Officials are aiming to rebuild the Tesla Science Center in Shoreham after a fire destroyed the north side of the building and left parts of its historic laboratory in ruins. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone, John Paraskevas; File Footage; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Leaders of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday vowed to rebuild, one week after a fire tore through the Shoreham building, destroying the north side and leaving parts of its historic laboratory in ruins.

Standing in front of the charred wreckage of famed inventor Nikola Tesla's final laboratory, Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi said the Nov. 21 blaze caused an estimated $3 million in damage to the building's roof, chimney and dome-like cupola.

The bricks, walls and windows of the famed laboratory, which center officials still hope to restore and transform into a global innovation center, educational facility and museum, also will have to be replaced, Alessi said. The fire broke out amid an ongoing $20 million restoration of the 16-acre property,

"We need to secure this lab. We need to stop water intrusion and further damage. And then we need to complete this project," Alessi said, adding that insurance will only cover a small percentage of the repairs. " … Failure is not an option for us."

What to know

  • The leaders of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe have launched an international fundraising campaign, hoping to raise $3 million to rebuild and recover from a devastating fire at the historic Shoreham facility last week
  • The Nov. 21 blaze caused significant damage to famed inventor Nikola Tesla's final lab, including the roof, chimney and cupola, along with the exterior of the building, which was built in 1901
  • Center officials insist that the blaze will not deter them from a $20 million effort, which has been ongoing for years, to transform the lab into a global innovation center, educational facility and museum. 

More than 100 firefighters from 17 departments responded to the late-night fire, which restarted twice more the following morning. The cause remains under investigation, although officials have ruled out arson.

Center officials are conducting a damage assessment, but a timeline for the repairs has not been established.

A Tuesday tour of the property's exterior showed the century-old laboratory's windows and doors had been blown out in some areas. Piles of ash were clearly visible on the roof. Debris, including plywood, cinder blocks, bricks, metal beams and glass, was scattered throughout the buildings' footprint.

An aerial shot shows the extent of the damage at...

An aerial shot shows the extent of the damage at the Tesla Science Center. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Mark Thaler, a historical architect tasked with helping on the restoration, said the center is fortunate that Tesla's original building, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, was largely fireproof.

"The original Tesla brick walls are still standing. We have lost some of the roof structure, which will be able to be restored," Thaler said. "Our next step is to really go through and understand the process in the next few weeks here of cleaning out the building and making sure that the walls are secured and keeping the water out of the building and helping to dry it out."

While the bones of the laboratory building, built in 1901 by famed architect Stanford White, appear intact, the interior, along with an adjoining structure that had been in the process of being demolished, sustained heavy damage. No historical artifacts or documents were lost or damaged in the blaze. 

Rich Bernier, assistant fire chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, slipped off the roof of his ladder truck while responding to the blaze, suffering a broken right hand, and injuries to his spine and wrist. 

"I'm already on the road to recovery and back at work already," said Bernier, who has been on the job for 17 years. 

To begin the rebuilding process, Alessi on Tuesday launched Mission Rebuild, an international fundraising campaign. That's separate from the center's $20 million campaign to restore the interior of the laboratory. To date, the center has raised $14 million toward that goal from state, federal and county sources, along with private foundations.

Alessi acknowledged on Tuesday that the fire likely will push back the timeline for the restoration project, and could make maintaining the historical accuracy of Tesla's original laboratory nearly impossible.

Jane Alcorn, a member of the center's board of directors who has spent decades advocating for the restoration of the laboratory, said she initially was devastated to learn about the fire.

"Emotionally, I look at the building and it gives you a sinking feeling at first," Alcorn said. "But then I feel hopeful because we are going to get the support and we are going to get through this."

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