Highway Superintendent Kenneth J. Tymecki and the Village of Floral Park

Craig Mongeau

Kenneth “Ken” J. Tymecki can thank his mother for the position he now holds as Superintendent of Public Works for the Village of Floral Park in Nassau County.

Ken moved to Floral Park from nearby Jamaica, Queens, on his 18th birthday in 1973, he applied for a job at the Department of Public Works in 1974. But so did his older brother.

“The Village called him before me,” Ken said, “and my mother took the call and said to them, ‘I think you’ll want to interview my younger son, Ken … he might work out better for you.’ I’ll leave that to speak for itself, but they took my mother’s word for it, and they interviewed me and hired me as a laborer in the highway department.”

And that was the beginning of what is now Ken’s 31-year career in Floral Park’s DPW. While on his way to becoming superintendent, Ken held several positions within the Village’s highway department. After working six years as a laborer, Ken was promoted to motor equipment operator in 1980. A year and half later, he became labor supervisor. In 1995, he again was promoted; this time to general supervisor. In 1999, he was named deputy superintendent of public works. And finally in January 2000, he was appointed to superintendent of public works of the Village of Floral Park for its 16,000 residents.

But when asked about how he became superintendent, Ken, who is a very humble and gracious man, admits that he would have preferred obtaining his position by a means different from the one that put him there. Ken explained: “For the past five years that I’ve been superintendent, I probably shouldn’t have been because my previous superintendent, Lou DiSunno, became sick. He had no thoughts of retiring at the time, but he had no choice because of his health. And I don’t feel lucky; I would have rather seen him still working here and me working for him, and not being sick.

“I would have gladly waited my turn, even if it took another ten years. I feel that I didn’t need this job … I didn’t need him to get sick to get this position. I’m a patient man. I know good things will come to people who work hard for the things they want.”

(Since then, Lou has recovered from his health problems and works for the department on an as-needed basis.)

Despite his initial reservations of how he became superintendent, Ken has thrived in his position and was recently re-appointed by the Mayor of Floral Park. Today, he manages a full-time staff of 62 spread out among eight divisions within the department, which include the following:

Administrative Office

In addition to Ken, this division includes the assistant to the superintendent, a clerk and part-time clerk. All clerical work related to Public Works is performed here, such as record keeping, human resources, village code inspecting, village code enforcement and the sidewalk program.

Highway

Department

Managed by Highway Supervisor Rich Albertson, who has been with the department for 25 years and whom Ken considers to be his “right-hand” man, and Mike Maylor, assistant highway supervisor, this department is responsible for repairing, sweeping, line striping and snow removal for 14 parking fields, 37 mi. of roads, which include 45 dead ends, but does not include Jericho Turnpike (state road) and Tulip and Covert avenues (county roads). This division also is responsible for storm basins in the Village.

Sanitation/Recycling Department

This department provides weekly curbside trash collection, which includes two garbage pickups and one yard waste recycling pickup. Appliances containing Freon are collected once a month. Every year residents and merchants are mailed a refuse chart that provides a collection schedule for their area and detailed information regarding their refuse and recycling pickup.

Parks Department

The department maintains the grounds around all Village facilities and 33 various-sized park areas (which includes 54 benches, 66 garbage receptacles and 30 planters) located throughout Floral Park. Parks Department employees also maintain 13 flagpoles, which involves replacing flags when they’re damaged and lowering flags to half staff when required. (All flagpoles have lights shining on them, so no flags are taken down at night.)

Shade Tree Department

This division maintains approximately 6,000 trees by pruning, trimming, removing and planting. Floral Park has been designated a “Tree City” by the National Arbor Day Foundation since 1993. Occasionally, Ken will contract out tree removal when the number to be removed is high.

“The Village is very old and it seems like the cycle of trees that they planted 50 to 60 to 70 years ago die at the same time,” he said. “So we run in spurts with a certain species. For example, we have a lot of swamp maples and over the past 10 years, we’ve had to take practically all of them down.”

