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UWS School Conversion Must Downplay Rooftop Equipment

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On the heels of Thursday's meeting in front of Manhattan Community Board 7, developer and architect Cary Tamarkin appeared in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission to present his plan to convert the former St. Agnes Boys School at 555 West End Avenue into a 12- to 15-apartment building. As with the Upper West Siders who heard the proposal days earlier, the commissioners were mostly on board with the project and lauded Tamarkin's attention to restoring the 1907 building's gothic-style facade, but questioned the street level visibility of the building's proposed rooftop addition.

Tamarkin's plan for the seven-story building, which falls in the Riverside West End Historic District Extension, includes adding an ADA-accessible entrance to 87th Street, converting a room formerly used as a gym and library into a lobby, extending and creating new symmetrical window openings in the building's rear, reappointing the building's historic details, and creating a recessed penthouse addition topped by new mechanicals.

"I can promise you we're as concerned about the urban fabric of New York City as anyone possibly could be," Tamarkin said, pointing out that the project leaves about 30-percent of the site's buildable area untouched, "We're not trying to set the world on fire" with this project, he joked. The conversion isn't exactly a tiny investment, either: Tamarkin purchased the building from the Archdiocese of New York for $50 million in late 2014.

Elise Quasebarth from historic preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners presented plans for the historic renovation, which will include rebuilding the structure's original parapet (sans religious symbols) and restoring bricked-over windows along the building's rooftop barrel-vaulted ceiling, which will eventually cover over one of the city's more "spectacular" apartments, according to Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Shrinivasan.

While the commissioners thought the historic renovation was on-point, they weren't as thrilled with Tamarkin's proposal to top the 10-foot penthouse addition with 17 feet of mechanicals. Although a Tamarkin Co. associate referred to the mechanical placement on top of the penthouse as the "most neighborly" option regarding the amount of noise they'll make and the space they'll take up, the commissioners weren't convinced that they couldn't be put elsewhere.

Also at issue was the Indiana limestone screen surrounding the mechanicals. Although the screen would mimic the building's facade materials, the commissioners who were not as concerned with the sightline alone thought that the material draws too much attention and creates the "LEGO block" look of the addition. Speaking for the West End Preservation Society, Josette Amato said the "deliberate consciousness" of the penthouse addition is "undone by the bulky design of the mechanicals." Oren Noyotny, a 16th-floor neighbor to the proposed building rallied that the bulk of the mechanicals is "absolutely massive."

The commissioners sent Tamarkin Co. back to the drawing board to determine a more conscious way to configure the mechanicals. Chair Shrinivasan called for a more lateral organization of the mechanicals, while commissioners Bland and Goldblum suggested that using a new material for the screen around the mechanicals might make them less jarringly visible. In the end, the commissioners commended the historic renovation, but asked that Tamarkin work on a fix to lessen the bulk of the mechanicals and reduce their height.
· Of Course Upper West Siders hate This Proposed Penthouse [Curbed]
· First Look: Cary Tamarkin's Upper West Side Catholic School Conversion [Curbed]
· UWS School Will Likely Undergo Residential Conversion [Curbed]
· All 555 West End Avenue coverage [Curbed]