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Preservation Ready: St. Vincent’s – take this one off the list.

The next building on our list of must save buildings is the beautiful and much abused St. Vincent’s Female Orphan Asylum [edit – located at1140 Ellicott Street in Buffalo]. It was recently featured in Spree as part of their year long series highlighting buildings which Buffalo must save.  I have been following the decline of St. Vincent’s on Buffalo Rising for nearly six years now.  Over that time I have had very little faith that this magnificent building, designed by premier Buffalo architect E.B. Green, would be saved from the dump.  In recent years Its decline has been precipitous with windows boarded and missing.  A few years ago its beautiful roof eve detailing started to fall off the building and was quickly removed leaving a mutilated corpse of a building.

Over the last few years buildings directly adjacent to St. Vincent’s have been renovated to spectacular results but this building somehow stayed out of sight – out of mind with little hope for resurrection.  When we selected buildings for our endangered list we chose buildings which contribute significantly to Buffalo’s urban heritage which we believed stood little chance of being in existence after 5 years if nothing was done to save them.  A year ago, while assembling the list, few buildings seemed to fit this criteria better than St. Vincent’s.  Things are different now.

Buildings can come off the list in one of two ways – they are destroyed or they are saved.  Happily, St. Vincent’s will come off in a positive way.  The renovation of St. Vincent’s is now ongoing at a lightning pace with occupancy by its new tenant expected within a month.  This happy event was a wonderful surprise, seemingly dropping from the sky as if the preservation fairy sprinkled stardust over its roof.  Construction on the building started immediately after announcements that the building would  be occupied by the Buffalo Health Sciences Charter High School. Students will start attending classes in the newly renovated building this fall!  No long-winded announcements and press conferences.  No politicians mugging for cameras.  The project just moved forward and Buffalo will now have a major preservation win.

Steel-Vincent-Save.jpg

This story is bigger than just the saving of a building.  I was given a tour through the very busy construction site last week by principal Dr. Hank Stopinski and his assistant.  He explained that the School is no less than a new way of thinking about education and a school’s relationship to the community.  It will operate on a year round education schedule and will have an extended day education period.  Students will wear uniforms and will be expected to succeed.  The location of the school was very important.  Over the last year they have been educating out of temporary facilities north of the city.  Selection of a new permanent  facility was accomplished after review of 100s of possibilities.  Although a majority of their students are from Buffalo they also serve a diverse population from all over the metro region.  This meant they needed a central location with good access to public transportation to serve these students better.

The school curriculum includes college level courses and Interning at local organizations such as Erie County Medical Center, Roswell Park Hospital and Erie Community College. A full list of health industry partners can be found here.  Close proximity to these institutions was a major need which was also more than satisfied by the St. Vincent’s building.  Another of the school’s close collaborators will also soon be occupying in the adjacent Squier Mansion (which itself was just barely rescued from destruction a few years back) making for an integrated learning campus unlike any other high school in WNY. Indeed the School intends to be not just a building but also an integral part of the surrounding community.  Its goal is to have an active campus open to the community instead of an isolated institution. Future phases include renovating another building on the property for use as a gymnasium and construction of athletic fields on nearby city owned property.  This project promises to be a major new positive force in the neighborhood.

The first phase of renovation is reported to be costing about $6M which may sound like a lot of money but is, in my opinion, a great bargain for what will be gained by the school and the community.  No building of this size and quality could be built from scratch for this minimal sum of money.  The original building was very very well built with little structural damage after almost 25 years of abandonment making this renovation possible. The classrooms will be bright and airy with big windows and tall ceilings.  The building will be well equipped with its approximately 400 students having an almost 1 to 1 computer ratio.  Its technology center will be housed in the former chapel, a 2 storey high vaulted space with intricate plaster detailing (much of it still intact) which will be restored to its original glory.  The school will be leasing the building from Paladino’s Ellicott Development Company which put the deal together.  The school will have an option of buy the building in 5 years.

So who votes for tearing down this eyesore now?  Here is a roundup of some past BRO stories on St. Vincent’s – read the comments sections of these posts.  It is very interesting to see what the haters had to say in light of the current renovation.

July 31, 2008
June 2, 2008
July 25, 2006
March 24, 2006

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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