Meter Maintenance Department

This department is responsible for more than 1,000 parking meters, which involves weekly money collection of meters and maintaining street and traffic signs.

Building Maintenance Department

Maintains 10 Village buildings, including the Village Hall, the Active and Reliance firehouses, library and the Public Works facility.

Fleet Maintenance Department

The fleet maintenance division maintains and repairs all public works, police and fire department vehicles and equipment, totaling more than 100 vehicles. All repairs are done in-house, unless the job is under warranty.

“One of the best mechanics” Ken has ever known, Steve Beauchesne, is mechanic supervisor.

Street Lighting Department

An outside contractor maintains the lighting of the Village’s streets and parking fields.

The entire department of public works operates on an annual budget of $4.5 million, with no annual CHIPS allocation in this sum.

A Hand in Everything

With all these divisions and employees, Ken’s plate is full of responsibilities, and of all of those he prefers organizing and planning the most. He likes to be the “lead guy” when setting up a strategy or schedule for whatever work needs to be done. But a lot of that is administrative and Ken sometimes misses the days when he was general supervisor for the highway department, a time when he was able to do more hands-on work.

“I’m a very physical guy,” he said. “I’m more of a doer and not an order giver, so it was an adjustment [becoming superintendent of public works]. Sitting here in the office can sometimes be frustrating because I’d like to be out there doing the physical work myself. I’m not being selfish; it’s just a passion of mine.”

But public works has its hands in virtually everything that needs to be done in Floral Park, something that Ken is extremely proud of.

For example, a third of the Village borders Belmont Racetrack, and over the past few years, the Chamber of Commerce, with the New York Racing Association (NYRA), has organized a street fair on the Friday before the Belmont Stakes.

“We close down the main street, and we have all kinds of events, and the past couple of years we’ve had a parade for the Belmont,” Ken said. “Garden City was big originally on this and then we got in on the second end of this.”

Then the big race takes place. The past two years has offered the potential of a Triple Crown winner with Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, respectively, and what that means is attendance skyrockets. What it also means is a traffic nightmare in the Village of Floral Park, one that Ken works very hard to mitigate.

“We get a lot of traffic because one of the entrances and exits is in our village,” he said. The parking lots become full on the grounds of the Belmont and then it overflows to us, so we have to prepare for the thousands upon thousands of cars that will be on our streets.

“We have meetings prior to the Belmont Stakes to determine if we need to upgrade our traffic patterns, and we’ll adjust them when necessary,” he continued. “We have a lot of dead ends in the village, 45 to be exact, and when people leave the Belmont and get into Floral Park, they could be driving around for a couple of hours scratching their heads because they can’t find a way out of town because they keep winding up at dead ends. We help direct them straight out of town with a big police presence and barricades.”

But does Ken attend one of the biggest racing events in the world, since it’s right next door? “I went once years ago, but the crowds were a bit much for me,” he said.

The Department of Public Works also is involved in the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in the town square.

“From soup to nuts public works takes care of it; we set it up, decorate the tree, put the lights on, provide public address systems. I consider it the Public Works Tree lighting ceremony because we do all the work for the people who go and just push a button,” Ken said, laughing.

Then, of course, there’s the snow. Ken readily admits that Floral Park doesn’t see as much of the white stuff as his counterparts up north do, but what his Village does get is enough to mess up everybody’s day.

“Usually we don’t get a lot of snow, but over the past three years we have,” he said. “We’ve broken a record with over 43 inches for each year in that time, and that’s paralyzing here … plus we don’t have many places where we can put the snow.”

Ken’s department has 11 plows, which crews use on eight routes, taking approximately six hours to complete a full loop. The department uses salt and sand on most streets, but straight salt on some paved surfaces where returning to sweep up the sand is difficult, such as 24-hour parking lots.

The abundance of dead ends poses quite a challenge for snow plow crews in Floral Park.

“You can’t use certain trucks because these dead-end streets are pretty narrow. Just pulling in and out of them can be very time-consuming,” Ken said.

The department’s under cover salt storage is 200 tons, but Ken would rest more easily if he had a bigger shed.

