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EXCLUSIVE: Officials tweak contentious T Building plan


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A controversial plan to turn the historic T Building into housing for mental and chronic health patients has slightly changed, but it is still on the table, The Courier has learned.

In late 2012, Queens Hospital Center (QHC) was in talks with Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency, to develop the dilapidated 10-story building on its Hillcrest campus into 251 units of affordable housing for people with low-income and chronic health conditions.

Residents would include veterans and people suffering from psychiatric diagnoses or a range of illnesses, from diabetes to AIDS.

The bid was met with fierce opposition from a coalition of civic leaders and elected officials, who said the “questionable population” could put children at nearby schools in danger.

Now a new version of the project is being bandied about, said sources close to the hospital and confirmed by local leaders.

Hospital officials hope to compromise and house fewer patients than originally proposed. The number is still up in the air, but a source said there would still be more than 100 patients.

“The plan keeps changing, but never actually gets formally introduced,” said Councilmember Rory Lancman, who learned of the new concept last week. “I don’t know if this idea will gel into a plan more than the last one.”

Several proposals are on the table, said Celia Dosamantes, a spokesperson for Assemblymember David Weprin, though the Comunilife plan is still front and center.

“There is room for discussion, which is good news,” she said.

Last month, Community Board 8 approved a resolution to demolish the T Building after a request from State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblymember Nily Rozic.

“This building is in serious disrepair,” Avella said, adding that it costs the hospital $2 million a year to maintain. “Money that is going into that building is taking away from patient care. That building should come down.”

But Queens preservationists are appealing to the city and state to save and landmark the former tuberculosis clinic.

“This hospital is part of a great war against disease, poverty and hardship,” Queens Preservation Council Chair Mitchell Grubler said.

The next step for the site heavily depends on money.

Funds for the multi-million dollar housing unit have not been secured yet, sources said, and it was unclear how much it would cost to dismantle.

“It’s hard to distinguish between a plan and merely an idea that isn’t going anywhere,” Lancman said. “Last time, there was all smoke and noise and nothing ever came of it.”

Queens Hospital Center spokesperson Cleon Edwards said officials are still working to find a resolution that “seeks to balance concerns” of the community with the hospital’s “obligation to provide high quality healthcare services to its patients.”

Comunilife did not respond to a request for comment.

 

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