The briefing by Dr. Burton Grebin, president and chief executive officer of the St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children, and Libby Zimmer, head of the St. Mary's Foundation, came less than a week after Bayside civic leaders met with U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) to discuss a $590,000 federal grant he obtained for construction at the children's facility.
Civic leaders Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowner's Association, and Dr. Blanche Felton, head of the John Golden Park Block Association, have opposed any expansion of St. Mary's Hospital for years. The hospital sits within a quiet pocket of suburban Bayside overlooking Little Neck Bay at 29-01 216th St.
Grebin and Zimmer said the hospital was in the early stages of planning a two-story addition for its rehabilitation program and moving its public school facilities within the existing building.
The addition would be built in a courtyard buffered from nearby residential homes and facing Little Neck Bay, said hospital spokeswoman Beryl Williams.
No construction can move forward, Grebin and Zimmer said, until the hospital's Home Care program, which primarily serves children in their homes, is moved from the hospital to another site.
St. Mary's Hospital for Children is a non-profit, long-term rehabilitation facility that includes 97 beds and treats children with a wide range of medical disorders. The hospital moved to Bayside from the West Side of Manhattan in 1951. Ackerman obtained the $590,000 grant for the hospital in December.
During the meeting with Ackerman last Thursday, Skala and Felton said they were upset that the children's hospital had not informed the community of its plans.
"St. Mary's should not expand," Skala said. "Don't make it any bigger - it's a residential area."
Felton said the civic leaders have been peacefully opposed to any physical expansion of the hospital for about seven years.
"This thing is like pulling a rug out from under us," she said of reports about Ackerman's grant.
Both civic leaders said they were sympathetic to the hospital's work, but they said a lack of communication between the community and St. Mary's over the years had led them to be suspicious of the facility's plans.
Skala said "there must be some kind of plans that no one in the community has seen."
St. Mary's officials stressed the hospital had no concrete plans to report.
"The plans are not complete," Grebin said.
Zimmer, who said the hospital has raised less than a million dollars for the project so far, said "we are still in a conceptual stage. There are no plans to report."
Grebin and Zimmer said relocating the hospital's Home Care program - a mostly administrative aspect of St. Mary's that serves 1,700 children in their homes in Yonkers, Queens and Long Island - would eliminate about 50 cars that come through the neighborhood daily. Another 50 or so cars belonging to people who visit the program periodically during the week would also be eliminated, they said.
By moving the Home Care program off site, they said, St. Mary's could reorganize the space within its existing facility. Grebin said the hospital is actively searching for a new home for the program, but there is no schedule in place .
During the meeting with Ackerman, Felton and Skala asked why St. Mary's had not pursued opportunities to relocate the program to Fort Totten or the campus of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Bellerose.
St. Mary's officials said Tuesday they never had an opportunity to move to Fort Totten and that renovating a building at Creedmoor would have been too expensive.
Rearranging the space within the building and adding a new 4,000- to 8,000-square-foot section would allow St. Mary's to expand its rehabilitation program and move public school facilities for its residential children out of portable trailers on the grounds.
The rehabilitation program is now stuffed into several rooms and two or three offices in a hallway of the current hospital.
The existing school trailers would be removed.
©2001 Community News Group
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