Excoriating review of St. Paul’s

To the Editor:

In recent letters to this newspaper several residents have commented about the October 2012 review– by an architectural/engineering consulting firm, Erwin & Bielinski— of the assessment of the October 2011 proposals by the then Committee To Save the historic St. Paul’s building. I refer to the letters written by Messrs. Steve Gorray, Bob Orosz, Bob Wolff, and yours truly.

The points of view of the letters relate to the fact that the E&B very negative report was NOT seen by the public  over the last 10 years — until it was “discovered” a few weeks ago by Mr. Orosz who brought it to the attention of the Garden City BOT, the SP Committee and the general public. Throughout the 2022 St.Paul’s debate, the public dialogue has been dominated by heavily optimistic statements and print media orchestrated by Frank McDonough’s “Uses” Sub-Committee, The GC Historical Society, GC resident architects and engineers and even bullish comments from Mayor Veneziale himself.

They flunked the course. Today’s letter is intended to highlight some of the key conclusions of the E&B Report in order to better inform residents who hopefully will one day vote on the fate of the building. In a nutshell, E&B excoriated, i.e, severely criticised, the G.C. Committee’s evaluation of the risks, costs and procedures to complete the renovation and “save” the building from demolition.  If I could paraphrase E&B’s “grade” of the Committee’s 2011 work– it would be in the range of “D” or “F”. And this is no exaggeration. There are  very few compliments of the Committee’s work in E&B’s review.
A dozen quotes from E&B:  There are 12 pages of summary text plus some appendices in the report. From these I have taken, verbatim, some key conclusions and comments, also citing the page in the report  where the excerpted quotes can be found. I could have chosen  dozens more, but for brevity these are my choices:
1. We believe that there are significant, perhaps insurmountable, financial, administrative and technical problems with any proposal  to re-use the St. Paul’s School. (P.12).
2. The School has outlived its usefulness as a building. (P.12).
3. If a fire occurred during the restoration period, there is no assurance that it would not result in the total loss of the building. (P.12).
4. The Committee’s proposal does not address the fundamental problems with the physical layout of the School for future use. (P.2).
5. The costs projected by the Committee are not realistic and are not the the full costs of preparing the building for use. (P.2).
6.  Our firm (E&B) has estimated the total cost for work required would be approximately $38 million. (P.8).
7.  The total cost for the project could even be in the $40-50 million range. (P.4). (Note: Translated into today’s dollars, these estimates would be a multiple of those quoted — perhaps in the $100 million-plus area.)
8. Until an end use for the School is identified any cost estimate is pure conjecture. (P.8).
9. The Committee has significantly underestimated the extent of work and its cost. (P.4).
10. The cost projection of $100 per year for the “average GC resident” over a 15-year period, is not a realistic reflection of actual cost. (P.3).
11. There is no evidence that lead paint is the only environmental hazard that exists within the proposed occupied areas. (P.5).
12. The Committee has not fully addressed the significant building code and life safety challenges presented by the School. (P.9).
The Mayor’s view of the E&B report:   At the Nov. 30th Work Session of the BOT, dedicated to St. Paul’s, Mayor Veneziale disparaged the Report, stating that he does not accept it as accurate. He implied that the Report was stale and not applicable to today’s world. I disagree with his assessment. 
If anything, the condition of the Building is worse today than 10 years ago. In fact, care and maintenance of the structure has been poor from the day Garden City purchased it in 1992.
My conclusions: The highly critical, embarrassing E&B Report was apparently ignored and suppressed for 10 years by persons who knew of its contents and are involved today in the rosy, optimistic one-dimensional publicity — at town halls and in other media publicity — which has been financed by thousands of dollars of funds granted by the BOT.  This statement applies especially to the USES and Historical subcommittees. The For Demolition (FDEM) Committee of which I am a member continues to espouse demolition of the building and creation of a Village park for all residents to enjoy. We believe that sometime in mid-late 2023 a Village-wide vote would agree with us.
Unfortunately, the St. Paul’s Committee remains on track to follow its path of unrealistic expectations. To our knowledge no external consultant has ever given a clean bill of health as to the structural integrity of the building. FDEM hopes the Committee and the Board will recognize the folly of their beliefs next year. Lastly, we are not saying that the Committee and Board will repeat all the errors of the past. We are saying that the condition of  the building and the costs to redevelop it, have not been accurately described up to now.
George M. Salem
Note: The actual E&B Report we have referred to above is 60 pages long. The Summary that we have excerpted is 12 pages and appears at the start of the Report. To access it go to the Incorporated Village of Garden City website, scroll down, on the left side, to St. Paul’s, choose “Assessment Conditions, October 24, 2012.”

One response to “Excoriating review of St. Paul’s”

  1. Daniel Oppenheimer says:

    #8…”any cost estimate is pure conjecture…” has been true since the building was purchased with no clear objective 30 years ago. If all else fails, perhaps changing the building name to another Patron Saint (lost causes, protection against nightmares, shipwrecks, etc.) may offer some relief.

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