Deutsche work stops indefinitely after small fires


By Julie Shapiro

Work at the former Deutsche Bank building halted again last week after an electrical fire disrupted power to the building.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which owns the building, could not say this week when work would resume, but it could take weeks to do a complete review of the building’s electrics and fix the problem.

“We’re not going to go back in until we figure out what happened,” said Mike Murphy, L.M.D.C.’s spokesperson.

The fire started around 2:45 a.m. last Thurs., April 2 when an electrical panel shorted out in a temporary power shed outside of the building, said Murphy and F.D.N.Y. spokesperson Steve Ritea. Security guards noticed smoke coming from the power shed and found burned and frayed wires inside, but did not see any flames, Murphy said. Workers evacuated and the Fire Dept. responded.

Workers shut down all power to the building, except for the minimum power needed to maintain the negative air pressure that keeps potential contaminants inside. The negative air pressure may have been disrupted briefly, but Murphy said the air monitors on the building have not shown exceedences of any chemicals.

The reason the building’s power was routed through the temporary shed was because workers were cleaning the contaminated switch room on the basement and first floor of the building and could not have electricity running through there, Murphy said. Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor, now has to find a safer way of providing power to the building to resume work and clean the switch room.

One week earlier, the project had another small fire when a hoist motor overheated around the 12th floor on March 27. Workers took the hoist out of service and replaced the engine, Murphy said. He said the two fires were not related.

Tony Sclafani, spokesperson for the Dept. of Buildings, agreed that the fires did not appear to be related, but he said the D.O.B. hopes the contractors’ new electricity plan will prevent anything like either incident from recurring.

The recent fires are the latest obstacle to beset the long-delayed Deutsche Bank project. In 2007, two firefighters were killed when a much larger fire broke out in the building as it was being decontaminated and demolished simultaneously. Work resumed in the building early last year, and until the April 2 electrical fire, workers were decontaminating the building so demolition could begin this spring.

But the latest monthly report the L.M.D.C. issued this week gives no timeline for the decontamination and demolition, since everything is on hold until the electricity problem is solved.

The building is decontaminated down through the fourth floor, and the facade is removed down through the 10th floor.

The decontamination and facade removal both have to finish before Bovis can begin demolishing the building, and Bovis also has to get its demolition plan approved by government regulators. Bovis is still revising the plan based on community feedback received last month and will post a revised version on the L.M.D.C.’s Web site soon.