01/05/14 8:00am
01/05/2014 8:00 AM

LUKE ORMAND COURTESY PHOTO | The American robin is among the birds locals can expect to see during the colder months. It will usually make its appearance here toward the end of winter.

Entering the deep freeze of a North Fork winter gives year-round residents a chance to enjoy some of the natural beauty that lies hidden behind bushes and brush during warmer weather. That’s the handsomely feathered birds whose colors are all the more vibrant against a backdrop of newly fallen snow.

While most residents can spot the red cardinal, are a number of other species are worth catching a glimpse of — some of which flock to our area only during the winter months, experts say.

“A lot of them have distinctive plumage or something unique to them and, if you look closely, they all have their own beauty,” said Tom Damiani, a member of the North Fork Audubon Society for nearly two decades. “You realize that cardinals are not the only bird that’s striking.”

LUKE ORMAND COURTESY PHOTO  |  A Cedar waxwing.

To attract these species — and help them survive winter’s bite — consider the following tips, which start with supplying basic birdseed. Black oil sunflower seed, rich in oils and sized just right, is the best choice for most birds, no matter the season, Mr. Damiani said.

“The oils are good for overall nutrition and because birds have very fast metabolism, a food source high in oil is a good thing,” he said.

Another oil-potent option is suet — rendered beef fat hardened into small cakes. The cakes are often filled with seeds, berries and other goodies and can be hung in small baskets, he said. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, many birds digest and metabolize animal fat easily. Given the likelihood of bacteria growth, however, suet is best served when temperatures are below freezing.

Mr. Damiani said he recommends bringing suet cakes inside at night; otherwise, you may find that creatures of the four-legged type have ran off with them — “basket and all.”

Not all birds are attracted to feeders that hang or perch on a stand, he said, so consider spreading feed across the ground as well. A mixture of cracked corn, white millet and the black oil sunflower seed should do the trick, Mr. Damiani said.

Nancy Gilbert of Jamesport, a former teacher with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s master gardener program, said the season’s chill can create desert-like conditions for birds when fresh water sources freeze over.

“Water is the most important thing, because they need to keep their feathers clean and have a source to drink,” she said, adding that birds need to bathe in the winter, as keeping feathers clean helps maintain body heat.

“If they can’t puff up their feathers and create an air pocket between the feathers, they can’t stay warm,” Ms. Gilbert said.

Both she and Mr. Damiani recommend installing bird baths, which can also be outfitted with small heaters to keep water from freezing. Heaters are inexpensive to buy and cost pennies a day to run, Mr. Damiani said.

Providing both food and water can make your yard a hangout for the flighty bunch, which during the winter includes white-throated sparrows, fox sparrows, cedar waxwings and robins, the experts said.

Ms. Gilbert said those blessed with patience could eventually train one type of bird to eat from the palm of their hand.

The black-capped chickadee, a tiny songbird described by Cornell as having “curiosity about everything,” is very common on the North Fork, she said.

The chickadees have a black cap and bib, white cheeks and a gray back, tail and wings. If you notice them visiting a feeder, stand by patiently with some feed in your hand, she said.

“They will come and sit on your hand. When they do, you realize how insubstantial these little things are,” Ms. Gilbert said. “They are just little bits of fluff.”

Once you’ve attracted the birds to the yard, consider creating a safe haven where they can spend the night, which may make them more likely to stick around. A brush pile or even a dried-up Christmas tree will give the birds a place to hide from predators and help keep them warm, Ms. Gilbert said.

“When the snow covers up a brush pile it creates all kinds of air pockets that will help to keep them warm,” she said. “It’s a great place for them to spend cold nights and provides a place for them to duck into to hide away from predators, like the hawks who are after them.”

Then there are cats.

“People who have outdoor cats shouldn’t try and feed birds,” Mr. Damiani cautioned. “You’re setting the birds up; it’s just cruel.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

12/15/13 8:00am
12/15/2013 8:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY CORNELL RESEARCH LAB | Hyacinth Blue Jacket.

Winter may be on its way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy spring flowers.

By forcing spring bulbs, anyone can fool Mother Nature into offering up beautiful blossoms earlier than usual.

The process, which involves artificially chilling bulbs for eight to 15 weeks, thus coaxing them to bloom out of season, is an easy way to enjoy a variety of flowers, including amaryllis, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses and narcissus.

To help, we’ve rounded up a few experts for a quick tutorial.

