Mattituck BOE members split about naming track, auditorium

09/19/2014 12:00 PM |
The newly completed Mattituck High School track features six lanes. (Credit: Garret Meade)

The newly completed Mattituck High School track features six lanes. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Mattituck-Cutchogue school board members have officially decided against naming the high school’s new track after former Superintendent James McKenna, but decided to name the auditorium after him instead.

During the board’s Thursday meeting, members voted 6-1 to approve rescinding a previous resolution to name the track in honor of Mr. McKenna, who retired at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

But shortly afterward, trustee Laura Jens-Smith said she felt it was “a little disrespectful” to the former superintendent to rescind the track renaming without also making a motion to discuss naming the high school auditorium after him instead.

“It feels bad. It feels very bad,” she said.

Trustee Jeffrey Smith disagreed with Ms. Jens-Smith and told her he had recently spoken “at length” to Mr. McKenna about the decision not to name the track after him — an idea Mr. Smith said at last month’s board meeting had been met with opposition from numerous residents.

On Thursday, Mr. Smith told the board that Mr. McKenna didn’t seem comfortable with having the track named after him in the first place, and that he was much more amenable to the idea of having the auditorium named after him instead.

“He’s not the kind of person who really cares when something is named after him or not, but when I brought up the auditorium he kind of lit up because the auditorium was his baby,” Mr. Smith said.

School board president Gerard Diffley said there was “no rush” as far as naming the track or the auditorium and that he thinks the district should seek community input before making a decision.

“I think we need to just take a breath and let some time pass,” Mr. Diffley said. “If it’s appropriate in a couple months to do something, I think we should do it. I just don’t want to rush into it.”

Ms. Jens-Smith then made a motion to name the auditorium after Mr. McKenna. That motion passed 4-3.

The lone community member who spoke about the issue was Judy Thilberg, who scolded the board for talking about naming the auditorium after Mr. McKenna without printing it on the agenda.

She said it was wrong of them, and added that she doesn’t feel bad for Mr. McKenna because he “gets a good retirement check.”

“I think [the auditorium] should stay like it is,” Ms. Thilberg said. “I talk to a lot of people in this town all the time and they all feel the same way. We pay the taxes here. Maybe it should say ‘The Taxpayers of Mattituck-Cutchogue Auditorium.’ This is our auditorium. Mr. McKenna lives in Southampton.”

The school will celebrate the official opening of the track Friday, Sept. 26 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the high school, board members said.

“It’s been a long time coming and we want to thank the community,” Superintendent Anne Smith said. “I know our student athletes are going to have a place they’re really proud of and I know our community will have a place they can work out.”

According to the district, a “blue and gold rally” will be held during the school day and will be followed by a flag football game at Mattituck High School at 2:45 p.m. After the ribbon-cutting, which will feature a commemorative lap by the district’s graduating class and its kindergartners, there will be a 7 p.m. bonfire and pep rally. The high school’s “Tucker Bowl” will begin at 8 p.m. The boys and girls soccer teams will play a doubleheader the next day, beginning at noon when the boys take on Center Moriches. The girls then will play Southold/Greenport.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the Mattituck school board passed a motion to discuss naming the auditorium after Mr. McKenna at a later date. In fact, board members passed a motion to actually name the auditorium after Mr. McKenna at their Sept. 18 meeting.