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More Controversy Stirs Over St. Paul’s

Board approves additional proposal reviews; votes down funding for building repairs

There was palpable tension in the air last week as members of the Garden City Village Board traded several barbs over how to proceed with plans for St. Paul’s main building. Disagreements stemmed from myriad issues, from approving the allocation of funds to hire an architectural and engineering firm to review the Committee to Save St. Paul’s (CSSP) most recent proposal to whether or not to fix the building’s damaged clock tower and roof as a result of Hurricane Irene.

Discussions became contentious when Trustee Dennis Donnelly introduced what appeared to be a simple motion, listed under the new business portion of the agenda, to hire a consultant to review the CSSP’s updated proposal made in October 2011 to rehabilitate St. Paul’s Main Building.

Donnelly stated: “Be it hereby resolved that the village hire Erwin-Lobo & Bielinski (forensic architects and engineers) to review, compare and contrast any new proposal submitted by the Committee to Save St. Paul’s for the restoration of St. Paul’s main building with their prior submissions. In addition, that the ELB engage in a full analysis of options 5 and 6 (which are outlined in Appendix M of the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) on page 14 of 29 under Alternative Approaches.) These options refer to the removal of wings of St. Paul’s either in whole or in part.

“Further that this endeavor shall not exceed $20,000 in aggregate. All communications shall be coordinated by and be directed through Mike Filippon and the Building Department and forwarded to the board of trustees by Village Administrator Bob Schoelle.”

Trustee Cavanaugh was the first to comment on the item, stating that while he was “favorably impressed” by the motion, he hoped it could be expanded upon to include proposals that may be submitted to the board from other interested parties.

Donnelly stated that while he was not opposed to Cavanaugh’s amendment, he did not know what the potential costs would be for other proposals in the future. As a result, Cavanaugh offered to change the motion to have retention available with respect to any submission but to “limit the cost to the CSSP request to the initial $20,000.”

Deputy Mayor John Watras voiced his concerns that the costs for reviews could increase as other parties submit proposals. “Twenty, 40, 60, 80,000; it’s going to add up. So what are we going to do here?” Watras said.

Donnelly argued to keep the motion only as it pertains to CSSP’s proposal as it is the only one before the board at this time. “What we are trying to deal with is what we know. Should we do nothing in the interim?”

Mayor Donald Brudie advised the board to consider all proposals before spending additional funds. “I think that it would be wise to wait from an economical standpoint until all proposals are finished,” Brudie said.

Watras advocated his support to fix the roof and clock tower at a cost of $11,300 and amended Donnelly’s already amended motion. “If I am not mistaken, we are in dire shape,” Watras said about the deteriorating condition of the building.

Donnelly maintained that no one who has ever had a proposal relating to St. Paul’s has ever addressed saving the clock tower. “The CSSP in all their presentations, there has not been five cents allocated to the clock tower. So I don’t approve saving the clock tower since they’re not and no one has ever addressed the issue to save it. So for us to go spend money, as far as I can tell, nobody’s looking to save. I don’t know why we would spend the money,” Donnelly argued.

Mayor Brudie stressed that if St. Paul’s ever was demolished, the village should consider saving the clock tower. “It’s a landmark so there was talk about saving the clock tower,” he said.

Recreation Department Director Kevin Ocker explained the details of the damage to the building and recommended repair. “We have four areas that sustained damage from the hurricane. Several areas of the roof were peeled away. The building is exposed in those areas to the elements. The south base of the clock tower itself fell out. It was really a wooden frame structure,” he said. “In all of these areas, we recommend repair basically because the building is open to the elements. If it rains, it pours in those areas. The rest of the building is tight,” Ocker added.

Trustee John DeMaro inquired that if the village does not do the repairs, would the building pose a health and safety issue for residents? DeMaro asked, “Is there a possibility that if somebody walking nearby would be hit by a piece of the roof or a piece of the clock?”

Ocker responded, “I would say ‘absolutely’ because there are loose things coming off the building all the time. We did take a proactive stance and we put in some more permanent fencing around the clock tower portion of that wing to keep the public away, but there’s a lot of material that is in need of repair,” he added.

