Workers are cleaning up asbestos material from the historic Saint Ignatius Retreat House of the North Shore, prompting concerns among community groups and preservationists.
Marvin Natiss, the Mayor of North Hills, said that the asbestos removal project, which has been ongoing since last week, is fully legal and does not put the health of residents who are staying nearby at risk. Natiss said the village has sent a letter to that effect.
Natiss said all works are being carried out fully in compliance with the state law and regulations. He said the State Department of Labor (DoL) is supervising the project. The residents in the area are absolutely safe and they have nothing to worry about this job, he said.
However, civic groups and preservationists in the area believe that the ongoing work is to bring the historic structure – which is more than 90 years old – to a step nearer to demolition. They say asbestos abatement is typically a prelude to tearing down. John Bralower, the vice chairman of a preservation group (North Shore Land Alliance), said he would definitely be surprised if those works weren’t a preface to demolition.
Manhasset Bay Group, the present owner of the building, was unwilling to comment. The 33-acre property was bought by Manhasset in last July. The 87-room mansion’s previous owner is New York Province Society of Jesus. The mansion is also called Inisfada.
Asbestos removal is inevitable prior to the demolition of old structures. The reason is that asbestos can be extremely dangerous if it is broken or disturbed during the demolition process. Disturbed asbestos would release microscopic fibers into the air and, if they are inhaled, could cause deadly diseases like cancer.
Natiss says he does not believe asbestos abatement necessarily indicates that the structure is going to be demolished. He says asbestos removal is done prior to renovation works as well. Officials indicated that the developer is planning to turn that property into a number of single-family homes.
Now, many local officials are calling for the mansion to be saved. They say the building has to put on the state as well as national register of historic buildings and places. Richard Nicolello, one of the legislatures, said the structure is magnificent and it definitely worth preservation. Not only for its astonishing architectural magnificence, but also for the spiritual importance of the building, he said. The mansion has long been a spiritual heart of Long Island community, he said.