Volume 21, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 22 - 28, 2008

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Kirvens Michel was teaching toddlers soccer Wednesday as a noisy pile driver hovered over the fields in Battery Park City.

Driving the piles over the shouts of ‘play ball’

By Julie Shapiro

Three-year-old Parker Brandenburg tilted his head back and looked up, up, up. The towering construction equipment that caught his attention was pounding steel into the ground with piercing thuds that reverberated across the Battery Park City ballfields.

“They’re called pile drivers,” Parker said with satisfaction. “They’re very, very noisy.”

Parker, who was wearing a Mets cap over his bright orange hair, was waiting for his soccer class to start Tuesday morning at the ballfields. He happily watched — and listened to — the equipment he recognized from picture books.

But the pile drivers, which are building the foundation for a pair of condo towers for Milstein Properties at Sites 23 and 24, are getting less positive reviews from the coaches, parents and babysitters who spend hours on the adjacent ballfields. And the loud work will spill over into the first week of school in September, meaning that teachers and students at P.S./I.S. 89 across the street will have to deal with the noise.

Carolyn Happy, co-president of the P.S. 89 P.T.A., is angry that Milstein waited until Aug. 1 to start driving piles, when they could have worked all through July without disrupting students.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said.

The pile-driving should finish by the end of the first week in September, said Louis Della Peruta, the site manager for 23/24 with Plaza Construction Corp., Milstein’s construction manager.

Last month, Brian Krapf, a Milstein spokesperson with George Arzt Communications, said Milstein would finish driving piles before school started. This week, Jane Crotty, also with George Arzt, said workers intended to finish by Sept. 2 but equipment failures and excess groundwater delayed the work for a short period of time.

The Battery Park City Authority, which negotiated the development deal with Milstein and is also represented by George Arzt, referred questions to the developer and construction manager.

Milstein’s towers on N. End Ave. between Warren and Murray Sts. will rise 22 and 32 stories and are expected to open late in 2010 with a community recreation center.

Since schools are still on vacation, the organizations that use the ballfields during the summer have born the brunt of the noise.

“It was definitely loud,” said Bob Townley, executive director of
Manhattan Youth, which runs Downtown Day Camp. “They ain’t whistling Dixie — they’re driving piles.”

Townley isn’t as worried about the noise this fall, since he will have older children using the fields, who are better able to handle distractions. And in Lower Manhattan’s space crunch, Townley said he has to settle for what he’s got.

“I don’t like the noise at all, but I don’t have any other ballfields to go to,” he said.

Parker, the 3-year-old construction fan, was on the field Tuesday for a drop-in class run by Super Soccer Stars.

His father, Paul Brandenburg, 35, called the noise a nuisance for the parents but added, “Honestly, he loves it — he’d sit and listen to it the whole time.”

On Tuesday, one of the two pile drivers moved closer to the soccer class than it had previously been, right up against the fence separating the ballfields from the construction. With an echoing bang, the pile driver started up, startling coach Kenny Auyeung, 27, and his cadre of 2- and 3-year-old players. Auyeung put his hands over his ears in an exaggerated way, smiling at the kids. They mimicked him, as in a game of Simon Says. Then Auyeung shook his head, shrugged, and went back to teaching the kids to dribble their tiny silver soccer balls across the field.

“It’s hard to keep the focus of the kids, and also I worry for the kids because it’s a very abrasive environment to be in for a young person,” Auyeung said after the class was over. He reassures the children if they seem afraid, and he tries to keep all the activities high-energy because that’s the only way to keep a toddler’s attention, pile-driving or no pile-driving, he said.

Kirvens Michel, 23, another coach, said he has to shout so the kids can hear him over the construction noise.

“It is very distracting,” he said.

Tamika Wallace, 28, a babysitter, brought a pair of 3-year-old cousins to the soccer class Tuesday morning.

“It’s extremely noisy,” she said from the sidelines. “It’s even hard for me as a grownup, so can you imagine for them?”

One of the cousins lives nearby in Battery Park City, and Wallace said she has to keep the apartment’s windows closed during naptime so the children can sleep. They ask what the noise is and Wallace tries to explain that it’s a new building.

“After a while, they get used to it,” she said.

Bill Bialosky, leader of the Downtown Soccer League, is concerned about pile-driving and other construction work conflicting with the league’s practices and games, which start at the beginning of September. He said Plaza construction representatives assured him that they will end their day by the time practices start at 3:30 or 4 p.m. and that they will not seek variances for weekend work.

However, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center’s Web site says pile-driving will last until 6 p.m. on weekdays. Crotty, speaking for Milstein, said no pile-driving will happen on weekends. Della Peruta, the site manager, said he plans to work weekends later in the project, once the foundation is complete.

Bialosky and others said that while the noise of pile-driving is off-putting, they are more concerned about the danger the towers will pose once the construction rises out of the ground by early next year.

“We will be filling that field from edge to edge, and I don’t want to see one iota of construction activity taking place while we’re there,” Bialosky said. “We want to be focused on soccer and getting kids to play sports — not to get hung up on the politics of safety.”

Milstein had committed to follow a number of safety requirements both before and after the accident last spring in which a large sheet of steel flew off the Goldman Sachs construction, crossed Murray St. and landed on the fields.

But Happy, from the P.S. 89 P.T.A., is worried that the safety measures will not be enough. She regularly speaks with a Tishman Construction worker from the Goldman site, whose responsibility is pedestrian safety, and she said he told her that the construction of Milstein’s poured-concrete buildings pose more of a danger than the construction of Goldman’s steel-framed headquarters.

The Milstein buildings are also closer to the ballfields than the Goldman building. Milstein fenced off the construction site, but Bialosky thinks the fence should be twice as high, to stop runaway soccer balls from soaring over it.

Auyeung, the soccer coach, called last spring’s Goldman steel accident “disconcerting,” and he said he still has safety concerns about the site. About a month ago, he said he was coaching kids on the field when droplets of concrete began raining down, blown off of the Goldman building.

“It wasn’t dangerous,” Auyeung said, “but if that stuff was coming down, it could have easily been any other material that was less innocuous.”

Richard Kielar, a Tishman spokesperson, had not heard about the falling concrete but said he would look into it.

As the pile drivers pounded away on Sites 23 and 24 Tuesday morning, not everyone seemed fazed by them.

“It’s loud right now, but he’s surviving,” said one father, who sat with his son on the sidelines. “There are a lot of things out there to worry about, and this is not a big one.”

Julie@DowntownExpress.com




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