Trustee Nicholas Episcopia chimed in that unless the clock tower represents “a clear and present danger,” it is most likely a separate issue. “That’s an issue of aesthetics and I am assuming it’s an issue of some degree of danger,” Episcopia said.

Brudie said he had a problem with the motion altogether. “This is something you brought up last month on the agenda and removed from the calendar and now you’re skirting the time frame for placing it on the calendar as new business. It’s really not new business. I don’t think the motion should be entertained at this time…It’s something you had on the agenda last month.”

Donnelly retorted that the motion was different than its previous incarnations. “It is not the same thing. It has significantly added portions,” he said.

“If it looks like a pig, sounds like a pig, it usually is a pig. It’s something we had on [the agenda] before,” Brudie replied, adding, “It’s an improper motion.”

Trustee Laurence Quinn asked the mayor for clarification on what constitutes a proper motion for ‘new business.’ The mayor called upon Village Counsel Gerard Fishberg for a specific ruling. Fishberg maintained that you cannot make a motion on something that is not placed on the agenda. “It seems to me that when you have something to discuss under new business, it is supposed to be put on the agenda, you would have that topic that you want to discuss as new business.”

“It’s not an agenda item; it’s a motion,” Donnelly responded.

Trustee Quinn asked if the controversial letter of support for a grant that the CSSP presented to the board for vote in recent weeks was an improper motion because it was new business and not on the agenda.

Brudie responded, “Yes, it was an improper motion that night,” which elicited a large gasp from the audience.

“I’m confused as to why one group be considered improper and the other proper? It was certainly vetted and voted on as new business. I did not necessarily like how it was presented but it was certainly, I think, an appropriate new business item similar to what we have here,” Quinn said.

Brian Daughney asked to suspend the procedures and allow for a vote on Trustee Donnelly’s motion to be added to the agenda. The resolution was approved in a 5 to 3 vote. In a separate vote, Watras’ amended motion to add an $11,300 expenditure for repairs on the roof and on the clock tower was voted down 5 to 3.

Epsicopia went on record to say that if the emergency repairs had come up as separate motion, he may have voted in favor of it. “I voted ‘no’ because Trustee Donnelly had a specific motion that we had to vote on. So it’s a tit-for-tat thing. I say I voted against this more procedurally, I guess, than the fact that I am against repairing the clock tower,” Episcopia said.

Cavanaugh explained why he voted against Donnelly’s motion. “The refusal of certain members of the board to take the reasonable step to spend a reasonable amount of money to preserve the building in the sorry state that in which it currently exists, seems to me to be, I’m sorry to say it, somewhat based in other than the apparent engineering need of the building. It seems to have an ultimate purpose,” he said, adding, “To have not accepted Trustee Watras’ reasonable amendment is to do a disservice to the need, on the one hand, and probably the good functioning of this board.”

Trustee Brian Daughney said unless there was a safety issue, he thought it ‘unreasonable’ to spend money on restoring the building. “I find it a little silly to be asked to spend $11,000 or $35,000 in connection with a motion, which is looking at perhaps cutting down the size of the building,” he said.

During a period of public commentary, former Village Board Trustee Thomas Lamberti asked why the board would hire another architect to review another CSSP proposal when the village already hired an architect to do so as part of the FEIS.

“What I don’t understand is in September, why the CSSP’s proposal wasn’t simply rejected? There’s a $30 million gap between what the architect said is necessary to preserve and restore St. Paul’s and the Committee’s proposal. And the statement that the Committee preserves the building for $10 million isn’t true,” he said.

Lamberti further stated that the CSSP failed to meet the architectural requirements, according to the architecture report (Appendix M). “We just keep circling around…and I find that kind of response to a major issue, I don’t think that you’re effectively doing your job. You should make a decision. It didn’t meet the requirements; it should’ve been over and now you should move on. I don’t see any purpose in going forward, asking architects to do something they’ve already done.”