By Lara Rydesky
Over four thousand Village of Garden City residents showed up to the St. Paul’s Field House on Oct. 21 to vote in a public opinion poll on whether they thought the school’s historic main building should be demolished or preserved. After 13 hours of polling, 61% of participants voted for partial or full preservation, while the remaining 39% voted for demolition.
The vote was the most recent step in a decades-long debate on the future of the St. Paul’s School main building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a program of the National Park Service. Now it is up to Garden City officials to determine if and precisely how the preservation process will play out.
“St. Paul’s is not only regionally important, but is also one of the great works of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States,” said Tara Cubie, preservation director of Preservation Long Island, advocating for adaptive reuse of St. Paul’s School. “Its destruction would be a tremendous loss.”
St. Paul’s School first opened in 1883 as a boys’ Episcopal military school, and remained active until its owner, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, filed for bankruptcy in 1991. It was soon bought by the Village of Garden City with the intention of using its playing fields, and since then, the main building has stood empty with a lack of consensus on its fate.
Option one of the vote, for preservation, included two potential plans, the first being adaptive reuse. This plan would cost an estimated $52.5 million, according to a report by Westerman Construction, and would include asbestos abatement, installation of air conditioning and removal of all non-load bearing walls, among many other changes. The goal would be to turn the former school into a usable community center or other similar facility.
The second possibility under option one was facadism, in which only the southern-facing facade of the main building would be preserved, while the wings, cottages and northern facade would be demolished. This would cost an estimated $46.4 million for a self-sustained facade that would be unusable by the public.
Another option would allow St. Paul’s facade to be used by the public, but would rely on a new building to be constructed behind the facade within two years. Initially, this option would cost less, at $37.5 million, but would additionally cost anywhere from $50 million 120 million to build the attachment, depending on its complexity.
“If you were to select the lesser number, you really have to build something within a few years after conducting that procedure,” said Lloyd G. Westerman of Westerman Construction in a public presentation on Oct. 3. “Something has to be connected to it.”
Option two of the vote, demolition, would cost much less for Garden City taxpayers, at roughly $17.7 million, should village officials choose to salvage distinctive parts of the building for future use, and $12.8 million should they not. After Sunday’s poll, however, demolition seems unlikely.
“The Board of Trustees looks forward to presenting plans to preserve part or all of the St. Paul’s main building, supported by data,” said Garden City Mayor Mary Carter Flanagan in a statement on Garden City’s website.
The vote’s purpose was to assess public opinion, so no final plans have been confirmed regarding the building’s future. However, it was “an important first step towards making a decision on the St. Paul’s Main Building,” Flanagan said.
For The Advocate’s previous reporting on St. Paul’s School, click here.