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Garden City nixes donation for St. Paul's

A view of St. Paul's School in Garden

A view of St. Paul's School in Garden City. (July 6, 2010) Credit: NEWSDAY/Karen Wiles Stabile

The Garden City Village board has rejected two offers to help pay for $11,300 in repairs to the historic St. Paul's School clock tower face and roof, which were damaged during Tropical Storm Irene.

The Committee to Save St. Paul's offered to donate 50 percent of the cost if the village paid the other half. Garden City residents Bob and Patricia Kaliban, who are not part of the independent group, offered to foot the entire repair bill, but five of the village's eight trustees voted against both proposals at their meeting Thursday night.

"It's silly to let this magnificent building fall down without making an effort," said Patricia Kaliban, 78, a 42-year village resident. "The five trustees don't seem to feel that way."

Mayor Don Brudie, Deputy Mayor John Watras and trustee Andrew Cavanaugh voted to accept the donations, while trustees Brian Daughney, Dennis Donnelly, Laurence Quinn, John DeMaro and Nick Episcopia opposed.

"They voted it down without reason," Brudie said. "It's incredible. Why would you turn down donated money?" He added, "They just want the place to collapse."

Quinn said he rejected the committee's offer because it would have meant also accepting its $8.2-million proposal to restore the four-story red brick building. He added the Kalibans' offer was presented "improperly" because it was not on the agenda for the meeting.

"I don't see anything more than the front that is worth preserving," said Quinn, who would like the property to be used as a recreation center.

Committee president Peter Negri said the board's latest vote shows it is in favor of demolition by neglect.

"I don't think five people should decide for 22,000 people what will happen with a village treasure," said Negri, pointing out voters in April rejected a $3.75-million plan to demolish the 500-room structure.

The committee submitted to the village board in October a plan to rehabilitate 10,500 square feet of the building and turn it into a community center.

Some village trustees including Quinn were concerned that the committee, which is working with the Garden City Historical Society, had underestimated the cost to revitalize the 132-year-old building and didn't account for likely cost overruns.

Despite the criticism, Negri said the committee is still willing to meet with the board to attempt to reach a compromise.

"For us to be criticized for doing what the village could have done on its own, it's deplorable," Negri said.

This month, village officials rehired Manhattan-based architects Erwin Lobo Bielinski to review the committee's proposal and come up with other options. A report by the firm in January said it would cost $40 million to restore and stabilize the building.

"Until we determine what we are going to do with the building, it would be disingenuous to take money from someone," Donnelly said.

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