As the board continues looking closely at the demolition option for St. Paul's, although willing to entertain better ideas if they came along, some residents are wondering if payouts to consultants and an environmental law firm to research the option is putting the cart before the horse since the village is still shelling out $171,000 annually to heat the empty, unused building.
"If we continue funding the heating of this building, then there's no reason to fund an expense to take it down," Deputy Mayor Tom Lamberti, who is urging his fellow board members to remove the heating expenditure from the budget, said.
A prepared Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is slated to cost the village $35,000. A full study is being performed because negative impacts of demolition are anticipated. If this proves true, recommendations will then be presented to mitigate those impacts.
Trustees engaged the environmental law firm of Sive Paget & Riesel, P.C. to determine whether or not an EIS was even necessary. The firm deemed such was and now trustees want to retain a consultant to coordinate the EIS. Cost proposals went back and forth for weeks, and staff has offered the board a recommendation to move forward with.
Grove Street resident Bob Orosz, who's always kept a close eye on the village's expenditures, told trustees the demolition option should go to a vote first, through public referendum. If the public referendum were approved, it would essentially authorize trustees to sell the bond for demolition; it's not an order to demolish the building. According to Village Auditor Jim Olivo, authorization to sell the bond expires after 10 years.
"There's no point in having all these people, and all these consultants and all these attorneys and so on if finally it goes to a vote and it gets voted down," Orosz said. "Why don't we vote for it first to see if there's enough people out there who want to vote for demolition and then go forward with these attorneys, consultants and so on."
Deputy Mayor Lamberti said the goal at the end of the day is to minimize expenses in this serious financial crisis. "In reality, if we don't stop [paying to heat the building] now, then we're buying into a continuous maintenance factor for the future, which could be four or five years, which could amount to a million dollars," he said.
"You can't have it both ways. You can't fund experts to take the building down at the same time you're going to fund to keep the building heated," Deputy Mayor Lamberti continued.
Trustee Donald Brudie doesn't want to rush to judgment. "Let's say the referendum was voted down. Where are we? We don't have the money to demolish the building ... There seems to be a rush to judgment," he said.
Trustee Brudie would like to see, but not necessarily immediately, a straw vote. "We're down to an almost 50-50 percent situation. Take a straw vote and see what the people really want," he said. "If they want to save the building, we save the building. We expend the money. If they don't want the building, if the majority of the village says, 'we want it demolished,' than we go forward with these expenditures.
"We could end up with the same result, be it one month from now or 10 months from now. There's no immediacy here. Why are we spending money? Why are we throwing good money after bad when we don't know the direction we're going in?"
Trustee Brudie's argument, at first glance, seems logical, Trustee Nick Episcopia said. "We really don't want to spend any money, especially in this budget. On the other hand, we're trying to move forward along the lines of what the POA poll said," Trustee Episcopia said.
"People could disagree one way or another about what the poll said. But one thing was clear, the majority wants to demolish [the building]," Trustee Episcopia said. "All we're doing here is moving forward to find out what the people want us to do. To go back and do another poll that the POAs just did? We can't do it. We can't authorize polls."
He finds it highly unlikely in these poor economic times that a white knight will come along and save St. Paul's. "It is hardly likely someone is going to come along and want to do something with that building," Trustee Episcopia said.
Mayor Peter Bee reiterated that trustees continue to take "very seriously" any organizations claiming they have the answer to St. Paul's. "We continue to do that in hopes that something might materialize. Thus far, to my knowledge, nothing has materialized which has been satisfactory," Mayor Bee said. "We have been marching down the path of demolition. A path we are hoping someone will knock us off but hasn't knocked us off to date and we have no expectation that we will be knocked off that plan."
Mayor Bee, who has just weeks left serving Garden City as mayor, continued, adding, "There is currently nobody standing there saying, 'Let me go take a look at St. Paul's. I have a great idea. I can do it.' Everybody that's come along we have seriously evaluated, we've looked at it, that's where we are. Absent there being a proposal on the table that we think would take us away from the path of demolition, it would seem to me that's the path we would have to go down. But I wait the pleasure of the board."
Trustee Rob Rothschild, expected to take over the mayoral reigns in a few weeks, couldn't' believe his fellow board members were talking about the vote - again. "The POAs were very helpful in getting that accomplished. It was successful in a lot of people's minds because it got us to a point where we were ready to make a decision and move forward," Trustee Rothschild said.
"I have a concern that people will want to sit here and make a decision about St. Paul's that have either never been in the building or it's been quite a while since they've been in the building. Between the last six or seven months, the building has continued to deteriorate. It has deteriorated with the heat being on. It's going to continue to deteriorate even more so if the heat is turned off."
Trustee Rothschild, who would love to see St. Paul's stand, thinks the EIS study is the right thing to do at this time. "We've taken 15 years to try and figure this out. We have gotten to the point where we want to continue to move forward. I think this is the right thing to do," he said.