Schenectady Unitarians still hoping to shrink size of reflecting pool
SCHENECTADY The Unitarians have not given up their plans to significantly change the reflecting pool and fountains outside their building.
They are taking their argument to the State Historic Preservation Office next week, in hopes that the office will side with them against the city Historic District Commission.
Last month, members of the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady asked the Historic District Commission for permission to replace the reflecting pool with much a smaller design. But the commissioners said the distinctive entrance on Wendell Avenue was protected as a national historic place.
The church applied last year to be placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Prior to being placed on the register, church members brought their new design to the city’s Historic District Commission and received general approval. But when they returned for what they hoped would be formal permission last month, the commissioners said the historic designation changed everything.
Church members were dismayed, and even asked if they could take back their historic place application.
After hours of discussion, the commissioners advised them to meet with the State Historic Preservation Office.
Commissioners made it clear that they expected the state office to say the proposed changes are too significant for a historic building.
But church members took hope in the possibility that the state would take their side.
“I am a little bit more optimistic about SHPO,” said building and grounds chairman Ray Bodensieck.
The church will meet with SHPO next week. The commissioners had also suggested that the church make some alterations to the plan, but Bodensieck said he won’t change the proposal before hearing from SHPO.
“We are going to meet with SHPO. We’re going to ask them for guidance,” he said.
If the state supports the proposal, he plans to go to the city’s next Historic District Commission meeting and ask for approval.
“We’ll be asking them to vote on our proposal,” he said.
Commissioners had said they would be open to a compromise, such as a pool 6 feet smaller — about half as small as proposed.
But Bodensieck said he hasn’t made any decisions.
“I won’t know until I speak to SHPO,” he said.
Commissioners were not shy in their criticism of the plan last month.
“It’s a suburban shopping mall,” commission member Frank Donegan said of the proposed pool. “The pool’s shrinking by about 12 feet. It’s tiny. The effect is enormous.”
He and other commissioners said the entrance should remain as it was designed by noted modern architect Edward Durell Stone.
But Bodensieck said Stone had designed a poor entrance. The pool must be drained every winter, and the church has for years struggled to keep the fountains working. He added that the original design for the landscaping around the pool didn’t give the plants enough root-space to survive cold winters, leading to regular replacements and, on one occasion, green spraypainting to make the plants look alive.
“The sacredness and the specialness, it’s not special six months of the year. It’s concrete,” he said.
Donegan was not persuaded.
“Our job is to preserve what one of the most important architects of the 20th century created,” he said.