The historic Buffalo Psychiatric Center complex would be renovated into an elementary school and space for Buffalo State College under a proposal described Wednesday as the best bet to date for restoring the decaying buildings.
The plan calls for new construction and renovation of the eight remaining 19th century buildings designed by H.H. Richardson, including the first floor of the twin-towered administration building, at a construction cost estimated at $61.4 million.
Buffalo school officials believe about three-quarters of the project cost would be eligible for reimbursement from the state and have received preliminary approval from officials in Albany to continue pursuing their plan.
"We believe it will serve our needs for students and continue our efforts to work closely with the college," said Buffalo School Superintendent James Harris. "With the state reimbursement, we'll be able to get resources to allow us to do the work."
Beyond renovating the old Richardson complex, the five-year plan would include building a new Olmsted High School, Burchfield-Penney Art Center and parking ramps. It has the support of Mayor Masiello, the Buffalo School District, Buffalo State and the psychiatric center.
"We would do a great disservice to Western New York to march down this road and never have it happen," said Frank
McGuire, chairman of a city task force that has been reviewing ideas for redeveloping the old campus since May.
The potential of substantial state Education Department funding to subsidize the renovation of the historic buildings into classrooms separates this proposal from others that have been received by the task force.
Money has been the crucial issue throughout the history of efforts to redevelop the Richardson complex, which is a National Historic Landmark.
Except for Building 10, which was renovated in 1990 at a cost of $3.5 million and then closed again six years later, the structures have been allowed to deteriorate since being vacated by the psychiatric center more than 25 years ago.
Apparently daunted by the huge costs of renovating the 275,000-square-foot complex, the task force has not received any serious private proposals for using the old buildings.
The latest plan was prepared by Foit-Albert Associates and has all public tenants for the buildings. A private developer however, could do the project and collect historic tax credits while leasing it back to its tenants.
The plan calls for relocating interior support walls and gutting the interiors of the old Richardson buildings. A similar project was done at D'Youville College, where the century-old Holy Angels Elementary School recently was renovated into a library at a cost of $7.2 million.
The first phase calls for renovating the buildings east of the Administration Building, including Building 10, at a construction cost of $9.6 million.
School officials would like to relocate third- through fifth-graders in the Olmsted program from School 67 in South Buffalo to the buildings by next fall, but a more realistic date may be fall of 2001.
The estimates were prepared by Ciminelli-Cowper Construction Management and are described as the best to date on actual renovation costs. Costs such as design fees could add another 25 percent.
The cost of acquiring the properties also is not included, but officials are hopeful the state can be persuaded to transfer the property at little or no cost.
The second phase of the project would include renovating the Administration Building and all five Richardson structures comprising its west wing for $51.8 million. It also includes construction of new classrooms, a gymnasium, cafeteria, media center and auditorium behind the Richardson complex.
After construction of the second phase, the Olmsted students would be relocated into the west wing and the new buildings. The kindergarten through fourth grade would be in the renovated buildings, the fifth through eighth grade in the new space.
The Olmsted administrative offices would be located in the first floor of the Administration Building. The upper three floors would remain undeveloped, but the exterior and its 160-foot towers would be repaired.
Buffalo State would then occupy the three eastern buildings vacated by Olmsted, locating its Small Business Development Center, Elementary Education Department and Professional Development School there.
The second phase also includes plans by the psychiatric center to demolish Building 52, a massive, 50-year-old brick structure between the Strozzi Building and Elmwood Avenue. That land would then be used for recreational space.
The project, as proposed, would not use any psychiatric center land beyond the 50 acres declared surplus by the State Office of Mental Health. The entire psychiatric center campus occupies 89 acres bound by Elmwood Avenue, Forest Avenue, Rees Street and Rockwell Road.
The plan also calls for a new high school, possibly across Rees Street from the campus, one or two parking garages for 1,200 cars and a new Burchfield-Penney Art Center at the corner of Elmwood and Rockwell.
The property for the art center is not available for development and would require negotiations with the Office for Mental Health.
An architectural interpretive center proposed for the area near Rockwell and Elmwood by Stanford Lipsey, president and publisher of The Buffalo News, and Bruno Freschi, former dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Design, is not included in the plan.
City Community Development Commissioner Joseph E. Ryan said the city would like another month to refine the plan. A major challenge confronting the proposed project is persuading the state to alter its current plan for disposing of the surplus psychiatric center property. Currently, the sale of the property is the responsibility of Empire State Development Corp., a state-run development agency. Empire State had planned to conduct a national search for developers after receiving recommendations from the city on what uses it would prefer there.
The state would be asked to change that approach should the redevelopment of the Richardson complex into educational facilities prove feasible, Ryan said.
"If this proposal makes sense, the mayor will ask the task force to look at requesting Empire State to divest this property to some entity to be created," he said.