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Garden City rejects plan to save St. Paul's

The front of St. Paul's School in Garden

The front of St. Paul's School in Garden City. The Village board is to seek competitive bids for remediation and deconstruction on the campus. Credit: Newsday, 2011 / Karen Wiles Stabile

The Garden City Village Board has rejected an $8.2 million proposal from the Committee to Save St. Paul's to partially restore the historic school.

The board voted, 5-3, Thursday to accept a report from the village-hired forensic architect who reviewed the proposal for the 1883 behemoth from the committee, which was working with the Garden City Historical Society. Then the board decided -- by the same 5-3 margin -- to turn down the committee's plan for the four-story red brick building.

Trustees Brian Daughney, Dennis Donnelly, Laurence Quinn, John DeMaro and Nicholas Episcopia voted for the report and against the proposal, while Mayor Donald Brudie, Deputy Mayor John Watras and Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh were the opposing votes.

Don Erwin, principal of the Manhattan-based architect firm Erwin & Bielinski, said the 130-year-old building's "fatal flaw" is being a possible fire hazard with its wood floors and ceilings. He said the committee's plan to rehabilitate 10,500 square feet of St. Paul's into a community center is not feasible because the entire building would need to be brought up to code before it could be used safely. He also said the committee underestimated the project's cost.

"As a forensic architect, I have to look at the building for what it really is," said Erwin, calling the building "iconic."

"I look at it like a veterinarian," he said. "At some point, you have to say, 'I have to put that horse down.' "

Building superintendent Michael Filippon concurred with the report's findings but Brudie expressed his displeasure. Brudie later added that the board's decision would lead to "demolition by neglect" and noted that voters in April 2011 rejected a $3.75 million plan to demolish the 500-room structure.

"It looks to me like you're trying to put the nail on the coffin on St. Paul's," Brudie told Erwin. "I think it is overkill."

Committee president Peter Negri said Friday in a statement that he stands by the year-old plan developed by engineers and architects with historic preservation experience. Another architect said the proposal was in compliance with state and local building codes and a consultant recommended by the village verified the costs, he said.

"The proposal was presented as a viable 'first step,' protecting the entire building and adhering to all fire safety measures throughout the building," Negri said.

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