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Garden City votes to protect St. Paul's School

By Jory M. Heckman, Staff Writer

In a 3-to-1 vote ratio, Garden City residents decidedly rejected Wednesday's referendum that would have led the way to demolishing St. Paul's School, a historic school building that dates back to the founding of the village.

Around 11 p.m., the official ballot count was released to The Chronicle by Maureen Traxler, administrative and communications director for the Committee to Save St. Paul's.

"Your vote, be it against funding for demolition or for the funding is very important," said newly-installed Mayor Don Brudie in the days leading up to this decisive moment. "Please make your voice heard."

His call to action took notice.

3,290 voters decided against a plant that would issue $3.75 million in bonds to raze the school's Main Building and the adjacent Ellis Hall, while 1,120 votes were cast in favor of the proposal.

Mayor Brudie, a longtime supporter of St. Paul's, derided the demolition option as, "paying [$3.75 million] to do the dirty work for a developer," according to the Garden City News.  

For 17 years, the board of trustees has run the gamut of business offers for the property, most of which fizzled out as empty speculation. Now that the vote is in, residents are looking to revitalize the long-neglected property.

"It's a significant building for not only the village, but for all of Long Island because of its age," said Traxler. "We [the Committee to Save St. Paul's] would like to see the building have some kind of community use in the future." 

Citing the trustees' Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) made last February, Traxler expressed doubt as to whether tearing down the property would have made any sense for Garden City.

"The statement itself points out just what the Committee to Save St. Paul's has been saying–that this is part of our makeup here in the village, it's part of our landscape here in the village," she said.

Dating back to the late 1800s, St. Paul's School pays homage to Alexander Stewart, the founder of Garden City. The site has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, though its prominence has not guaranteed protection.

"The village hasn't given the building the attention that it should have," said Traxler. "In some ways, they did not fulfill what they should have done to keep the building safe."

Within the last two years, Garden City administrators also pulled funding to provide low-level heating to the defunct school–a necessary utility to keep the proliferation of mold and other contaminants in check.

With the failure of the referendum, the Committee to Save St. Paul's hopes to get board approval to maintain the ground floor of the main building.

"If we can do a phase one project and restore the building, then we'll have to put our heads together and think of what we can further do for the upper floors to bring in revenue and keep the building going," said Traxler.

Subsequent decisions following the referendum will be addressed at the next board of trustees meeting Thursday, May 5.


St. Paul’s School, a historic Garden City building, was protected from razing. (Jory M. Heckman/The Chronicle)

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