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Letter: An Open Letter to Our Residents About St. Paul’s

The five undersigned Trustees have determined it necessary to provide this letter to our residents in light of current discussions regarding the former St Paul’s School building.

We realize that St. Paul’s is an ongoing issue for many village residents, and that some accuse us of having “no vision” if we do not agree with the Committee to Save St. Paul’s (CSSP) and the Historical Society. To the contrary, we certainly do have a vision.

First and foremost, our vision is to preserve the infrastructure and services that Garden City residents expect and for which you pay with your tax dollars. Any plan to use the building, or part of it, must be considered in light of this primary consideration. We hope to flesh out a more defined plan for the 25-year vacant facility in the weeks and months ahead. We are going to move forward. We are aware that some might like a recreation, community and senior center. Some residents say they just want a decision. Others are very concerned about the economy and tax increases and do not want any money spent on the building. Others want it preserved. We hear all of you.

We also need to correct the inaccurate factual statements published by the CSSP and set the record straight regarding the recent events regarding the current version of the CSSP’s “plan” and the so called “letter of support” it insisted that the Board of Trustees authorize for it, ostensibly for a grant application. We see the events leading up to and comprising the Oct. 6 public Board Meeting in a completely different light.  

As you may have read in the papers, at the conclusion of the CSSP’s proposal presentation to the public at a Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 6, 2011, the CSSP, Mayor Brudie and Trustee Cavanaugh pressured the other members of the Board of Trustees to authorize the execution by the Mayor of the so-called letter of support. We were told that it was vital that we provide this authorization that evening because the time to file the application expired on October 31, 2011. We were not given a copy of the grant, any background information or any details on the legal aspects of the grant. We were told to just approve the execution of the letter by the mayor. When we objected we were ridiculed for delaying this important work. When Village counsel was asked if there were any strings attached to the grant he said that he did not know. Village counsel stated that he had not seen the letter in advance and he needed time to research this issue.  

The factual background is now coming to light. The grant does have significant strings attached, including a preservation covenant. Under this preservation covenant if the Village used grant funds to repair the roof of the building, the village would be required to obtain the State’s approval prior to any change to the building. The CSSP knew about this and the other strings attached to the grant. Its representative attended a meeting on June 15, 2011 where the rules and regulations on grants were explained – this was 114 days prior to the Oct. 6 board of trustees meeting. Again, the undersigned trustees first learned about the grant on Oct. 6 with the rest of the public. We question why the information and proposed letter were not shared with us sooner.

At the subsequent board of trustees meeting on Oct. 20, 2011, Mayor Brudie admitted that there were substantial strings attached to the grant application and that the village would not be moving forward with the letter or the grant application.

Prior to the referendum put forth earlier this year which asked residents whether or not the village should issue bonds to demolish the building and Ellis Hall (which is the small building to the right of the main building), the CSSP presented its plan to spend $8 million to $10 million for some limited renovation. They proposed to create approximately 10,000 square feet of public meeting space on the first floor of the 125,000-square-foot building, restore the chapel, and make minimal repairs to the structure. This virtually same proposal was made again in June of this year, and again presented to the board of trustees in September and October.

At an estimated cost of $8 to $10 million, the plan put forth by the CSSP is not, in its own words, intended to restore the building or even properly mothball the unused portion, but simply to make basic repairs to the existing windows, façade and roof. The village board of trustees is being asked to commit your tax dollars to partially “stabilize” the building. How much? Well it could be an initial $10 million under the most recent version of the CSSP plan, or it could be $21 million under the numbers submitted by its consultant – Turner Construction – a highly regarded international construction firm. Despite the CSSP’s odd attempt to paint an opposite picture, Turner Construction is the CSSP’s consultant – not hired or retained by the village.

The CSSP’s original proposal made in June 2010, which we believe is substantially similar to its Oct. 6 proposal, was reviewed and examined by the village’s expert consultant, Erwin Lobo Bielinski PLLC. ELB’s findings are located in Appendix M to the Final Environmental Impact Statement of February 2011, located on the village website. That detailed report states that the CSSP plan is costly and defers the significant bulk of the work and expense of the required stabilization, restoration and renovation until a viable future use is proposed for the entire building. It goes on to state that the $8 to $10 million projected cost of this proposal:

(i) is under estimated;
(ii) would be largely wasted if a reuse option is implemented;
(iii) defers the cost of full stabilization, restoration and renovation;
(iii) requires a significantly higher Village expenditure to demolition;
(v) requires continued annual funding;
(vi) is insufficient to avoid future deterioration of unused portions of the building; and
(vii) relies on funding to complete the restoration from a yet to be defined future reuse.

The CSSP has been making the rounds in various village meetings and in the media stating there is no need for any independent review of the costs or the overall feasibility or practicality of their “new” plan. According to the CSSP, there need not be any expert opinion on what really has to be spent to preserve the building or bring it up to code to allow public use. The CSSP asserts that it has done all the vetting of its plan and the village board should just sign on and send out the bill to the taxpayers.

We assure you that any plan submitted to the board of trustees will be properly vetted by a consultant engaged by the village. In addition, we will not approve any band-aid proposal. And, we will not obligate taxpayers for the next 15 to 30 years with a project that has escalating costs, no plan for 90 percent of the space or any estimate of potential future expenditures.   

But enough of the past. As stated earlier, we will be moving forward.

Nicolas Episcopia
Dennis Donnelly
Laurence Quinn
Brian Daughney
John DeMaro