By Julie Shapiro
Alarmed by a growing litany of safety violations at the former Deutsche Bank building, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. demanded last month that contractor Bovis Lend Lease replace managers on the job.
In a Jan. 29 letter that has not been made public, the L.M.D.C. told Bovis that the latest problems at the troubled building — including a melted light, a falling wrench and a fuel spill — were unacceptable. Errol Cockfield, L.M.D.C. spokesperson, called the letter “strongly worded.” The Daily News first reported on the L.M.D.C.’s letter earlier this week.
Members of Community Board 1 were not happy to hear of the continued safety issues in the building.
“Why is this happening again?” Marc Ameruso asked Cockfield at a meeting Monday night.
“We’re asking the same question you’re asking of the contractor,” Cockfield replied, “and we share that displeasure.”
Ameruso continued to press Cockfield, saying the recent problems sounded disturbingly similar to the trail of accidents leading up to the 2007 fire in the building that killed two firefighters.
“I thought that after the fire, there were protocols put in place where things like this really were not supposed to happen,” Ameruso said. “It seems like a series of things is happening again.”
Bovis avoided being indicted after the fire but admitted shortcomings in an agreement with former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. A Bovis supervisor and two supervisors with subcontractor John Galt Corp. have been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the firefighters’ deaths and their cases have not yet come to trial. The city was not charged but also admitted fault for not adequately supervising the project.
After the fire, government agencies stepped up inspections of the job and Bovis replaced Galt with the more reputable LVI Environmental Services. Bovis made many changes to make the job safer, including separating the decontamination of the building from the demolition and giving workers additional training. In January 2008, Bovis created the new position of project safety manager for the Deutsche Bank building and assigned it to Ray Master, who previously oversaw 80 Bovis projects.
Shortly after Master started the job, he promised at a City Council hearing “to get this job done without incident.”
A few months later, he told Community Board 1 that demolition “is a much more dangerous job” than decontamination, and he planned to retrain all workers before demolition started.
Still, the project has received periodic violations since then, including several work stoppages.
“It’s outrageous that there are still so many violations, said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of C.B. 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee and one of the project’s closest watchdogs. “This is a high-profile job with a lot of people supervising it.
On Jan. 28, the day before the L.M.D.C. sent the letter, an unapproved light on the 21st floor of the building melted and workers failed to report the incident, as they are required to do under safety plans, according to the city Buildings Dept.
Other recent problems include workers using torches near a fuel tank, and workers accidentally damaging the protective sidewalk shed and spilling diesel fuel on Greenwich St. Downtown Express had previously reported on two of the most serious recent violations, involving the torches and the falling wrench.
A Bovis spokesperson did not return a call for comment. Cockfield said Bovis had promised to conduct a review of the project, and the L.M.D.C. was awaiting the results. Cockfield refused to release the L.M.D.C.’s letter to Bovis.
The Deutsche Bank building, at 130 Liberty St., was 41 stories tall when it was heavily damaged on 9/11 and was down to 26 stories at the time of the 2007 fire. Since the L.M.D.C. resumed demolition late last fall, a few more floors have come down, and now the building stands at 21 stories. This weekend, Bovis will be lowering the crane and hoist several stories to allow the work to continue.
The L.M.D.C. expects Bovis to finish demolishing the building by the end of the year. Cockfield said the recent violations have not slowed progress on the job.