Let’s get started.

STEP 1

Chill the bulbs. After purchasing your bulbs of choice, carefully place them in a paper bag and leave them in the refrigerator for several weeks, depending on the variety, says Janis Leonti, a floral designer at The Flower Shop in downtown Riverhead.

“You have to keep the bulbs cold,” she said. “You have to trick them into thinking they’ve gone through autumn and winter.”

That paper bag is important, by the way.

“Plastic bags will make the bulbs rot,” Ms. Lionti says. “Paper bags keep them fresh.”

To further ensure freshness, Thomas Kowalsick, a senior horticulture consultant at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, recommends checking the bulbs periodically to make sure they aren’t moldy or drying out.

No room in the fridge? You can also put the bulbs in a planting pot and leave them outdoors to chill, provided the temperature is consistently lower than 45° F, Mr. Kowalsick said.

And if you’d rather not chill your own bulbs, some retailers, like Chick’s Agway in Southold, sell them pre-chilled.

“They’re shipped from Holland with the words ‘Ready for forcing’ on the package,” says Valerie Cichanowicz, owner of Chick’s Agway.

PHOTO COURTESY CORNELL RESEARCH LAB | Narcissus (daffodils).

STEP 2

Plant the bulbs. Congratulations! You’ve pulled off a cunning feat of trickery and are now ready to plant your bulbs.

Mr. Kowalsick advises using a clean pot with drainage holes and filling it with two inches of potting soil. Place, but don’t push, the bulbs into position then add enough soil to fill the pot, using your fingertips to make the soil firm while being careful to avoid bruising the bulbs.

Since different types of bulbs require different periods of time to grow, or root, Mr. Kowalsick recommends that you avoid combining varieties in the same pot.

Place the potted bulbs in a sunny spot in your home and let them warm up.

STEP 3

Enjoy the fruits (er, flowers) of your labor. Now that the grunt work is over, sit back and watch your bulbs bloom into the beautiful flowers they were meant to be. Depending on the type of bulb you’ve planted, they’ll begin blossoming in a matter of weeks.

“You’ll see the green shoots come out and all of a sudden the flower buds will pop up,” Ms. Leonti says.

“You can almost watch them grow,” Ms. Cichanowicz adds. “It’s just amazing.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

11/24/13 10:00am
11/24/2013 10:00 AM

AMBROSE CLANCY FILE PHOTO | This East End backyard, which once had views of wetlands and berry bushes, is now overun by mile-a-minute vine.

No one is declaring victory just yet, but the man-versus-nature war on what has come to be known as the mile-a-minute vine has been joined. The invasive vine has a predator, experts have found, and it comes in the form of the stem-boring black weevil.

Although he’s taking a cautiously optimistic approach, Cornell Cooperative Extension scientist Dr. Andy Senesac says there’s reason to hope that over the course of several years, the plant could be eradicated

“We’re encouraged, but we can’t be throwing any parades as far as success,” he said.

COURTESY PHOTO | Weevil damage to a mile-a-minute vine leaf.

For the past two years, CCE scientists have been running test programs using the weevil on the North and South forks. The protocol for releasing the weevil was developed by a professor at the University of Delaware and the weevils are being distributed without cost by the Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insects Laboratory in Trenton, N.J., where they are being raised.

While the weevils may not be as prolific as their prey, early tests are promising that the insects will steadily eat away the invasive species and eventually wipe it out without damaging other plants that grow alongside it.

The hope is that as mile-a-minute dies off, the weevils themselves will also die off, Dr. Senesac said.

Persicaria perfoliata, as mile-a-minute is properly know, grows up to six inches a day when conditions are right. Also known as “the kudzu of the north,” it easily overmatches native species. It blocks other plants from sunlight, stopping their ability to photosynthesize, which will eventually kill them. Mile-a-minute devastates the natural ecology on a wide scale, stopping the regeneration of forests and woods and doing damage to a community’s economy.

And being an annual, with a generous amount of seeds, it’s a recurring nightmare for homeowners, gardeners and farmers.

“If you look around now, you might think, ‘Oh, it all died. But it’s not over; it will be back the next year,” said Roxanne Zimmer of Peconic, a volunteer at Cornell. “Because it’s an annual, all those beautiful blue berries will seed and reseed. And, of course, the birds and insects will carry it around as well. It doesn’t really poke its head up until June or July. And July is when you start to notice it again.”

CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION COURTESY PHOTO | Researchers plan to continue to release more weevils in vine-infested sites on the East End in 2014. The program has been in practice for eight years in Delaware, New Jersey and other states, and in that time the weevil has been observed to feed only on the weed and no other plants.

Ms. Zimmer said the vine has a unique feature that she described as a “curved barb that allows it to grab.”

“That’s what makes it so vicious,” Ms. Zimmer said. “It can hook onto a limb or tree and then the next barb will hook on and then it just continues to grow up and out.”

According to research compiled by the University of Delaware, mile-a-minute is an Asian vine introduced to the United States in the mid-1930s at a nursery in Pennsylvania, where it was mixed with holly seeds imported from Japan. Deceptively beautiful, not only for its vibrant green color, its leaves are delicate triangles, almost heart-shaped, and its berries, when ripe, are bluish-purple. The vine has now made its home in 12 mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, extending west to Ohio, south to the Carolinas and north to Massachusetts.

But designing and managing programs to put the weevil to work is no easy process, Dr. Senesac said.

For the dozen states experimenting with weevils, there’s a two-step approval process. It starts with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Once a permit is received from APHIS, those in New York have to apply to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to deploy the weevils. The entire process takes about six months, Dr. Senesac said.

He generally begins the application process in October with the aim of deploying the tiny critters, which are twice the size of the head of a pin, in test areas in late April or May.

In the two years that test programs have been operated, there’s a positive indication that the weevils move beyond the point where they are originally deployed. There has also been some evidence of weevils arriving on Long Island on their own from other locations, Dr. Senesac said.

He cautioned that people whose property is overrun with mile-a-minute not pull it out at the roots at this time of year. It will die out during the winter, and early next spring would be the best time for property owners to destroy new plants, pulling them out at their roots, before they’re able to take hold.

Cornell Cooperative Extension has plans to get information to residents in early spring about how to identify the weed.

Dan Fokine, a volunteer organizer for Shelter Island Vine Busters, an awareness group, said mile-a-minute is relatively new to that island and the East End. He first saw it a couple of years ago.

“Once it hit the ground it really took off,” Mr. Fokine said.

If a neighbor has mile-a-minute, that neighbor should be approached about removing it, he advised.

He compared rooting out the vine with fighting terrorism. “You have to take the fight to it,” he said, “You just can’t fight them on your own turf.”

jlane@timesreview.com

With Michael White

11/17/13 10:00am
11/17/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A house under contract on Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead. Home sales were up in the third quarter this year, but the median sale price dropped.

Single-family home sales for the third quarter of 2013 were back to their pre-recession levels in Riverhead, numbers show, though the median price was down more than 10 percent compared to the same period last year.

According to data provided by Suffolk Research Services, 122 single-family homes in Riverhead sold from July through September. That was the most sold in those months since 2006, when 149 homes sold in the area, and far above the 88 homes sold last year. However the quarter’s median home sales price dropped from $355,000 in 2012 to $350,000 this year.

The trend is similar across the East End, numbers show, reflecting an active market where many people who have been waiting to buy or sell are finally making the move.

“It means there’s good value out there,” said Valerie Goode, owner of Colony Realty in Jamesport. “People who were waiting for their homes to sell two years ago are now ready-to-go consumers.”

Across the five East End towns, the volume of single-family home sales jumped 35 percent in the third quarter, from 635 a year ago to 860 this year. Median prices, meanwhile, dropped 3.9 percent from 2012 to $639,000 — and far below a third-quarter high of $717,000 in 2007.

Shelter Island was the only town to see an increase in the median sales price, which rose 21 percent to $760,000 over 22 sales. Southampton took the quarter’s biggest hit, dropping 13 percent from $900,000 to $780,000 over 371 transactions.

In Southold, the third-quarter median sales price fell from $480,000 last year to $429,000, a drop of over 10 percent. As in Riverhead, however, the number of transactions for the period was up in Southold, from 104 in 2012 to 127 this year.

Carol Tintle, regional manager with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s, said that she’s seen home sale prices increase recently, especially at the upper and lower ends of the market.

“The higher and lower ends are definitely selling,” she said. “The problems are the middle of the road, unless it’s very special. Until some homes get reduced to the price they should be, there is so much on the market, they may not sell.”

A quarterly report released by real estate firm Prudential Douglas Elliman noted that median prices on the high end were, on the whole down, across the North Fork. The median home price in the fifth and highest quintile, the report states, was $870,000, down 20 percent compared to last year. But the lowest quintile showed a 9.1 percent gain, to $257,500.

