Volume 21, Number 3 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | June 6 - 12, 2008, 2008

A newly released rendering of the Gehry-designed Beekman St. tower project, center. Located at the block-like base of the tower will be a new public school.

Crane collapse ratchets fears over Beekman project

By Julie Shapiro

Hours before Forest City Ratner planned to unveil Frank Gehry’s designs for the 76-story Beekman tower last Friday, a crane collapsed on the Upper East Side, killing two construction workers.

Ratner cancelled the celebratory unveiling and quietly released the images later that day. The final designs show an undulating tower of rippling stainless steel. Light spills down the sides of the tower like water, twisting from one side of the facade to the other. Beneath the tower sits a blocky brick structure that will house a new pre-K-to-8 school.

Residents got a sneak preview of the design the week before at a Community Board 1 meeting, but they were more concerned about the noise and safety of the construction than they were about the appearance of the final product.

The crane collapse on E. 91st St. added to the community’s concerns, especially because of the similarity between the projects. Just like the building that was under construction on the Upper East Side, the Beekman St. tower will have a school in its base and high-end apartments above.

“Every time there’s a crane accident, we worry,” said Suzanne Fass, who lives at 140 Nassau St. adjacent to the tower site. “Construction sites are dangerous places.”

Julie Hendricks, a Forest City spokesperson, would not say whether Forest City is looking at the Upper East Side accident to inform safety plans for the site.

“Our top priority is and remains to ensure the safety of our workers and residents in the area near the site,” Hendricks said.

During the presentation to C.B. 1, before the crane collapse, Joe Rechichi, senior vice president of construction for Forest City Ratner, played an animation that showed how construction will progress. As the building rose, the crane jumped higher and higher, ultimately towering well above the building’s 76 stories.

Rechichi detailed the construction schedule to give residents an idea of what to expect over the next three years. Forest City plans to build the concrete superstructure of the building between now and spring 2010 and finish enclosing it that summer. In July 2010, Forest City hopes to turn the school in the building’s base over to the School Construction Authority, so the S.C.A. can install fixtures and furniture in time for the projected September 2010 school opening.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver questioned that construction schedule.

“I am not as optimistic as Forest City Ratner,” Silver told residents and C.B. 1 members. “I think it wouldn’t be safe [to open the school] until later than September 2010.”

Silver and local parents would not want students attending the school while exterior work is still going on at the site. An exterior hoist used to transport building materials will be in place until spring 2011, Rechichi said, but it will be on the opposite side of the building as the school entrance.

The potential delay is unfortunate, Silver said, because the overcrowded district badly needs the new school’s 630 seats.

Susi Yu, vice president of development for Forest City Ratner, would not say whether it would be safe for the school to open in 2010.

“The community and Board of Education will decide if the school will open in 2010,” Yu said. “It’s not something we, the developers, can opine on.”

Rechichi added, “Our responsibility is the turnover. [The School Construction Authority] will be the ones to determine if it’s appropriate to open or not.”

But Margie Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education, said it was premature to discuss whether it will be safe to open the school and would not say how D.O.E. will decide if the school is safe. Before the school opens, “we have to make sure it complies with all regulations,” she said. The July 2010 turnover would likely give D.O.E. enough time to furnish the school for a fall opening, she said.

The site stood at a standstill for much of the fall and winter, as Ratner fought to secure funding. After the money came through — a feat in this poor financial climate that required six banks to pitch in — work on the building resumed earlier this spring. Construction workers are framing and pouring concrete for the lower floors of the building, which will house the school.

As the work restarted, so did the noise.

MAK Mitchell, who lives at 150 Nassau St., complained that a crane on the site continues working well past dinnertime, until 8 or 8:30 at night. The crane’s engine is right outside her window and its loud, steady noise irritates her and her husband.

“We have the right to live in the building we purchased and just have quiet time as much as you have the right to build,” Mitchell told the Forest City representatives. “Loud, noisy equipment after 6 at night is inappropriate.”

Rechichi replied that Forest City can legally work between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., and then the company requests a variance from the Department of Buildings for any work after that. Rechichi added that much of the work done after 6 p.m. is to clean the site and keep it safe. Residents, though, pointed out that as long as the crane is moving, cleanup work is just as noisy as regular work.

Nassau St. residents sued Forest City Ratner several years ago when initial designs for the tower placed it right up against their buildings. The plaza they won in an agreement with Forest City pushes the new tower 60 to 70 feet from their windows. The Gehry-designed plaza features trees, furniture and flower-filled planters.

Forest City is building another public plaza on William St. that will lead into the school entrance.

The leasing office for the tower’s 904 apartments will open in spring 2010 and Forest City expects residents to begin moving in during fall 2010. The tower will also house an ambulatory-care center for New York Downtown Hospital, 175 below-grade parking spaces for the hospital and 1,300 square feet of retail.





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