All posts by Ashley M. Casey

Ashley M. Casey is the assistant editor of The Valley News. Previously, she was the associate editor of Today's CNY Woman magazine. She has also written for The Finger Lakes Vacationer. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 with a degree in communications and Spanish.

FULTON FAMILIES — Labor of love: The Mirabitos celebrate a century in Fulton

The Mirabito family has lived through about a century of ups and downs in Fultons. Today, Jim Mirabito is a successful grocer in Hannibal. Back row, left to right: Ann, Jim and Dan; front row: Sue, Steve and Sara.
The Mirabito family has lived through about a century of ups and downs in Fultons. Today, Jim Mirabito is a successful grocer in Hannibal. Back row, left to right: Ann, Jim and Dan; front row: Sue, Steve and Sara.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment of stories about Fulton Families.  The monthly series will tell the stories of families that have either  lived in Fulton for ages or perhaps only a short while — but the common  bond will be they love the city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  If you know of a family we should highlight, please email Debbie Groom,  Valley News managing editor, at dgroom@scotsmanmediagroup.com.

By Ashley M. Casey

According to Charlene Mirabito, six is the perfect number of children.

Having grown up as the only child of Polish immigrants to Fulton, she knew  that one would be lonely. But she thought two would fight, three would end up two-on-one, and four or five might gang up on each other as well. So she and her husband, Francis, settled on six: Ann, Jim, Sue, Dan, Steve and Sara.

Out of that brood of six, only Jim Mirabito remains a Fultonian. He and his wife, Cindy, own the Hannibal Village Market, which they bought from Francis back in 1996.

As a third-generation Mirabito in Fulton, he is carrying on the family tradition of engaging with the community. Continue reading

Fulton’s East Side pool will be closed this summer

By Ashley M. Casey

Fultonians will have to find a new place to cool off this summer — the East Side pool will be closed.

The City of Fulton’s Parks and Recreation Superintendent Barry Ostrander said the pool, located at Rowlee Beach Park on South 12th Street, is in “extreme disrepair.”

“Extensive repairs are needed to keep it open. It’s reached a limit where we can no longer do in-house repairs,” Ostrander said.

In August 2013, the city applied for New York state’s “highly competitive” Empire Environmental Protection Fund grant to cover half the pool’s repair costs, but was rejected, Ostrander said.

“One of the primary reasons we didn’t get it was the study we supplied … was outdated,” Ostrander said.

In 2005, the engineering study suggested repairs to the pool, its filtration system and bath house totaling $227,000.

“(The city) decided not to go through with repairs at that time,” Ostrander said.

At its Feb. 18 meeting, the Common Council tabled a resolution proposing an engineering study of the pool’s needs by Barton & Loguidice.

“The thought process was three councilmen said they were not willing to bond (the project),” said Mayor Ronald L. Woodward Sr. “I think we should have the study. Then we could apply for grants. But I understand they’re concerned about the budget — and they should be.”

Woodward said First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon, Third Ward Councilor Ryan Raponi and Fourth Ward Councilor Jim Myers were the three councilors who opposed bonding the pool project.

“I’m only opposed to it at this time because I didn’t see the need to spend $4,600 on a study for something that we can’t afford to fix anyway,” Myers said.

Both Ostrander and Myers said the city may look into a grant that could cover a portion of the engineering study’s cost.

Either way, the pool will still be closed this summer.

Ostrander said if the city were to apply for a grant to cover the study, “that would be another year removed from (possibly receiving) a big grant for the pool.”

Kenyon said the War Memorial gymnasium floor was well-used and so he supported a similar engineering study for that, but the pool is another matter.

“When I was a kid, I was told ‘no’ sometimes. If we have to be without a pool for a year, so be it,” Kenyon said. He also advocated saving “every penny we can” to fix the city’s roads after a rough winter.

“I’d wait until the state (Financial Restructuring Board) comes in to see what they do,” he added.

At the Feb. 25 school board meeting, Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch said Second Ward Councilor and Common Council President Dan Knopp had called him to ask if Granby Elementary’s pool would be available for community use this summer.