Julia Robins, an associate with Century 21 Albertson Realty in Greenport, suspected that an overall median price dip would be more reflective of the higher end, as she’s seen more sales volume on the whole.

“Sales activity is fabulous,” she said. “And it’s sustained into the fall. If there is any red in the median sales price, it’s probably the upper end.”

No agents reported concern about an increase in interest rates over the last six months, as a first-quarter average of about 3.4 percent on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is expected to give way to about a 4.3 percent rate in the coming quarter, according to Freddie Mac economist Frank Nothaft.

The $46 million total for third-quarter single-family home sales reported in Riverhead was the town’s highest since 2007, when the total reported was $47 million.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

11/10/13 8:00am
11/10/2013 8:00 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | This Flanders home was recently elevated. One East End home moving company said it’s receiving about 100 inquiries a day about raising or moving homes as a result of hurricane Sandy.

Ever since Hurricane Sandy sent storm tides of more than six feet surging across the Peconic Bay shoreline and the South Shore, Guy Davis’ construction company has been busy.

People want their homes lifted out of what are now being designated federal flood plains. Not only that, they want them lifted fast.

“These are folks that were devastated,” Mr. Davis said. “They had three, four, five feet of water in their houses.”

Before the storm, Davis Construction House & Building Movers — based in Westhampton Beach — would get about 10 to 15 calls a day from people wanting their houses raised or moved to other parts of a property or needing their foundations strengthened, Mr. Davis said.

But since the storm hit, the company has been getting about 100 calls a day.

The company’s workload has swelled to as many as 40 projects at a time. In the next few weeks, Mr. Davis’ construction company will begin work on two bayfront properties on Scallop Lane in Jamesport.

“They got flooded out pretty good over there,” he said.

Lifting a home takes roughly six to eight weeks, once the necessary building permits have been obtained.

The first step is a site visit, during which Mr. Davis and his employees survey the property and figure out the best way to redesign the house. The homeowner also consults with an architect, who drafts plans for what the house will look like post-elevation, Mr. Davis said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The Jamesport beach house at left is slated to be elevated in the next few weeks.

Some customers choose to raise the foundation, while others choose to have their houses rest on wooden pilings driven into the existing foundation.

Next, workers disconnect all electric, plumbing and gas lines. Then, steel beams 10 to 12 inches thick are slid beneath the house in grid pattern, placed strategically under load-bearing points to prevent the structure from cracking, Mr. Davis said.

Specialized hydraulic jacks then begin to lift the house at a rate of about one foot per hour, all the while maintaining the same speed — which is critical to preventing damage.

“It can go eight or nine feet [up] in a day’s time,” Mr. Davis said. Most homeowners are choosing to raise their homes above the flood plain level recently redesignated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Now it’s critical to meet FEMA elevations to get out of the flood zone and get the best discounts on your [federal flood] insurance,” he said.

Houses are always lifted higher than final elevations to allow workers access underneath.

The foundation on an elevated house is then raised to the structure’s new height, with pockets left open in the foundation. The steel beams used to lift the house then fit into the empty spaces when the house is lowered. After the house is set on its new foundation, the beams are slid out from under it and the empty spaces in the foundation are patched up.

The process for using wood pilings as supports is a bit different. Instead of lifting up the house and then building up the foundation beneath it, workers use a “railroad track” of steel rollers to roll the house off its footprint, Mr. Davis said.

The wooden pilings are then driven into the ground and the house is rolled back to its original location, lifted and placed atop the new supports.

No house is too big to lift, Mr. Davis said. The company is currently elevating a 18,000-square-foot mansion on Middle Lane in Southampton.

“Size doesn’t matter; we can raise and move any type of house,” he said.

The process may take a while, but raising a house can offer peace of mind to those who have suffered from flood damage.

“They want their house high and dry so they never have to go through that again,” Mr. Davis said.

psquire@timesreview.com

10/20/13 10:00am
10/20/2013 10:00 AM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Local realtors Jerry Cibulski (left) and Thomas McCarthy are members of the North Fork chapter of the Long Island Real Estate Group helping to transform this blighted Orient property into a new Habitat for Humanity house.

Real estate agents don’t typically find themselves on the construction side of the housing trade but members of the North Fork chapter of the Long Island Real Estate Group are feeling right at home helping with construction of a new Habitat for Humanity home in Orient.