“The salt shed we have doesn’t look like a salt shed to a lot of people because they constructed it to look like our main building; it’s square … not round. To make it bigger, we’d have to use up some of the parking lot in the back of our main facility, but we need the space there for our vehicles. So every winter, I really need to calculate how much salt I can store, how much I have to order before a storm. The relatively small salt shed can hurt us when we get several storms in a row. I try to get additional salt delivered as needed, but it can get close,” he said.

Ken’s department also works cooperatively with local municipalities. Because of Floral Park’s extensive vehicle and equipment fleet, it has its own large fuel tank, which it shares with its neighbors.

“We have two 4,000-gallon fuel tanks due to our big equipment fleet. The neighboring Villages of New Hyde Park and Bellerose, as well as the local school district, entered into a cooperative agreement with us because it’s cheaper and easier for us to fuel them up than for them to go with a vendor,” he said.

One thing Ken’s department is not responsible for is the Village’s sanitary sewers and main drainage: Nassau County Sewer handles that. His department, however, is responsible for the Floral Park’s many storm basins and their connections to the Nassau County mains.

For all that his department handles, Ken believes that he has enough funding.

“I really can’t say that we’re lacking anything due to funding. We’ve had no layoffs. The Village has been fortunate that it has a very good government. I’ve never had to make real tough decisions about taking manpower away or cutting budgets drastically. They’re very frugal on what we spend.”

However, it’s still challenging to find enough money for all the road reconstruction projects that come along every 10 to 15 years. Ken and Floral Park’s Civil Engineer Edward Palmer are drawing up the plans now to reconstruct a quarter mile of Magnolia Avenue in Floral Park. The job is expected to be bid out to local contractors, soon.

“It’s probably the only road we’ll do this year,” Ken admitted. “It’s getting pretty expensive to do roads these days. We’ll pick a road that’s not completely gone but should have reconstruction and we’ll repair some curbings, some driveways, storm drains, and mill the curbing and resurface with an inch-and-a-half of asphalt, which will give the road another 10 to 15 years or so at least, until we have to reconsider reconstructing it again. We’ve done a lot of that in the past 10 years, but we really have to pick and choose.”

A project Ken’s department has been involved with for five years is the Village’s Centennial Gardens and Bird Sanctuary, which is slated for completion in 2008, the year Floral Park celebrates its centennial.

The sanctuary, which will cover 11 acres, occupies property that was once a Nassau County recharge basin. Ken’s department has overseen the removal of all trees and related debris and has erected the fence that surrounds the sanctuary.

“We also built all the berms for the flowers and installed irrigation systems,” he said. “The footbridge was contracted out, but we built the fencing on each side of the footpath, a 400-ft. stretch. In all, we removed more than 100 trees, ground them up and re-used a lot of the wood chips for mulch, etc.” Ken’s department also maintains the grounds, which involves grass cutting and tree trimming.

The project’s operating budget is $30,000 a year. The Village supplies the materials, but a lot of the planting is done on a volunteer basis by the Conservation Society of Floral Park.

Seeing It All

Thirty-one years is a long time and Ken has experienced a lot in those years.

“I’ve seen everything … tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and even a Long Island train derailment in the Village.

A rare Long Island tornado ripped through the Village in 1983 that essentially leveled the trees in a four-block area.

“Big sycamore trees were uprooted and most of them landed on houses on one side of the street,” Ken, who was labor supervisor with the highway department then, recalled. “That was the biggest cleanup task we’ve ever done, hauling all the debris away. It closed down that section of the Village for weeks.”

And then there was the bowling alley explosion.

“It was on Super Bowl Sunday, when the Giants played Denver in 1987. Somebody noticed a smell of gas and the fire department arrived, helped evacuate everybody and 10 minutes later the place blew up. Nobody was hurt, fortunately. It was bitterly cold that night and all the water the fire department used froze everywhere. We had the task of keeping the roadways and the surrounding area sanded and ice-free, as well as putting up barricades and being responsible for the ensuing cleanup.”

