.

Mr. Marrin also stated that the soccer club would help raise funds for new fields.

And Mr. Marrin then stated that sharing space could save money for all concerned. He also noted that the school district and the park district do have a history of successful collaboration and sharing space, saving money for taxpayers.

Ms. Langsner stated that no decision would be made that evening. She stated that “Both proposals have the community interest at heart.”

Residents then commented, with the president of the neighboring Great Neck Terrace apartments (with 650 units) said that they “supported” development of the area as a park district park, but while they were “not directly” opposed to the firefighters’ proposal, they were opposed to commercial use.

Terrace apartment residents had many questions concerning the safety and the hours of use of the proposed fire training facility. They were informed that there would be only one fire truck at a time on the premises during each training period, and there would be two or three training periods a week, in the early evening.

At that point Ms. Langsner once again noted the restrictive covenant on the land, one that would control issues such as size of any buildings, land coverage, usage, set-back and more.

The owners of a contracting company on Watermill Lane said his employees wanted a park on the site, and several parents and Great Neck Soccer Club members spoke up in support of soccer fields. `

Stating that both the firefighter training proposal and the park district soccer fields proposal “have merit,” Ms. Langsner directed the school district administration to work with both entities to further more details and to then bring both proposals back before the board of education.