McDonald House issue shows system is broken

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

By Lance Denno Syracuse Common Council

As the councilor elected to represent the district involved in the Ronald McDonald House dispute, I have put much time and effort into understanding both the issues involved and the interests of my constituents. In Tuesday's Post-Standard, Beth Trunfio, executive director of RMH, is quoted as saying of the three councilors who voted against historic designation, "They were clearly in the majority in the community as a whole." Simply put, this is not true.

Every neighborhood organization that took an action on this matter supported historic designation, including TNT, SEUNA, Outer Comstock and others. The City of Syracuse Comprehensive Plan, the Brookings Institute report "Restoring Prosperity," the Onondaga Citizens League report "Leveraging Better Outcomes for Downtown," the American Institute of Architects Syracuse Sustainable Design Assessment Team report, and countless other well-researched analyses of Syracuse and Onondaga County repeatedly emphasize the economic importance of preserving our historic properties.

Considering the votes of city officials on the Landmark Preservation Board (9-0); the Syracuse Planning Commission (5-0); and the Syracuse Common Council (6-3), the votes of city officials were overwhelmingly in favor of historic designation (20-3). All of the at-large councilors voted for designation, as did the district councilors who represent the site of the existing RMH facility (Tom Seals) and the proposed RMH facility (myself).

Prior to the vote I contacted each of the councilors to let them know that the communities of the 5th District overwhelmingly supported designation. While I respect my colleagues for making a tough decision, I am frustrated that a small minority can set policy for the city. It is time for a change in the process, and I will work to that end.

It is a matter of record that attorneys and board members of RMH were advised of the historic listing of the property more than six months prior to the purchase. RMH board members repeatedly presented the community with a false dichotomy - claiming that we must choose between either caring for sick children or protecting our history. In fact we can do both, and should do both.

I sincerely hope that the board of RMH will look to restoring its well- earned place in the public eye by finding a way to fulfill its important mission without destroying a piece of the civic history we all enjoy. The independent report that was prepared at Mayor Driscoll's request makes it clear that this can, and should, be done.

Moving forward: First, we in local government must repair the system so that it cannot be manipulated by a vocal minority. Councilor Van Robinson has already begun the process. Second, RMH should work to repair its relationship with the host community by publicly committing to save at least the exterior of the building at 1100 E. Genesee St. And third, the preservationist community of Syracuse should work with RMH to help secure the financial and technical resources needed to realize a modern residential facility that meets the needs of the RMH clientele while appropriately incorporating the historic structure.

Finally, I want to thank all those, on both sides of the issue, who took the time and interest to contact me with their concerns.

Lance Denno represents the 5th District on the Syracuse Common Council.

2008 The Post-Standard.

McDonald House plans new building

Thursday, May 24, 2007

By Pam Lundborg Staff writer
Syracuse Post-Standard

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central New York wants to build a new house double the size of the current one to help meet the demand the new Children's Hospital is expected to create.

The group's board of directors plans to spend $5.5 million on a new facility across the street from the current location that will accommodate twice as many families, be more handicapped accessible and available to women who face high-risk pregnancies.

Paul Ross, president of the board, said the charity has been planning for two years the project that should take another two years to complete. To date, the group has raised $2.1 million, he said.

The current Ronald McDonald House, at 1027-1029 E. Genesee St., has 16 bedrooms to house families who have hospitalized children nearby and need a comfortable and affordable place to stay. Families can stay there for $15 a night.

The house, built in 1910, has operated as a Ronald McDonald House for 25 years. It has no elevators or private bathrooms. Only two rooms are handicapped accessible, and the house can't accommodate women with high-risk pregnancies because of its stairs.

Ross said Children's Hospital is expected to serve nearly 50 percent more pediatric patients than are being cared for now - an increase to 4,300 children a year from 2,900. So many more families will need to use Ronald McDonald House.

"It's obvious that this is going to have an impact on the house," he said.

The improved facilities would also help accommodate women whose pregnancies are at risk. They could stay at the house, eliminating the need to travel a long distance to their Syracuse hospital when it's time to deliver their baby.

The board members want the new house built on two combined lots at 1100 E. Genesee St. and 407 University Avenue. It would have 35 bedrooms each with private bathrooms. There would be elevators, a gym, an enhanced playroom and teen center with computers and music. The house would have wireless technology. Each floor would have a laundry room, and there would be a larger kitchen and dining area, Ross said.

The site would offer Internet service so parents could go online and research their children's diagnoses and communicate with more family and friends.

"Bottom line is we can't do it here," Ross said. "There's no financially sound way to make this house suitable for our future needs."

The board is in the process of buying two plots of land almost across the street and up a block at the corner of University Avenue and East Genesee Street. The real estate closings are expected to happen within the next month, Ross said.

The board wants to raze the two existing buildings, which are both medical offices, and build a new L-shaped building, he said. The plans are not final, he said.

Ground could be broken on the project by fall 2008 and the project completed a year later.

All of the money for the project will come from local donations, not McDonald's corporate headquarters, he said.

"We have a bigger family than we have ever had before," he said. "We thought then (25 years ago) that this was a luxury, but today it's just the basics. We have the opportunity to serve more people than in the past and build it to meet the needs of people today."

2007 The Post-Standard.