Lynch said many BOCES special education classes use the Granby pool during the summer, so he could not give Knopp an answer about the pool’s availability.

“We have a lot of issues … if there was available time,” Lynch told the board, citing staff and supervision as two key issues.

“We’re already offering more special ed at Granby this year because of (renovations) at Volney and (asbestos) abatement at Lanigan,” Lynch said. “That’s a heavy load for Granby to be shouldering.”

Lynch said the district could not offer transportation for community members to use the pool either.

The Granby pool already offers limited community use in the early morning and for an hour in the afternoon.

School board member Christine Plath, a former Mexico teacher, expressed concern about the idea of opening Granby to the city.

“It was a disaster when Mexico had a community pool,” she said.

Novelis workers vote down union; Steelworkers file charges

By Ashley M. Casey

Employees of the Novelis plant in Scriba voted last week not to join the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Of 560 employees polled over Feb. 20 and 21, 273 voted yes to joining USW and 287 voted no.

Jim Ridgeway, a local representative for USW, said USW has already filed charges against Novelis for unfair labor practices including threats and coercion toward employees. Continue reading

Fulton Common Council OKs study of War Memorial gym floor

By Ashley M. Casey

At its Feb. 18 meeting, the Fulton Common Council approved a bid from engineering firm Barton & Loguidice to make a $4,500 study of the gymnasium floor in the War Memorial.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Barry Ostrander told The Valley News the gym floor is experiencing similar issues as the Lanigan Elementary School gym floor.

The floor is delaminating — its components are separating and causing the floor to bubble and blister.

“It’s almost (in) an identical fashion, but we need to make a determination whether it’s a moisture problem or the way the subflooring is propped,” Ostrander said.

Unlike Lanigan’s floor, the War Memorial gym floor has not tested positive for mercury. The engineering study involves cutting away portions of the floor and drilling core samples to determine the cause of the delamination.

Ostrander said the War Memorial floor was installed in September 1996. Such floors have a useful life of 15 years, with a recommended resurfacing at 10 years.

“Usually, at that point in time (15 years), they’re looking to replace it, but we’ve exceeded that. We’ve never even had it resurfaced because we take exceptional care of the floor,” he said.

“It becomes an issue when you have basketball, whether it is trying to control a basketball for a dribble or someone rolls an ankle,” Ostrander added. “It becomes a safety concern.”

In a letter to the city, Barton & Loguidice said this testing would take place “away from the normal playing surfaces … to minimize disruption of the playing surface of the floor and the ongoing activities at the facility.”

Ostrander said he does not know how long the engineering study will take, or what the replacement floor will cost. He said the city will look for a flooring company that can install a similar floor, as “We’ve gotten a good life out of the existing floor.”

The Common Council also:

** Agreed to issue a $120,000 bond to buy a garbage packer truck. “It’s not going to affect the general budget,” said Second Ward Council Dan Knopp. “It comes out of the garbage budget.”

** Increased rental rates for Parks and Recreation programs and facilities at the War Memorial, Bullhead Point Pavilion, community Room, indoor tennis and North Bay Campgrounds, effective March 1.

The city will honor contracts made before March 1, 2014, until their expiration dates.

The new rates can be found on the city’s website at cityoffulton.sharepoint.com/Pages/ParksRecreation.aspx.

** Set a public hearing for a proposed residential zone change. The city block surrounded by South Third, Rochester, Buffalo and South Fourth streets includes Holy Trinity Church, three single-family residences and one two-family residence.

A zone change has been requested to change the area from R-2, Residential, to R-1A, Residential.

The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. March 4 in the Common Council Chambers of the Municipal Building, 141 S. First St.

Fulton native makes magic for the silver screen

By Ashley M. Casey

As a child growing up in Fulton, Marcus Taormina often borrowed his parents’ video camera to make live-action horror films and stop-motion movies.

But he never imagined he’d make a career out of it someday.

Taormina now lives in Los Angeles, Calif., and is a freelance visual effects and digital media supervisor for the film industry.

He has worked on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Fast and Furious 6” and the reality TV show “America’s Next Top Model.” Currently, he is working on “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which is slated for a May 2, 2014, release.

