2000-09-16 / Front Page

Vallone Says: Reopen Neponsit Home

By John C. McLoughlin

Vallone Says:
Reopen Neponsit Home

Two years after Neponsit Health Care Center was closed under a cloud of controversy, New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone has asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani to reopen the facility to its former use.

On September 10, 1998, there was an emergency evacuation of Neponsit Health Care Center declared by the City of New York. Residents of the facility were removed in the middle of night and bussed off to other locations operated by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC). At that time, HHC officials said that the building was "structurally unsafe." Critics of the closing of Neponsit accused the Giuliani Administration of using the emergency evacuation excuse to cover up their real agenda of curbing the city’s involvement in the health care business.

Several months before the closing, an engineer’s report from Einhorn, Yaffe and Prescot, dated June 19, 1998, estimated that $1.2 million was required to maintain the several buildings that make up Neponsit Health Care Center. At the time of the closing, city officials said that it would take $50 million for needed repairs and the Department of Buildings signed an emergency demolition order of the facility.

This action prompted the New York City Council to file suit in Queens Supreme Court in order to prevent the demolition of the facility. On October 28, 1999, Justice David Goldstein ruled in favor of the New York City Council’s motion for summary judgement and declared that: (1) HHC’s surrender of the use and occupancy of the facility required the approval of the Council; (2) the Council has the right to determine the use of the facility (hospital, park or other public purpose); and (3) the Council has the right to contest the demolition of the facility by an unsafe building hearing.

Following Justice Goldstein’s decision, the Council retained an independent engineering firm to conduct a survey and issue a report on the structural conditions of Neponsit. The survey was done by Merritt and Harris, Inc. of Manhattan, dated March 20, 2000. Engineers performed a visual study of the exterior structural conditions at the site from February 22 to February 24 and on March 9, 2000. The three main buildings and one small structure comprised the limits of the survey. Building #1 is the largest of the buildings. It was built in 1914 with additions in 1938 and 1958. Building #2 was built in 1938 with renovations in 1958. Building #3, the power plant and administrative center, was built in 1938. Building #4 is a one-story parking garage converted into office space.

The report concludes that buildings #1, #2 and #3 are in fair to good condition. There are several areas of bulging bricks, loose stones and deteriorated terra cotta that present safety concerns, but the majority of the deterioration is primarily of maintenance concern. They estimate that $600,000 would be required for the repairs.

With this in hand, Speaker Vallone is now advocating that the Council and the Giuliani Administration work together to reopen Neponsit.

In a letter to Giuliani on September 5, 2000, Vallone wrote, "Recently, both the Administration and the Council reached an agreement and signed a stipulation of settlement….One of the key provisions of the settlement was language which provided that both the Administration and the Council would jointly develop a plan for the use of the facility in a collaborative decision making process. In light of that language, I look forward to working with you to create a joint plan where we can restore Neponsit to its former use in order to help some New York senior citizens who cannot help themselves."

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