And, although the events on 9/11 had no direct impact on Ken’s department, there was the horror of being so close to the tragedy and the chilling phone calls he received that morning.

“We began getting phone calls from people wondering why their TV reception was out. Even though public works has nothing to do with this, people sometimes call us because they figure we must know something about why it was happening. That’s when we realized what had happened. If a resident did not have cable service, but used antennas, all major broadcast companies had their antennas of top of the World Trade Center, which were knocked out. But the thing I remember most is when they stopped air traffic. We get so much of it sitting between LaGuardia and Kennedy. There was an eerie still with the skies that unusually quiet.”

Floral Park was hit hard by the attacks.

“We lost a fireman, a police officer, an ambulance driver and a couple of business people. The fireman was a volunteer in Floral Park, but he also worked for one of the hospital ambulance corps that responded to the event.”

As a tribute to the fallen firefighter, Lt. Keith Fairben, the Village recently dedicated the street on which his firehouse, Reliance is located, by naming it after him.

Over the 32 years, Ken has devoted virtually every bit of his time and energy to his work, which keeps him apart from his family a lot. And Ken loves and values his family very much. Fortunately, his wife Karen and his two sons, Robert, 24, and Kenneth Jr., 21, have always been very supportive of him.

“I’m on call 24/7 and I’m the first guy they call for anything,” he said. “And if you ask my wife, she’d tell you that she feels like she’s part of the Village, even though she doesn’t work here and we live in Garden City Park. When there’s a call at night, the phone’s on her side of the bed, so she has the privilege of being my assistant superintendent at home and gets the bad news first. But she knows what this job is and she’s never once asked, ‘why do you want to do this?’”

There are no regrets, though. In fact, Ken only feels gratitude for what he has.

“A lot of people have wondered how or why I could stay here for so long,” he said. “And what I always say is that I’ve had a wonderful secure job here. I’ve never been one to see if the grass is greener on the other side. I can’t say enough about this Village and how they treat their people, and I tell this to everyone I hire. I say that I started out just like them as a laborer and if you do the right things, work hard, the people here will recognize you. And that’s, ultimately, why I’m here as superintendent right now.”

But Ken ponders retirement from time to time and leaving the places he loves most, Floral Park and Long Island.

“I’d like to say I have a retirement plan, but I don’t. I just turned 50 this year and I could retire at 55 and receive a pension. That would be my goal. But it’s really a financial decision. Long Island’s a great place if you have money. But I would do what I do now for the rest of my life if I had to. This is the only thing I know. I didn’t go to college; everything I know is from experience and hands-on work. I know every intricate detail of this Village, and I think I would miss not being here.”

About Floral Park

The history of Floral Park begins in 1874, when 17-year-old John Lewis Childs came to the area known as East Hinsdale. The community, then a part of Queens County, consisted of a small group of houses, one store, the Hinsdale Post Office and a railroad station. In 1899 the County of Nassau was formed and Floral Park became a part of it.

Childs became an employee of C. L. Allen, who was a grower of flowers and seeds. After a year of apprenticeship, he went into business for himself. He rented a small area of land and began a seed and bulb business. He advertised his products in leaflets, thus starting the first seed catalogue business in America. The business grew to hundreds of acres of gardens, thousands of customers, a printing plant and catalogues sent throughout the world.

A flourishing businessman, Childs bought the land surrounding the post office and named the new territory Floral Park, naming the streets and avenues for flowers and trees. The post office was soon renamed the Floral Park Post Office and, in 1888, the railroad similarly changed the name of its station. Childs did not own Jericho Turnpike, a planked toll road used by those traveling from Long Island to New York. In 1904, the Turnpike and Light Horse Road (now Tulip Avenue), was a popular place to view the first Vanderbilt Cup Race.

The Village of Floral Park was formally incorporated on Oct. 15, 1908. Two days later, approximately 175 voters elected John Lewis Childs as president, along with two trustees, George F. Downing and John F. Klein. The first village clerk, David W. Syme, and tax collector, Andrew Wright, were named. The new officials, through the generosity of John Lewis Childs, met in an upstairs room in the Mayflower Press Building.