Although he works 12 hours a day — sometimes more — he says he “couldn’t be happier.”

Taormina originally majored in computer science, but “it just didn’t feel right to me,” he said. After a couple of semesters, he decided to switch gears to the University of Buffalo’s film production program.

“As soon as I took my first class, I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” he said.

Throughout college, Taormina took several small film jobs to familiarize himself with all aspects of production.

“One of the biggest things in the industry is making sure you understand your job and other jobs,” he said.

After graduating in 2007, Taormina moved to California to look for a job. Unfortunately, his move coincided with the Writers Guild of America strike, so it was hard to find work. Taormina worked in reality television, but his real dream was film.

“Film had more impact on people,” he said.

Taormina acts as a liaison for the director, camera crew and visual effects companies that are contracted to create computer-generated (CG) images, fix problems with props, and remove wires and other equipment that shouldn’t end up in the final shot. There are eight companies in the United States and Canada working on “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

“It’s basically a big puzzle piece,” Taormina said. “I’m guessing information we will need in case a shot is envisioned later on that was not before … to create a fully CG environment.”

Many characters are fully CG, so Taormina’s job is to provide photo references and map the photos onto a three-dimensional scan of the actor.

“The actors see what’s become of them and how their characters look in CG, and they can’t believe it,” Taormina said. “That’s how you know you’ve done your job.”

Thanks to his industry connections, Taormina has kept a steady stream of freelance visual effects work going. He has worked in New York City and Baton Rouge, La., in addition to Los Angeles.

“It’s a very weird working environment at times,” he said. “Once I’m done with (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), which is in about a month, I can find another job right off the bat, or I can take a little time off. That’s my vacation.”

The camaraderie on set makes Taormina’s sometimes grueling job more fun.

“This is the second ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ I’ve worked on. It’s a lot of the same team,” he said. “It’s the team bonding that you do. You’re all working an incredible amount of time. Long hours.”

But the movie magic is what Taormina finds most rewarding.

“It makes you feel like a kid and giddy when Special Effects comes in and they blow things up. It reminds you why you’re doing this,” he said. For the film he worked on in Baton Rouge, “There was an alien spacecraft (attacking) and we blew up a gas station. We closed an entire part of town. You could feel the heat from the explosion.”

Taormina has come a long way since setting up his G.I. Joes for stop-motion movies as a child.

“It was so magical to see what I could do by just pushing a button … and then bring the product upstairs and put it in the VCR. It got my mind thinking about what I could do creatively,” he said. “Not in a million years did I ever think I’d be working on a huge production like ‘Spider-Man.’”

Taormina’s advice for young Fultonians is to “always pursue your dreams.” He added, “(Even) if you think it’s silly, you never know what could happen.”

Phoenix family loses house, dog in fire

By Ashley M. Casey

A fire in the village of Phoenix on the evening of Feb. 17 left a family of five unharmed, but without their home and their dog.

Several local fire companies helped put out the blaze at 33 Elm St., which was reported at 5:30 p.m.

The family escaped with their cat and dog, but the dog ran back into the burning house and firefighters were unable to revive it.

Firefighters were met with some difficulty when the fire hydrant in Johnson’s front yard was frozen. They used a fire hydrant two blocks away.

“We were able to knock down the fire pretty quick,” Phoenix Fire Chief John McDonald said. He estimated it took about 45 minutes to extinguish the fire.

Firefighters from Baldwinsville, Caughdenoy, Cody, Liverpool, Mexico, Moyers Corners and Volney assisted the Phoenix Enterprise Fire Company No. 1.

Homeowner Mark Johnson shares the residence with his fiancée, another adult relative and two children. The American Red Cross is helping Johnson and his family, who are staying with relatives.

McDonald said the home is no longer livable due to damage mostly on the first floor.

“(There’s) pretty extensive damage from the smoke, heat and water damage,” McDonald said. “Fire damage was minimal.”

McDonald said the investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but the dryer is suspected. The fire began in the laundry room.

Oswego’s Ponderosa Steakhouse to close Feb. 23

By Ashley M. Casey

The Ponderosa Steakhouse located in Oswego is closing due to a failed lease negotiation, the restaurant announced Feb. 20. The restaurant’s last day will be Sunday, Feb. 23.

