Preliminary report outlines next steps to save Stepping Stones Lighthouse

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Photo courtesy of the Town of North Hempstead.

A preliminary report from Modern Ruins, an architectural firm that specializes in historic building restoration, said that Stepping Stones Lighthouse is fundamentally stable and can be saved so long as several issues are tackled soon.

The Great Neck Historical Society’s Lighthouse Restoration Committee hired the firm to get an expert opinion on the state of the lighthouse and what needed to be done to save it.

“We found out what we need to do,” said Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society, one of three organizations involved in restoring the lighthouse. “Now that we know what exact steps need to be taken, we can go forward with the town” of North Hempstead.

The report, written by Walter Sedovic and Jill Gottfelt, found that long periods without a heating system led to freezing and a crack from underwater up through the lighthouse. It also noted a dislodged stone at the foundation and the “buttoning” up of the lighthouse, which blocks light from getting into the house and attracted birds to nest inside.

But all of this, Sedovic said, can be addressed.

“The thing that strikes me the most is that given the absence of heat, people … this building is robust and expresses all the beauty and strength that it originally had,” Sedovic said in an interview.

The report outlined four recommendations to help the lighthouse. One is to introduce a heating system to warm up the masonry. Another is to make repairs to the vertical crack and the stone. Once these two items are addressed, the report recommends letting light and air back into the lighthouse.

The best way to facilitate this, the report said, is to install a temporary floating dock attached to the ladder. Sedovic said that this would have a “modest cost,” but would be pivotal to bringing construction equipment and manpower to the shore.

“Once the activities begin to put this building back into good shape, it’s going to respond very favorably and very quickly,” Sedovic said.

While the Stepping Stones Lighthouse technically does not need to be restored to serve its fundamental purpose as a beacon to mariners, lighthouse advocates said replacing it with a simple metal beam sacrifices its historical and educational value.

“Once it’s gone, we lose that piece of history,” Kasten said, noting that the lighthouse was an important piece of the region’s early economic development. “We are rapidly destroying the remnants of history on this peninsula.”

The effort to restore the lighthouse is arguably the most ambitious effort the Great Neck Historical Society, partnering with the Great Neck Park District and Town of North Hempstead, has taken. Previous estimates suggested repairs could cost more than $4 million.

In an effort to raise funds, the three organizations are co-hosting the first 5K Run for the Stepping Stones Lighthouse on Oct. 22, beginning and ending at Stepping Stones Park in Kings Point. Currently, they are looking for business sponsors.

Prior to that announcement, the three organizations secured $365,000 in grants. They were a $165,000 National Park Service Grant, a $100,000 New York State Assembly grant and a $100,000 grant to the Great Neck Park District.

The Town of North Hempstead also allocated $520,000 in its 2017-21 capital plan toward the lighthouse and dock construction.

And with the findings of the new report, leaders hoping to restore the lighthouse became even more energized.

“We were excited to hear that Walter Sedovic’s report confirms our belief that the Lighthouse can and should be saved and has motivated us to step up the efforts to raise money for crucial repairs,” Robert Lincoln, chair of the restoration committee, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing some physical work get started.”

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