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Preservationists: Think Outside The Box

A Forum to Preserve Historic St. Paul’s School

Preservationists offered insight into how the Garden City community can ensure the historic St. Paul’s School lives up to its name on the Preservation League of New York State’s “Seven to Save” list during a forum June 17.

The Garden City Historical Society hosted “Garden City to Become Anytown, USA?”
The Society invited individual preservationists (whose specialties spanned a vast array of fields) to speak to the satisfactions that preservation of historic structures could afford local communities.
The panel raised many points, emphasizing the fundamental importance of thinking outside of the box in solving the financial and functional issues impairing the maintenance of St. Paul’s.
“There are many solutions of varying stripes. No two communities are the same but there is always a solution,” Erin Tobin, regional director of technical and grant programs for the Eastern New York Preservation League of New York State, said.
Every preservation network has its own system of solving financial issues in addition to bonding solutions. There are grants available including support from the Environmental Protection Agency and Restore New York. The key to successful preservation is creativity, Tobin said, citing a community in Albany that transformed an abandoned school into artists’ lofts as an example.
Perhaps the most applicable example of a community that worked creatively to maintain structures with historic character is Roslyn. John Collins, architectural historian and preservation consultant to the Incorporated Village of Roslyn’s Historic Board, presented an overview of the historic preservation of Roslyn as an example in design. He pointed out, “Part of Garden City’s quality of life resides in its stock of architecture.”
Roslyn’s preservation is the result of one of Long Island’s strongest restoration district ordinances. Further, preservation covenants are attached to the deeds of certain historic locations within the town, Collins noted.
“By choosing to live in these areas, though Roslyn residents lose some individual rights, they receive a lot in return, including the stability of community character, which equates to a certain quality of life,” Collins said. Garden City, as Tobin points out, could take from this model to create a plan that worked for them.
Garden City Historical Society President Brian Pinnola opened the floor for questions from the audience. Residents desired to know if any state and/or federal organizations existed to slow the oncoming demolition.
“The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires local lead agencies to conduct Environmental Impact Statements,” Tobin said. Just a month ago, the village released a Draft Scoping Document for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that Garden City residents can comment on.
Alexandra Parsons Wolfe, director of preservation services for the Society of Preservation of Long Island Antiquities urged residents to participate in the EIS process and to vote ‘no’ on the bond referendum if still not satisfied. “It is required by law that you have access to this document,” she said.
All the panelists, including Paul Van Wie, commissioner of landmarks and historic preservation for the Town of Hempstead, agreed on the importance of grassroots organizations and a letter writing campaign to Garden City’s mayor, Robert Rothschild, expressing concern. “Let them know you won’t stand for demolition,” Tobin said.
Other residents brought up the option of volunteer work as the primary force behind St. Paul’s’ continued existence. Wolfe affirmed that this frame of mind was exactly the kind of thinking the Garden City community needs to ensure demolition does not occur. Further, initial volunteer involvement will lead to greater time investments from community members as they become more willing to help.
Tobin spoke of the importance of enlisting one’s neighbor in the St. Paul’s cause: door-to-door petition signing and other actions that suggest an organized force that is prideful and unwilling to give up this historic treasure are key.
In addition to the presence of St. Paul’s alumni, Mayor Rothschild attended the forum along with Trustees Donald Brudie, Lawrence Quinn and John Watras and Village Administrator Bob Schoelle.
Members from the Committee to Save St. Paul’s, Ed Keating and Frank McDonough, were delighted that the Historical Society decided to take an active role. They urge residents to look at the EIS as objectively and carefully as possible.
“Getting rid of this building will mark a visible change to the historical and cultural landscape of Garden City,” McDonough said. They both agreed that there is no immediate need to come up with a plan for the entire building at once.
Pinnola, following a remark by Tobin about another structure that not only was preserved but won the Preservation League’s exemplary award, said, “Our goal is to win the Excellence in Preservation Award in 2015.”
Cathy Wood, who attended the forum with her son, Alex, a Garden City Middle School student, added: “We have to save St. Paul’s. We came here tonight to get more involved.”