There are no plans to move to a new location.

Ponderosa Steakhouse, whose parent company is the Texas-based Homestyle Dining LLC, was located at 147 George St. in Oswego since its opening in 1981. Homestyle Dining also operates the Bonanza Steakhouse brand.

Erin Peacock, spokesperson for Homestyle Dining, said the Oswego Ponderosa employees have been offered the option to transfer to other area Ponderosa franchises.

“(In) a bit of good news, to show their appreciation of all the patrons over the last 30 years, they’re going to offer 50 percent off on Sunday,” Peacock said.

See more on this story in the Wednesday, Feb. 26, edition of The Valley News.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Homestyle Dining LLC was based in Indiana. The company is now based in Plano, Texas. The Valley News regrets the error.

Big changes in store for Oswego County BOCES CTE program

By Ashley M. Casey

With a $35 million renovation of the Oswego County BOCES complex on the agenda for this summer and some new programs on the way, the Career and Technical Education branch of BOCES is undergoing some big changes for the 2014-15 school year.

CTE Principal Marla Berlin, who took the helm in September 2013, presented an update on the programs’ progress at the Feb. 11 Fulton Board of Education meeting. This academic year, 123 of the county’s 704 CTE students come from the Fulton district.

Berlin, who previously taught business at Mexico High School, said CTE is introducing a STEM academy, two business education programs and “Career Connections,” an effort aimed at disengaged 10th graders.

Career Connections is a half-day exploratory career program that lets 10th graders who are in danger of dropping out of high school experience the various programs CTE has to offer. Berlin said the program’s goal is to “try to hook them into learning” and “bring back that joy of learning.” Although enrollment numbers are not yet final, Berlin said she expects up to 40 students to participate.

Next year, CTE will also eliminate the Floral Design and Greenhouse Technology programs.

“It really was not self-sustaining and not supported by local labor markets,” Berlin told the Fulton school board.

Berlin told The Valley News that current 11th-graders in those programs can continue in different CTE programs next year. She said one student who is interested in opening a floral shop one day may take the new business program, and another botany-minded student may continue in the new STEM academy.

The STEM academy will use scientific inquiry to solve real world problems. Berlin said BOCES has acquired 3-D printers for use in the digital media, STEM and motor sports fabrication programs. Students are using the 3-D printers to design and create objects. She said one of BOCES’ non-3-D printers has a broken component that is no longer made by the printer’s manufacturer.

“Our students are working with CAD and 3-D printers to design … and replicate that part,” Berlin said.

She said BOCES is also looking into buying a 3-D printer that uses chocolate and hard candy for the culinary arts students to create their own confections.

“The kids here think out of the box,” Berlin said. She recalled one student who suggested that BOCES build a mini-fire station for CTE public safety students to practice. “It says a lot about the innovative and creative thinking that kids are inspired to do while they’re here.”

CTE’s programs align with New York state’s new Common Core Learning Standards, which have an emphasis on hands-on, project-based learning and real-world application.

“That’s how they learn, that’s what excites them, and that’s what keeps them in school so they graduate,” Berlin said.

Students in CTE programs are held to industry standards and participate in internships with local companies.

“The success of our internship placement really depends on community support,” Berlin said. “We have excellent rapport (and we’re) making sure our students are knowledgeable, prepared and appropriate for those placements.”

CTE works with Oswego County and the state Department of Labor to keep a finger on the pulse of the county’s job market and place students in fields in which they can find jobs upon graduation.

“It’s not just about placing students just to place them somewhere,” Berlin said. “We truly want to help them move forward in their career path.”

Recently, Oswego’s CTE students won 32 awards in the regional SkillsUSA competition at Morrisville State College. Oswego took the top three spots in collision repair. Many students will go on to the state conference in April at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

Despite the whirlwind five months of hard work her new position has brought, Berlin said it has been rewarding.

“It’s all about the kids, watching them learn and their experiences the instructors give them,” she said. “Whenever I get bogged down with paperwork, I walk through the programs. That just makes me smile. They’re looking at their future.”