Community Chest awaits repairs months after storm

Community Chest awaits repairs months after storm
The tree that damaged the Community Chest of Port Washington's building. (Courtesy of Julie Meer Harnick)

During a particularly violent spring storm, a tree was uprooted and crashed into the Community Chest of Port Washington. The tree was removed and a broken gas line was repaired soon after, but three months later significant damage remains.

“A lot of the damage is still there,” said Executive Director Julie Meer Harnick. “The meeting room is unusable and we had one tenant move out.”

The holdup is over insurance money. Harnick estimated that costs for interior and exterior renovation will be over $250,000, calling that sum a “low-end estimate.” A new roof needs to be put on the building, and there is significant water damage. Despite the delay, she said she does not believe that the insurer is operating in bad faith.

“These things take time,” she said.

The tree collapsed around 5:45 p.m. on May 15. Harnick, who was in the building at the time, said it sounded almost like an explosion.

“It was a really bad storm,” she said. “It looked like a scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz.'”

Soon after she could smell gas. Nobody was hurt but the building was significantly damaged.

Air-conditioning units were damaged. Parts of the roof collapsed, allowing rainwater to pour into the building. Harnick called the building’s owner, who sent a custodian to check on the gas line. The tree did enough damage to the structural integrity of the building that it was in danger of collapsing.

Cow Bay Construction was brought in immediately to stabilize the building and prevent further damage. The gas line was repaired in the next few days.

Parts of the building remain unusable, which led to the departure of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group that frequently partnered with Spectrum Designs (which also was formerly located in the Community Chest building). The group’s office was damaged by the collapse of the roof; after the tree fell, Harnick called Autism Speaks employees to see if they wanted any irreplaceable items saved.

“I was able to grab a few laptops and personal items,” she said.

She said there was an inch of water on the floor by the time the storm ended. After assessing the damage, Autism Speaks decided to move out.

“If we could have had it fixed in a week, they could have managed that,” Harnick said. “But they couldn’t do several months.”

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time Harnick was in a building that was struck by a tree. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012 her house in Port Washington was struck by two trees. It was later deemed uninhabitable due to the damage, the only house in the Town of North Hempstead to be designated as such.

“So, I know what it sounds like when a tree hits a building,” she said.

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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