It may not look like much now but the blighted property on Greenway East will soon be the site of a modern residence for a needy family in Southold Town.

From the moment chapter president and local realtor Thomas McCarthy first posed the idea of helping to fund and build the Habitat home early this summer, all 200 North Fork members were on board, he said.

“As a group of professionals we wanted to get together and give something back to our community,” he said. “It is a great cause. As brokers, we know that it’s a struggle for many working families to afford a home. We figured, what better way to help a local family in our own backyard?”

The group recently held a fundraiser at the Soundview Restaurant in Greenport, raising more than $2,500 toward demolition of the existing structure and construction of a brand-new home. Once the abandoned home has been razed and it’s time to start building, the realtors plan to get their hands dirty, Mr. McCarthy said.

The new Orient home will be the first Habitat property in Southold Town, according to Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk president and CEO Diane Burke.

The journey began earlier this year when the site was identified through Suffolk County’s 72H affordable housing program, which is designed to turn repossessed properties over to local communities that, in turn, offer homes to low-income families.

Suffolk County offered the property to the town in March and has since provided $10,000 in funding for the project through a community block grant.

The town recently allocated the grant money to assist Habitat for Humanity with demolition and cleanup of the blighted property. It also waived fees for disposal of demolished materials at the town transfer station.

Phillip Beltz, the town’s special projects coordinator, welcomed the prospect of bringing more affordable housing to Southold.

“We are in dire need of affordable housing,” he said in July. “When I first started here the lack of perpetual affordability was one of the greatest oversights I noticed.”

At present, Southold Town has only 22 affordable housing units that are covered by restrictions regulating the resale price — all of them at The Cottages in Mattituck, Mr. Beltz said.

Town officials also put out a request for proposals for 40 affordable apartment rentals spread out across the town, but no specific plan is currently in place, Mr. Beltz said.

The added bonus of working with Habitat for Humanity, he said, is that the organization ensures that the property will remain affordable. Habitat retains a stake in the property so that if the home is sold, it can use much of the appreciation to continue its programs.

Habitat will also write a covenant into the deed requiring that house be sold at an affordable price to another eligible family.

Pending the closing of the Orient property within the next couple of weeks, Habitat officials hope construction can begin by early November and that the house will be ready by spring 2014.

Mr. McCarthy said he is currently soliciting donations of time and materials for the project from local contractors.

“I believe as a community this is something we can do ourselves,” he said. “Something for the locals by the locals.”

Habitat’s director of development, Les Scheinfeld, said support from the realtors has gone a long way toward getting the project on track.

“We are so excited they want to work with us,” he said. “They have raised money and gained the support of local contractors. It’s a great partnership.”

Habitat will work with the town to develop a strategic construction plan tailored for the site.

Southold’s housing department will begin accepting and screening applications for the property after the closing.

Candidates must meet structured town and Habitat income guidelines and, if selected, must agree to contribute hands-on build time, or “sweat equity.” They would also need to complete classes and perform community service as part of the down payment on their new home.

cmurray@timesreview.com

10/13/13 8:00am
10/13/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Danielle Raby, who manages the garden center at Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport, points out the golden-yellow leaf color on a native variation of witch hazel called Arnold’s Promise, another plant suitable for a rain garden.

Pleasing to both the environment and the eyes, rain gardens are one way homeowners can take an active role in protecting the local aquifer while also creating a scenic backyard setting.

When rainwater from homes and properties flows into stormwater drains, it brings along the pesticides and pollutants it picks up along the way, said Sharon Frost with the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District.

That stormwater doesn’t get any filtration, she said, adding, “It’s all about stormwater remediation.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Low-maintenance river birch trees do well in wet soil.

Rain garden landscaping, also known as bayscaping, involves planting native shrubs, vines and trees in an area designed to catch stormwater runoff.

The native plants work as tiny filters that trap pesticides and pollutants in the stormwater runoff and prevent them from reaching groundwater, Ms. Frost said. They also help attract native butterflies, bees and birds, she added.

Plants and trees have deeper root systems than grasses, which helps aerate the soil. The water can then be absorbed and filtrated, she said.

“The great thing about native plants is that, once established, they are really very maintenance-free. Most are resistant to pests and tolerant of the local weather conditions,” said Anita Wright, assistant director of environmental education for Group for the East End.

