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Warring ideas for historic building

Two proposals for rehabilitating the former Fairfield Library in North Buffalo were weighed by residents attending a public meeting Wednesday in St. Mary's School for the Deaf.

David E. Pawlik, a partner in Creative Structures Services of Buffalo, wants to turn the vacant 6,300-square-foot property at 1659 Amherst St. into a five-unit apartment house.

Tom Breen and Steven Fabian, college professors who live in the city's Allentown neighborhood, want to use the city-owned structure as their home and to take on the extensive renovation project themselves.

Pawlik won't move ahead with his plans if the city designates the shuttered property a local landmark because, he said, it would increase the amount of red tape and would likely delay his plans to begin the renovation by August. Breen and Fabian would welcome the landmark designation status, but they said it was not vital to their plans.

That left members of the Parkside Community Association and other neighborhood residents attending the meeting called by Masten Council Member Demone Smith in a quandary as to whether Pawlik would respect the architectural integrity of the building or whether the college professors had the resources to tackle the renovation themselves.

Paul MacDonald, chairman of the Buffalo Preservation Board, who, along with board member Tim Tielman, attended Wednesday's meeting, said the fact that the 115-year-old building was designed by two of Buffalo's most prolific and renowned architects, E.B. Green and William Wicks, earned it landmark status.

"One of the things that landmarking does is it makes sure that the historic fabric of the building is maintained. Therefore, historic [features], like the shingles, the clapboard, the wood windows are really restored," MacDonald said.

Pawlik's plans for the property, which he would call Fairfield Commons, would cost an estimated $800,000, while Breen and Fabian estimated their self-funded plan to stabilize and restore the building to habitability would cost about $40,000.

Some of the 45 people attending Wednesday's meeting expressed skepticism that the college professors could take on the asbestos removal, a new roof and other rehabilitative work for such a low cost.

"It's nice to be able to come up with a concept, but if you can't follow up with that concept [because] you don't have the deliverable goods, then, you know what? It's just a pie in the sky," Pawlik said.

Breen, who is an assistant professor in the department of interior design at Buffalo State College, said he brings construction and design experience to the proposed project.