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Village weighs alternative to demolishing former school

Garden City preservationists have presented the village with an alternative to demolishing the St. Paul's School that would restore part of the historic facility and open it to the public.

Under the plan, proposed by the Committee to Save St. Paul's and the Garden City Historical Society, the village would turn over the 19th-century main building to a conservancy. The not-for-profit would issue $8 million in bonds to repair the exterior of the former boys school, the chapel and 8,100 square feet on the ground floor for the community to use. The rest of the building would be sealed off.

The proposal is a response to an environmental impact study out last month that recommended demolishing the shuttered structure and a modern building at a projected cost of $5.8 million. The seven-acre footprint would be converted into public space for recreation much as the rest of the 48.6-acre campus.

The demolition would save the village up to $200,000 in yearly maintenance costs, as well as an estimated $13.9 million it would have to spend to replace the roof and windows and repair masonry, the study found.

Proponents of preserving the structure, an example of Gothic Revival style listed in the National Register of Historic Places, said they hoped their plan would solve the stalemate over the site's use since the village took ownership of it in 1993.

"It's my fervent belief that once people get to experience it, to see it, they'll like it even more," said Peter Negri, president of the Committee to Save St. Paul's, and a former village trustee.

At a special village board meeting last week, Negri and others laid out details of the plan. Unlike the village, which can't accept donations, the conservancy could raise funds to supplement lease payments from the village, Negri said.

Although the cost to taxpayers of financing the alternative plan would likely exceed the expense of destroying the buildings, proponents say debt payments on the preservation option can be spread out over a longer term than municipal borrowing for demolition.

Borrowing $10 million for restoration and maintenance would cost each taxpayer an average of $105.38 a year, or $1,580.74 a year for 15 years, while repayment of an $8-million municipal bond over 10 years would cost $117.82 a year, or $1,178.15, according to estimates prepared by consultants.

Also, Negri said, new requirements under the environmental impact statements would likely push the cost of the proposed demolition closer to $8 million. The village has said it will update demolition estimates.

For now, the trustees and preservationists will explore forming a joint committee on how to move forward, village administrator Bob Schoelle said.

"Trustees do not want to see the building razed. However, the economics of the situation are a great concern," he said. "The board has consistently said that if somebody can come forward with a proposal to save the building, if it's acceptable, they certainly would consider it."

The site is at Stewart and Rockaway avenues. It was owned by the founder of Garden City, Alexander T. Stewart.

"It's such an important part of Garden City's history," said Brian Pinnola, president of The Garden City Historical Society. "It's unlike anything you see anywhere on Long Island."

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