“My message to the people is that it was a great project from the start, the moment that Pat Clausi thought of it in her mind and approached me with it and it will be a great project soon, and sooner rather than later,” Assemblyman Kevin Cahill said Tuesday. “It was a sad day, but we feel better today than we had last Tuesday.”
Almost exactly a year ago last Tuesday, Cahill, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, members and clergy from local Catholic parishes St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s and officials from the Catholic Youth Organization and Agri-Business Child Development gathered at the old school to unveil plans, funded by a $2.15 million state grant, to refurbish it into space for a cornucopia of community-positive services — child care, CYO basketball and other recreational activities, to name a few.
According to Cahill, the building was about a week and a half from opening last Tuesday, Dec. 21, when a fire that night started in the attic area of the Adams Street, illuminating the neighborhood with a fiery glow. The Kingston Fire Department and firefighters from every department within mutual aid range battled to save the school and nearby buildings. Their efforts were not in vain, said Cahill. “All estimates are that the building did not suffer near the amount of damage that it appeared to be suffering, based upon the drama associated with the flames. There certainly is going to be a need to do a more serious assessment than anyone’s been able to do at this point,” he added. “But I’ve already informed the State of New York through the legislature that the grant we received was pretty much spent by the time the fire took place and the building was just a week and a half or so from opening. … The grant came with the stipulation that the interests of the state be insured, so the $2 million we invested in the building was protected by insurance.”
While the assemblyman said there was no firm estimate early this week on how much damage the fire did in terms of dollars, Cahill said there was a possibility that the programs that St. Peter’s was to house could be started at alternate locations while the fire damage is being fixed. “I met yesterday with representatives of ABCD [Agri-Business Child Development] at the parish level with Pat Clausi, and we were discussing strategies, not only to move forward, but to move forward while the building is being brought back to life and possibly finding a way to bring daycare to the community sooner than we would be able to if we had to wait for the building to be fixed up again,” said Cahill. “And next, we’re going to go out and work with Tom Kelly and try to find a home for his recreation programs. Ultimately, it is our goal, it is our belief that we will be able to see the former St. Peter’s School operating just as we envisioned it a year ago.”
It did not take investigators too long to determine that the fire was an accident, but the exact cause-and-effect remained unclear this week, Kingston Fire Chief Rick Salzmann said. “We determined that the fire was accidental and started in the attic area of the school, toward the Adams Street end of the building. We’re still gathering information,” the chief said. “Obviously there has been work done all over the building, but there had been work done that day in that general area by several different contractors. We’ve isolated the origins to that part of the building and determined it was an accidental fire.”
Salzmann credited his firefighters with responding well to a tricky situation. “It’s was probably one of the biggest fires we’ve had since the Black Lion burned, which was in 2003,” he said. “So, they obviously are infrequent, fortunately, and when this occurs, you do stretch your personnel and your equipment to the max, but we get good mutual aid cooperation from our neighboring departments and we were able to deal with the situation as presented. It was a difficult night — due to where it is, the access, buildings close together in a residential area, all of those factors. But fortunately, it all came together.”