Volume 20 Issue 23 | October 19 - 25, 2007

Fiterman leader says we’ve learned from Deutsche

In the wake of the deadly fire at the former Deutsche Bank building, the deconstruction team at another damaged 9/11 remnant — Fiterman Hall — has vowed to learn from their neighbor’s mistakes.

“I’d like to say that on behalf of all of us involved in the Fiterman Hall project, we were deeply affected by the events in August at Deutsche Bank,” said Iris Weinshall, vice chancellor of planning and construction for the City University of New York, at an Oct. 2 public meeting on the Fiterman project. “The Fiterman Hall project team has taken these events very seriously and has used the information gleaned from the Deutsche Bank building experience as an opportunity to inform our own process.”  

Fiterman, a Borough of Manhattan Community College building at 30 West Broadway, was heavily damaged and contaminated on 9/11 when 7 World Trade Center collapsed into it. Since then, plans to decontaminate and dismantle the 15-story structure have been delayed numerous times due to insurance wrangling and financing shortfalls.

Now, new scaffolding surrounds the building and crews are prepared to begin cleaning the structure of toxins as soon as regulatory agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Dept. of Labor give the project the go-ahead. The Fiterman team has already submitted its decontamination plan twice and is hoping the third revision will be the charm. It remains uncertain when the dismantling work will begin.

In addition to addressing lingering environmental issues like the structural integrity of the cardboard boxes that will be used to transport contaminated waste, the revised plan will include safety measures developed with the city Fire Dept. following the Deutsche tragedy.

The Fiterman project has long planned to fully decontaminate the building before deconstructing it piece by piece — an approach that environmental advocates believe is less complicated and therefore safer than doing both activities at once. At Deutsche Bank, regulators are leaning toward switching to the two-part process. The Fire Dept. has also inspected both of the water standpipes at Fiterman and has deemed them to be functional.

During the Deutsche fire, a broken standpipe made it more difficult and time-consuming to apply water to the blaze. Firefighters were also hindered by maze-like floors, poorly marked exits and a lack of knowledge about the building’s environmental sheeting.

The Fiterman team has therefore pledged to provide regular updates to first responders regarding the conditions within the building, including environmental controls and any changes to floor plans that may occur as the building comes down. Workers will receive site-specific training and there will be security at the building 24 hours per day, similar to the new demolition plans at Deutsche. Inside Fiterman, exit pathways will be kept clear and will be marked with lights and signage.

Once the Fiterman plan is approved, it is expected to take about a year to decontaminate and take down the building. Once the old Fiterman Hall is gone, the university will construct a new 15-story classroom building in its place.

Last spring, the city proposed to add performance space for the Signature Theater to the plans for the new Fiterman Hall. The theater had been selected as one of the cultural institutions for the World Trade Center Performing Arts Center, but it was forced from the PAC plans as delays and costs for the complex mounted. Signature will have to keep searching for a Lower Manhattan home, Weinshall, who resigned as the city’s Transportation commissioner at the beginning of the year, confirmed at the Oct. 2 meeting.

“After an intensive investigation of the design, construction and cost impacts of accommodating Signature Theatre in our building, CUNY and the mayor’s office both concluded that the numbers did not add up,” Weinshall said.

— Skye H. McFarlane

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