Sam Abdo and Mike Vatovec, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Building A

The 5-story brick Greek Revival Building A was built as a dormitory for retired sailors in 1839. It was vacant for two decades, suffered significant structural damage, and was gutted of all interior finishes in 2009, prior to LiRo's involvement in the restoration phase. Once complete, the building will become the new home of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, and will contain galleries, art conservation spaces, and offices. The project will be a candidate for LEED Gold certification.

What are some of the unique challenges presented by working on a landmarked historical building?

Mike and Sam: It is critical to maintain and preserve landmarked architectural features during construction. Identification, protection, and restoration of these components to the satisfaction of the preservation architect in charge is one our top priorities. Some examples of those at Snug Harbor are the historic monumental staircase, the windows and the entire building façade and related historic colors.

How did your previous project experience prepare you for work in this historical building?

Sam: My work on the landmarked NYPD 83rd Precinct back in 1995 gave me first hand experience in dealing with restoring a landmarked building. The exposure of working with preservation architects on features, preservation techniques and obtaining approvals on completed work broadened my experience and enhanced my vision on such projects.

The building is being renovated to meet museum quality environmental standards. Due to the age of the masonry façade, were there any special construction techniques that had to be implemented to ensure a tight building envelope?

Mike and Sam: We recommended that the restoration of the exterior façade was the first item of construction. Deteriorated brick was replaced, and loos mortar joints were raked and re-pointed to maintain a water tight envelope. In order to ensure an interior environment that meets the modern museum requirements, a continuous interior vapor barrier membrane was installed at the inside face of the masonry walls behind the sheet rock finished cladding.

The project includes the installation of a closed loop geothermal system to provide heating and cooling. What were some issues involved in the installation of the system?

Mike and Sam: The system consists of 34 wells, each 499 feet deep, installed on a 120 ft. by 200 ft. area adjacent to Building A. Problems were encountered at the very beginning of the drilling, when we encountered rocks and boulder formations at 300 foot depths. These conditions were not anticipated and were causing the wells to collapse prior to the installing of the piping and grouting. We had to utilize a special drilling rig and install additional steel casing for the wells in order to successfully install the system.

What have you enjoyed most about working on this project?

Sam: Restoring and bringing back to life an abandoned landmarked building is a true pleasure. It is empowering to feel the spirit of the architects, and builders who created these buildings in the first place. What I enjoy most is the excitement one feels as each phase of the work nears completion, and the anticipation of moving on to the next phase of the restoration.

Sam Abdo

Sam Abdo, a civil engineer, has been with LiRo since 2005. His LiRo projects have included the building envelope restoration of the historic Kings County ABC Buildings and the complete renovation of the NYCHA Betances Houses Community Center. Previous experience includes numerous new construction and renovation projects for educational, commercial, and residential facilities.

Mike Vatovec

Mike Vatovec has been with LiRo since 2001, and his project experience includes construction of both the new Bronx Family Intake Center for NYC Dept of the Homeless and the DASNY Bernard Fineson Developmental Center. He has extensive experience with NYC Transit Systems, including construction of the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue subway stations.

Featured Employees
Sam Abdo, Project Manager
Mike Vatovec, Superintendent

Snug Harbor Cultural Center – Staten Island Museum – Building A

Staten Island, NY