Listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, St. Paul’s School is one of the most substantial historic buildings on Long Island, and now it’s one of the most threatened.
Designed by Edward H. Harris and built as a memorial to Garden City’s founder, Alexander Turney Stewart, by his wife Cornelia, the Gothic Revival St. Paul’s School reflects Long Island’s deep ties to the globally influential “Garden Cities” movement in community planning. Unfortunately, St. Paul’s School has been the subject of much community strife since it was purchased by the village in 1993. Vacant ever since, several redevelopment proposals have emerged over the years, but Village Trustees have failed to take a solid leadership role in bringing together disparate interests within the community towards building consensus on the future of St. Paul’s School.
In 2017, the Garden City Board of Trustees announced it would consider proposals to transform St. Paul’s School into a recreational facility, including indoor synthetic turf fields. Details are still pending, but it is not clear that a sports center is the best possible use for St. Paul’s School. Although it may be feasible for former industrial or commercial sites like Chelsea Piers, reuse as a sports complex may significantly compromise the distinctive history and architectural character of St. Paul’s School because it would likely require sacrificing a great deal of the building’s integrity. We therefore recommend the Garden City Board of Trustees broaden the scope of potential reuse and seek feasibility studies for revitalizing St. Paul’s without sacrificing its integrity.
• June 2017: Garden City’s Board of Trustees announced a “Priorities List” for 2017/2018, which set a timeline to enact a plan for new athletic fields that entails destroying most of St. Paul’s School and leaving only the front facade.
• According to the Board of Trustees 2017-18 Priorities List, the village has outlined the following timeline for the St. Paul’s project:
Hire architect firm for creating plans for a Recreation Center/enclosed 3-5 fields turf facility behind St. Paul’s facade, including relocation of Recreation Department into new facility. Target date July 15, 2017.
Complete plan, including operational plan and architect renderings, and any changes to Cluett and Fieldhouse by February 1, 2018.
Approve capital plan or lease terms for third party by March 1, 2018.
• September 21, 2017: The Garden City Board of Trustees approved a $60,000 contract for conceptual work by two New York City-based architecture firms: Beyer, Blinder, Belle and Thornton Thomasetti. The Board gave each firm wide discretion (“no holds barred”) in crafting their proposals for transforming St. Paul’s School into a recreation facility.
• September 22, 2017: Six members of the Garden City Board of Trustees (including the mayor) issued a statement regarding St. Paul’s School, which explains that: “The majority of the Board is currently considering making the building or some part thereof into a recreation based facility, enhancing what we have now at the park… Perhaps we maintain the front, east and west sides and the clock tower, more or less. We do need to be clear; there will be large changes to the present building and structure.”
Residents of Garden City should contact the Village Board of Trustees to express their concerns about the plan to demolish St. Paul’s for athletic fields. You may also share your ideas for St. Paul’s historically sensitive adaptive reuse, or express your interest in the village organizing a charrette to foster engagement and collaboration with the community (For more insight into the role of charrettes on Long Island, explore the Town of East Hampton’s upcoming charrette schedule).
Comments and letters for the Village of Garden City Board of Trustees may be directed to:
Ralph V. Suozzi