Volume 22, Number 30 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 4 - 10, 2009
Goldman comes under fire over falling glass
By Julie Shapiro
The latest accident at the problem-prone Goldman Sachs headquarters sent shards of glass sailing toward West St. last Saturday morning.
No one was hurt, but the city closed West St. below Chambers St. for much of the afternoon, snarling holiday weekend traffic throughout Lower Manhattan.
Angry Battery Park City residents confronted executives with Goldman Sachs and contractor Tishman Construction Corp. at a meeting Tuesday night, demanding answers.
“If anyone was down there underneath the shards of glass, we could have had a real tragedy,” said Linda Belfer, chairperson of Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee. “I have great concern walking near that building. I’m really afraid.”
Over the last two years, a load of steel beams, a steel plate and a hammer have all fallen from the building. The beams paralyzed an architect with the project. The steel plate landed on the adjacent ballfields and the hammer smashed the back window of a taxi, but in those two cases no one was injured.
Borough President Scott Stringer sent a letter to Tishman saying he was concerned about he pattern of accidents on the project.
Dino Fusco, a managing director with Goldman, said Tuesday night that he, too, was concerned. Goldman already has more than 1,000 employees working in the new 43-story building between Murray and Vesey Sts. and wants to ensure that they are safe, Fusco said.
“We deeply regret this,” added John Livingston, president of corporate operations at Tishman.
The glass panel that broke was on the 38th floor, on the north side of the building, said Rob Blackman, the project executive. Workers first noticed a half-inch hairline crack in the pane on Nov. 13 but decided to wait to replace the glass for a few weeks, until the hoist was taken off the building, Blackman said.
The crack was still the same size a week later, but the winds whipping off the Hudson last Saturday caused the pane to vibrate, lengthening the crack and sending pieces of glass down onto West St.
The Buildings Dept. stopped all work on the site immediately. Five other panes of glass on the north side of the building were cracked as well but did not shatter. Blackman said all of the panes would be replaced by Wednesday, and in the future, any cracked glass would be removed immediately.
Alberto De Gobbi, president of Permasteelisa North America, a project subcontractor, said it is common for glass to crack during a construction project, but he has never seen such a small crack develop into a safety hazard so quickly.
“This is a first,” De Gobbi said.
“We just want to make sure it is a last,” replied Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of the B.P.C. Committee.
De Gobbi said the glass is unlikely to crack once construction of the building is complete, but frequent inspections will continue.
Permasteelisa is also installing the curtain wall or exterior of the 76-story Beekman tower near the Seaport, and De Gobbi said he would apply the lessons learned at Goldman to that project as well.
The falling glass Saturday prevented the new ice rink on the B.P.C. ballfields from opening. Fusco said Goldman would reimburse the rink operators for the lost revenue and would also give some money to Pan Latin Cafe, which prepared extra food in anticipation of the opening.
But Jeff Mihok, a member of the B.P.C. Committee, said Goldman should find more ways to give back and suggested they sponsor free skating at the new rink for local residents, an offer that Goldman reportedly turned down previously.
“This is our community,” Mihok said. “This is where you built your huge building, which we didn’t ask for…. The people in this community have put up with lots of inconveniences for this tower. It would be what a good neighbor would do.”
Fusco at first defended Goldman, saying the accident happened “through no fault of our own,” but then said he would look into Mihok’s request.
In addition to their concerns about safety, several board members were upset that they had not received an alert about the accident or the West St. closure from the city’s Notify NYC alert system. The city only sent the alert to residents immediately adjacent to the Goldman tower, not to those who live in Gateway Plaza just to the south.
Tom Goodkind, a Gateway resident, said he often gets alerts about traffic jams and subway station closures in other boroughs, so it was surprising for the city not to send him an alert about an accident just steps from his home. The West St. closure left his wife and daughter stuck in traffic without any idea what was happening, Goodkind said.
Seth Andrews, spokesperson for the city Office of Emergency Management, which runs Notify NYC, said in a statement that the alert system “was designed to give zip-code specific information about emergencies. In this case, the decision was made to notify subscribers in the two zip codes directly impacted by falling glass.”
The B.P.C. Committee passed a resolution Tuesday night expressing concern about the lack of notification.