Ms. Wright works with community groups and schools, including Shelter Island High School, where she helped build a rain garden last spring.

A rain garden needs to be planted in a shallow depression, which can either be naturally occurring or can be dug in an area near your home, Ms. Wright said.

“You want an area that is well-drained. An area where rain has completely absorbed into the ground within 12 to 14 hours,” she said.

“You don’t want stagnant water, which might attract breeding mosquitoes,” she cautioned. “Sand can be added below soils to help speed up absorption.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The rain garden behind the Cornell Cooperative Extension building on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead helps collect and filter stormwater runoff from area buildings and cars.

The garden should be placed five to 10 feet away from the home’s foundation – and near a downspout. Homeowners can direct rainwater from impervious surfaces, like a roof, into the garden, Ms. Wright said.

“I have one in my yard and it is absolutely beautiful. There are so many native plants to choose from and local nurseries are carrying more than they used to,” she said. “They attract so many butterflies and bees – they can be really breathtaking.”

Many people also add stepping stones, benches or hammocks to their gardens so they can relax there when the weather is nice, Ms. Wright said.

What makes fall the perfect time of year to think about building this type of garden is that many of these native plants are on sale, said Danielle Raby, garden center manager at Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport. The nursery sells more than a dozen native species.

She recommends planting river birch, a tree that originates in the Northeast. “They are low maintenance and great in wet soil,” she said.

For shrubs, Ms. Raby said Clethra, also known as a sweet pepperbush, offers sweet-smelling white flowers in the summer and turns a golden yellow in the fall. It is native to Long Island, she said.

Residents in the Reeves Bay and Hashamomuck Pond watershed have an opportunity to earn cash for this type of conservation landscaping, thanks to a new rewards incentive designed by the Peconic Estuary Program, a public-private partnership focused on improving the quality of water in the Peconic Estuary system.

About 1,670 property owners are eligible to receive up to $500 each to build rain gardens or conservation landscaping on their property using native plants. The total reward depends on the size of the garden, which must be a minimum of 50 square feet.

“It’s on a first come, first served basis,” said Jennifer Skilbred, education and outreach coordinator for the program. “The more homeowners we get involved, the better.”

A total of $50,000 in federal funding has been secured for the program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

For more information on the rewards program visit the program website.

Tips on building rain gardens — including a list of native plants — can be found on the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County website, www.ccesuffolk.org.

cmiller@timesreview.com

10/06/13 12:00pm
10/06/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Temple Isreal’s new atrium was built around the existing entrance wall, with the original windows left in place.

Getting up the front steps at Riverhead’s Temple Israel on Northville Turnpike used to be a challenge for the elderly and those in wheelchairs.

“If they needed [to get in] we carried them,” said Richard Israel, a 25-year congregant who donated his company’s labor for a recent temple renovation project. “Or they just didn’t come … we wanted it to be available to all.”

The synagogue has also added a curved window facade to the exterior that updates the temple’s look while keeping much of its original style intact.

Scroll below for more photos

“Everybody loves it,” Mr. Israel said. “It finally gives us great accessibility and it’s just beautiful and pretty and people are amazed at it.”

The renovation included an elevator on the temple’s south side that provides access to the social hall downstairs and the sanctuary upstairs. The ‘Shabbat’ elevator can be programmed to work on holy days without pressing any buttons. Under Jewish law, work is not permitted on the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which lasts from sunset on Friday through Saturday evening, and touching the buttons constitutes work, as was explained by Rabbi Bill Siemers in an earlier story.

The elevator was put into use for the first time this past Rosh Hashanah, Mr. Israel said.

A handicapped-accessible bathroom was also installed downstairs as part of the update.

The addition to the structure — which was built in 1946 — was built around the exterior wall of the original building, meaning the windows that once faced out of the sanctuary were left facing the new stairs and elevator.

Thanks to the addition’s wall of tall windows, light still reaches through to the original windows inside.

“How do we take a nice old building and not lose the character?” Mr. Israel said. “That was the challenge.”

Other congregants donated their companies’ labor to help with the addition, he said, while others grew flowers to be planted outside the new wall.

“The entire community helped us achieve our goal,” Mr. Israel said.

psquire@timesreview.com

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Temple Isreal expansion in Riverhead was completed in August.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The congregation celebrated its 100th year in September 2011, and the building itself was built in 1948. Before that, worshipers met in a building on the corner of East Avenue and Northville Turnpike that is now used as a warehouse.