New Meals on Wheels Facility Sent Back for Rethinking of Exterior Design

Architect's rendering of the proposed Meals on Wheels facility. Image credit: Rampulla Associates

Architect’s rendering of the proposed Meals on Wheels facility. Image credit: Rampulla Associates

Commissioners found design choices made new facility in Seaview Hospital complex look like a suburban office park. On June 7, 2015, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered a proposal for a new Meals on Wheels facility in a vacant site at 460 Brielle Avenue in the Seaview Hospital section of the New York City Farm Colony-Seaview Hospital Historic District. The proposed new two-story building would be used as a Meals on Wheels facility serving the whole of Staten Island, with space for a kitchen, food storage, offices, and loading areas for trucks and volunteers. The plan will also require City Planning’s approval as the site lies within a Special Natural Area District.

Seaview Hospital, dedicated in 1913, was originally developed as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. Other buildings were added to the complex in the 1930s, and an administration building was constructed in the 1970s. The historic buildings of the districts are generally unornamented, with large windows to allow in light and air. The Seaview Hospital Rehabilitation Center still operates at the site, but other buildings are disused and have fallen into disrepair. The City has plans to redevelop the site as a “wellness center.” On the other side of Brielle Avenue, Landmarks approved a redevelopment scheme for the Farm Colony portion of the district in 2014.

Joseph Tornello, President of Meals on Wheels of Staten Island, said the organization was currently housed in a repurposed building on the borough’s north shore that was growing inadequate for the non-profit’s needs. Tornello said that the number of meals delivered everyday had grown significantly since they had occupied their current space, and an aging baby boomer population was expected to further stretch their resources. The proposed new building would be built around a chef- designed kitchen, would allow them to prepare kosher and halal meals on-site, instead of relying on a subcontractor, would have space for volunteer drivers to line up off the ring road to collect meals for delivery, and would have a separate loading space for dedicated delivery trucks. Conference rooms in the new building would available for the use of other Staten Island non-profits. Tornello said the Economic Development Corporation provided the site to Meal on Wheels, and the space was selected by the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Urban planner Philip Rampulla and architect Leonard Rampulla, of Rampulla Associates, presented the plan for the new facility. They noted that the Seaview complex was designed by multiple architects with no one predominant style, but were united by their use of the most modern medical innovation of their time, and said their proposal would also continue the district’s use of oversized windows and unadorned facades. The building was designed “inside-out,” around the kitchen and the circulation needs of delivery vehicles. An arched porte-cochere would protect volunteer drivers from the elements where they would pick up their deliveries, which the applicants said related to the covered walkways between the historic hospital buildings. The building would have flat roof, to accommodate solar panels, large deep-set windows, and be clad in terra cotta

The two-story building would have a subsurface cellar. A garage, not visible from Brielle Avenue would be used for truck maintenance and the storage of snow removal equipment.

Council Member Steven Matteo and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo sent letters to the Commission in support of the project, as did Staten Island Community Board 2.

Kelly Carroll, representing the Historic Districts Council, testified that the proposal “feels very stale and corporate,” and that the designers ignored “the ample precedent of its surroundings in regard to design, scale, materials, and siting.”

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan found that, while the specific need of the facility precluded the adaptive reuse of any of the existing buildings, the design and site plan should be revised to make it “less office-park-like.” Commissioner Fred Bland concurred, saying “the site deserves better” than the “corporate office park” presented, while Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the proposal had made “no effort to integrate itself within the site.” Commissioners asked the applicants to look at both the historic architecture of the hospital buildings, and the approved plans for the Farm Colony to consider possible changes in materials, color, fenestration and depth to make the project more appropriate for the district.

Leonard Rampulla argued that changes to the site plan would compromise the facility’s efficiency, but agreed to revisit the materials and details of the new building to “soften” its impact. Landmarks will review a revised proposal at a future date.

LPC: 460 Brielle Ave., Staten Island (15-0096) (July 7, 2015) (Architects: Rampulla Associates).

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)

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