Volume 19, Number 3 | June 2-8, 2006

Sciame hints at cuts to the W.T.C. memorial

By Josh Rogers

Frank Sciame is likely to recommend moving the names in the proposed World Trade Center memorial up to street level, and may suggest eliminating the waterfalls, according to sources who have met with the construction expert tapped to reduce the rising costs of the design.

The underground museum will probably not move to the Freedom Tower, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has suggested, and will most likely remain where it is, according to several sources who spoke to Downtown Express on the condition of anonymity because their meetings with Sciame were private.

Moving the names above ground will make the memorial less expensive because it will require building less public space underground. It will also satisfy a demand of some 9/11 victims family members who have objected to having names written underground either for religious or symbolic reasons.

“It doesn't take an engineer to figure out that it would cost less money,” said one family member who has met with Sciame and favors the name relocation. The names would likely appear on the street-level walls surrounding the area above the Twin Towers' footprints.

Sciame, a construction engineer and developer based in the Seaport, was appointed by Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg on May 17 to figure out a way to bring the memorial costs down to $500 million. Sciame, who is not getting paid, has been meeting with officials with the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the WTC Memorial Foundation, architects, as well as with family members and residents on L.M.D.C. advisory panels. He is expected to produce a report with changes to the design by June 15.

Bloomberg told Downtown Express last December that even if the memorial costs ballooned to $2 billion, the design should not be changed, but he has since changed his position and is now insisting on the $500 million limit.

The current cost estimate is $672 million for the actual memorial and $300 million for infrastructure costs associated with preparing the memorial site for construction. It is not clear if Sciame has to cut $172 million to get to the $500 million or if he has to cut more. Pataki said that the infrastructure costs should not be included in the $500 million cap, but the mayor was less clear when he was asked about it during his weekly radio show Friday.

Bloomberg said he would not sign onto any memorial design unless all of the construction funding sources were identified. The Port Authority has committed to spending $100 million in memorial infrastructure costs, which could leave a $200 million shortfall if the Pataki approach is adopted. The Memorial Foundation has a $200 million pledge from the L.M.D.C. and has raised $130 million privately, so it would need $170 million to get to $500 million if it is not responsible for the infrastructure costs.

Sciame, who is also looking at ways to reduce infrastructure costs, has met twice with L.M.D.C. advisory panels ostensibly to get a sense of what they thought were the memorial's most important elements, but in the course of the meetings, he indicated which changes were likely to save significant amounts of money, and which were not. He did not discuss specific dollar amounts.

Some family members, including Monica Iken, a director of the Memorial Foundation, have suggested eliminating the plaza-level oak forest in the design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, but Sciame is not considering that at all, according to three sources, who said it would not save much money. One said Sciame, who is also an architect, made it clear the trees were a fundamental element not under consideration for cuts, and another said the trees would serve as a sound buffer from the bustle of the office towers, stores and train station also planned for the site.

Sound levels are also playing a role in the waterfall decision. “It turns out to be 80 decibels underground, which is unbearable,” said one source.

The L.M.D.C. has been struggling for years for a way to have the water flow in the winter while still preventing visitors from being drenched with cold water on windy days. The falls were to flow into two sunken reflecting pools at the footprints of the Twin Towers. By moving the names, which seems to be one of the most likely changes that will be made, officials would eliminate the wind problem because visitors would look down to see the falls and would not look directly at them. Sciame said eliminating the falls altogether but keeping the sunken pools would provide additional savings, according to several sources.

In January, the L.M.D.C. and foundation officials reversed positions for the second time within a month on the falls, saying they would spend the extra money needed to allow the water to run in the winter.

Another change likely to happen is making less of the slurry wall visible. The topic was not discussed much at the Sciame-L.M.D.C. meetings because there was not much opposition to the idea. Visitors would still have access to the bedrock area, which is 70 feet below ground. The pools are 30 feet below the plaza level.

Sciame said that moving the museum to the Freedom Tower, which is backed by the mayor and Community Board 1, will not save much money and would lead to other problems. The museum, with high ceilings to display large W.T.C. artifacts, could not be duplicated without changing the office tower design. It would also require visitors to the museum and memorial to pass through two security checkpoints as opposed to one.

One source said the idea of not building the museum at all has not been ruled out completely, but it does appear unlikely.

The sources have a wide range of views on the memorial, but they had high praise for Sciame.

“He's an honest, objective voice,” said one. “This memorial is in the best hands it has been in for a very long time,” said another.


Josh@DowntownExpress.com


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