So long O’Toole building?
A host of elected officials today–City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Thomas K. Duane, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler–gave their blessings to a demolition of the O’Toole building at 12th Street and Seventh Avenue in order to make way for a new St. Vincent’s hospital in its place, should the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission find the hospital faces sufficient “hardship.”
By issuing statements or speaking at a hearing today, the officials voiced support for Rudin Management’s modifications to the original, $1.6 billion proposal, but warned that more revisions responding to community concerns about construction, building height and density, and how to mitigate shadows and traffic cast on the neighborhood, would be needed should the proposal reach the public review phase.
Some in the audience were not so pleased.
“I wish I hadn’t voted for you,” a man shouted at Mr. Duane.
“Show some leadership,” another screamed.
Mr. Duane was ultimately booed off the stage.
“The application materials make it clear that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find any location as suitable as the O’Toole site for the hospital’s modernization,” Mr. Stringer said in prepared testimony. “Unless a similarly situated site can be located, it seems that this is exactly the sort of situation for which the hardship waiver exists, which is to allow rare exceptions to the landmark protections when an applicant cannot satisfy its long-term mission within those constraints.”
However, based on conversations we had with a random sampling of hospital workers, it seems the bulk of the St. Vincent’s staff who actually support the hospital’s proposal to demolish the O’Toole building and construct a towering, new facility in its place are the ones who work in it.
The majority of St. Vincent’s medical staff who work across the street from O’Toole appeared to echo the sentiments shared by the residents, community groups, and preservationists, who testified this morning at the last scheduled public meeting of the LPC on the issue. The LPC denied an intial request to demolish the O’Toole site, among others, but now is considering the hospital’s hardship application.
But the consensus among nurses and techs at St. Vincent’s and the neighborhood residents attending the meeting seems to be that a new building will not solve the endemic management issues plaguing what is now the city’s last remaining West Side hospital below 59th Street.
“I work in there,” said one operating nurse, “and building a whole new building is not going to solve the problems inside.”
The hospital is desperately in need of renovation, she said. The elevators constantly break down and the facilities are both antiquated and overstretched, but the overarching issues are “basic.”
“Sure we need new technology, but we don’t even have enough stretchers,” she said. “Sometimes, we’ll finish an operation and won’t even be able to move people because all the stretchers are being used.”
Many of the doctors at St. Vincent’s have been on staff for 20 or 30 years, she said, but turnover is high, because “they see how things work and run.”
Another employee said the priority should be “bringing the staff census up,” before building a new hospital, and proponents of St. Vincent’s hardship application to build on the site of the O’Toole building argue that a new, state-of-the-art hospital would do just that.
“We’re being squeezed, downsized, and overworked from every angle,” he said.