To the Editor:
During the last several weeks, village officials sent out RFPs (requests for proposals) seeking candidate firms to provide them with comparative analysis and cost estimates — for renovating St. Paul’s building, versus demolition of all or parts of it, or facadism (saving only the front walls). Administering the search for the Village were Giuseppe Giovannielo, Superintendent of the Building Dept., Ralph Suozzi, Village Administrator, and John Borroni, Senior Civil Engineer. Also, there may have been oversight by some Trustees.
There were two rounds of requests, possibly owing to the fact that the first did not produce a satisfactory number of acceptable applicants. The first round contacted 13 construction firms; only four responded. One was accepted. No explanations were disclosed to the public. Westerman Construction Company, of NYC, was the winner. A few weeks later, on September 26, a second round of RFPs were sent out — to 11 firms with a return deadline of October 10. This time only three were returned, and again, one was accepted. Interestingly, it was Westerman Construction–same firm as the first round. They quoted $69,000 for the estimating job — up 25% from $55,000 in the first round.
This outcome was curious to me. Furthermore, there was no public disclosure for this “unusual” event, other than Garden City’s statement that Westerman was the lowest bidder, and the firm was no stranger to Garden City officials — including Mayor Veneziale. His architectural firm (he is CEO) has done some historic preservation work. As far as we know, no other Trustee has professional experience in historic building redevelopment. We wonder, was the cheapest bid, $69,000, a principal selection criterion? Importantly, Village officials did not disclose fully how the applicants were selected from the NY State “Contract Reporter.” The key to GC is how strong is Westerman’s resume in doing our needed work? Lastly, it could be possible that Westerman was truly the best applicant. We simply do not know. And we should have been told.
The BOT Meeting of October 27
On the agenda for the meeting was a vote of the Trustees to approve Westerman to do the Cost Estimator job. During the Q&A, I raised this question: “Why are you selecting an estimator now when we have not yet come up with a final plan– of what Trustees, the Mayor’s St. Paul’s Committee and residents have decided? Aren’t you placing the cart before the horse? This does not make sense!! For example, we do not yet have a completed EIS (Environmental Impact Study), a legal requirement which could take a year or two to complete. Nor have design, stabilization and abatement been completed. These costly phases of preparing for a Village-wide approval of final plans must await any formal plans or else the estimator is working with partial information which he needs to do accurate work. At the meeting Q&A, No Trustee seemed to endorse my questions and conclusions– except one person.
Trustee Mary Carter Flanagan to the rescue.
As the BOT vote to approve Westerman became imminent, Trustee Mary Carter Flanagan bravely asked the Mayor for the vote to be temporarily removed from the agenda until there is a fuller understanding of what they should know. What then ensued was roughly two hours of vigorous debate, among the Trustees, and attending residents, with no conclusions — and no vote. Flanagan was correct! It was premature to vote. Crucially, there are literally dozens of potential plans based on: the nature of preservation, the varieties of partial or full facadism, different methods of demolition and the myriad choices of uses that need finalization from residents’ and Trustees’ inputs. The combinations and permutations of potential outcomes is enormous!
Now What and So What?
Frankly, I don’t know what comes next. We are at a standstill of sorts.The next Trustee meeting is November 17. However, an earlier approval vote on the estimator could be called. In my view this would be unwise. Or the vote might not take place until more required steps occur. We all must accept the reality that all this takes time. In total, we understand that the entire completion of a renovated, repurposed St Paul’s, for adaptive re-use, could take about five years — more than twice the time for simple demolition, at a fraction of the cost, and less risk of a variety of unexpected construction, legal or financial adversities. These time estimates above were given, at the Oct. 26th Town Hall, by executives of the highly- respected construction consultant to Garden City over the years — Thornton-Tomasetti. We were also disappointed by the disclosure by Westerman in their response stating they would rely somewhat on previous work performed by Tomasetti and others. Conditions today are VERY different than 3 to 15 years ago and should not be relied on today, in our view.
In addition, this project is huge, likely costing more than Garden City can afford, too large (over 110,000 sq. ft.) for many firms to accept, and somewhat unique, in many respects, in repurposement history, in the U.S. and globally. Haste makes waste. And delays cost money; and “comparables” are fewer and less relevant today.
One thing I can conclude: enough homework has not been done by Village officials, and residents have been in the dark. More discussion would be wise. The Trustees must have the final vote, with guidance from the residents’ poll. Presently the Board seems divided on moving ahead with St. Paul’s plans. The opinion poll seems to us many months away– into spring- summer 2023, and there is a Village Trustees and Mayoral election in March 2023.
Crucially, the estimator’s job has rarely been this difficult. It is sort of like trying to “fly a kite in a hurricane!” decades – high Inflation, high interest rates, economic and geo-political and supply chain issues are producing wild swings in material prices. This may warrant some delaying or altering the estimator’s report. Finally, expected delays could produce greater appeal, in the planned, eventual, village-wide approval poll, in favor of “demolition, AND adding a public park” as advocated by the FDEM Committee, of which I am a founding member, and others. More residents are simply saying… enough is enough!! I have run out of patience. I will not support it financially. Tear it down! We hear this a lot– currently and for the past many years we have studied the St. Paul’s challenge.
Please note: FDEM will cover this subject in greater detail at our planned Town Hall Meeting, devoted exclusively to our case for demolition. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, December 6, at 7:30pm, at the Senior Center.
George M. Salem