Construction accident near ballfields raises B.P.C.’s concerns


By Julie Shapiro

News of a construction accident at Sites 23/24 in Battery Park City heightened residents’ fears about the site, which is adjacent to the B.P.C. ballfields.

The accident occurred on Aug. 11 while workers were driving piles at Sites 23/24 for the two condo towers that Milstein Properties is building. One construction worker was cutting the short end of a steel pile, and a piece of the steel fell off and hit another worker in the abdomen, according to Milstein’s contractor. The worker stayed overnight in the hospital for observation and was released the next day.

Christopher Mills, the project executive with the contractor, Plaza Construction, told Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee about the accident during a presentation Tuesday night. The C.B. 1 members were not happy.

“That’s the kind of thing we want to avoid, not only with our workers but with our children,” said Linda Belfer, chairperson of the B.P.C. Committee.

The Department of Buildings stopped work on the project for two days following the accident and issued Plaza Construction a violation for failing to safeguard people and property, said Kate Lindquist, a department spokesperson.

Residents were already concerned about the safety of children playing on the ballfields after a piece of steel from the Goldman Sachs construction fell onto the field near a child last spring. The condo towers that will rise on Sites 23/24, along N. End. Ave. between Warren and Murray Sts., are even closer to the ballfields than the Goldman construction.

“We’re very aware and very concerned,” said Maria Rosenfeld, a development advisor for Milstein with Roseland Property. Workers will take extra precautions to keep the children safe, she said, but she added, “No matter what precautions you take, construction is a dangerous enterprise. Accidents happen. Things fly off buildings. Particularly in this part of Manhattan, you have high winds.”

Rosenfeld and Mills would not give any details about the site safety plan, which the Buildings Department is currently reviewing. They promised to give an update to C.B. 1 next month.

Barry Skolnick, a board member, asked if Milstein would follow the safety measures Goldman implemented after the sheet of steel landed in the ballfields. Those measures included wind monitoring and independent safety inspectors that report to the Builidngs Department.

Rosenfeld said Milstein is considering some of the measures, but others do not apply because Goldman is a steel building and Milstein’s condo towers will be concrete.

Rosenfeld also said Milstein may seek variances for evening and weekend work, if certain jobs would be safer to perform then. Such work would likely conflict with soccer or Little League games, so the community generally opposes after-hours variances.

“If we don’t agree, believe me, [the Department of Buildings] will hear about it before they grant you a variance,” Belfer told Rosenfeld. “If we agree with it, you’ll get your variance more easily than if we fight you.”

Workers have been driving piles for the foundation since the beginning of August and were hoping to finish before school started this week, but the Aug. 11 accident and mechanical failures delayed them. Parents at P.S./I.S. 89, the elementary and middle school across the street from the Milstein construction, are concerned that the noisy pile-driving will disrupt classes. Mills expects pile-driving to finish in the next two weeks. Of 859 piles, workers still need to drive about 200.

Once pile-driving is done, foundation work will go until January. The only above-ground work the community will see before then is the installation of six steel columns rising about three stories each. The columns will be like legs of a table, supporting the perimeter of the community center and allowing for it to have a large, open interior, without columns.

The concrete superstructure will rise throughout 2009, bringing Site 24, the southern tower, to 32 stories and Site 23 to 22 stories. It will take another year, until the end of 2010, to enclose the building. People will start moving in during the fall of 2010, Mills said.

The towers will contain 471 residential units, mostly condos but possibly some rentals, depending on the economy, Rosenfeld said. A parking garage with 94 spaces will sit beneath Site 23.

While the ballfield is closed this winter, between soccer and baseball seasons, Milstein plans to excavate beneath the field to install a fuel cell, which should take eight to 12 weeks. The Battery Park City Authority may put an ice-skating rink on the fields this winter, which could get in the way of Con Edison work for the project, Mills said. The rink possibility was first reported in Downtown Express’s UnderCover column in April.

“We’d rather not have a skating rink there,” Mills said, but he added that the rink would not delay the project.