With population increasing in 1910 to almost 800 people, a proposition was submitted to Village voters recommending the addition of two trustees. It was voted down until 1922, when it was again submitted and passed. The title of president was changed to mayor in 1927.

In 1926, Floral Park was classified a Village of the First Class with a population of more than 5,000. A bond was issued in 1921 for paving Village streets, a project that took many years to complete.

Law and order consisted of two deputy sheriffs, Gilbert Wright and George Hurrell, when the Village was incorporated in 1908. It wasn't until 1918 that Floral Park had a uniformed police force with a booth at Jericho Turnpike and Tyson Avenue, which served as police headquarters.

The Hook & Ladder Company was founded in 1893, the first of the Floral Park fire companies. The first firehouse was on Violet Avenue, now the location of a municipal parking field. The second floor of this hall served as a meeting place for Village activities for many years.

A second unit, Alert Engine Company, was formed in 1907, followed by Reliance Engine Company in 1910, and Active Hose and Engine Company in 1924. Each of these companies, located in various areas of the Village, is still housed in their original facilities. The last branch of the department was the Rescue Company, formed in 1930. Its much in demand ambulance service, begun in 1970, offers modern lifesaving equipment and well-trained medical technicians.

Floral Park is served by a 100-percent volunteer fire department.

As the population increased in the Village, the need for a school became apparent. A Board of Education was formed and a four-room schoolhouse, called the Floral Park School, was built and opened in 1895 on South Tyson Avenue. Upon the death of John Lewis Childs in 1921, the name was changed to the John Lewis Childs School.

In 1929, the Floral Park-Bellerose School opened its doors for students, accommodating the residents in the west end of the Village.

St. Hedwig School, the first parochial school in the Village, was built in 1908 and was followed by Our Lady of Victory Parochial School in 1930. Both schools have expanded over the years.

Pupils going on to high school in the early years attended Hempstead or Jamaica High Schools. Overcrowding of these schools in the ’20s saw Floral Park seek its own high school. In 1926, a Central High School District was formed and Sewanhaka High School opened its doors in 1930. (Overcrowding of this school would later lead to the construction of Floral Park Memorial junior-senior high school in 1957.)

In 1936, a much-needed Village Hall (which still serves the Village today) was erected. At that time, it housed the administrative offices, police department, fire companies, and the library. Today, the administrative offices occupy the major portion of the building along with police and fire headquarters.

Although the Village Board of Trade started a fund in 1916 toward the goal of a public library, it did not come into being until 1923. The Floral Park Public Library opened its doors in that year and moved to its present location in 1964.

In the late 40s, the Village saw the need for parking due to the great increase of automobiles and construction of four municipal parking fields was begun to alleviate this problem.

Storm sewers and sanitary sewers were installed between 1954 and 1957 and kept the Village in a disrupted state for three years. Parking meters appeared on major streets in the mid 50s.

A major change took place in the early ’60s with the New York State widening of Jericho Turnpike. Land and buildings were condemned on the north side of the Turnpike and the project was not completed until late in 1962.

At the same time, elimination of the Long Island Railroad grade crossing at Tulip, Carnation and Plainfield Avenues was in progress. The first train to operate on the newly elevated tracks came through in June of 1962 and full service was in effect that November.

During the ’60s, many changes took place. Old houses were demolished to make room for office buildings and supermarkets and the post office moved to its present location on Tulip Avenue.

In 1982, Memorial Park was completely renovated through the efforts of the Southside Civic Association. A memorial commemorating those residents who gave their lives for this country stands there and is the site of Memorial Day Services. Art shows and musical presentations offered by the Council of Cultural Affairs also are held at Memorial Park.

The most recent change in the Village has taken place on Tulip Avenue. Through the Community Development Fund, matching grants were made available to participating merchants for new facades on the storefronts of Tulip Avenue. These funds also provided for new streetlights and trees were planted throughout the business districts with Village funds.

(The information in this section, “About Floral Park,” was provided by the Village’s Web site at www.fpvillage.org/.) P

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