I.P.N.’s dust is not just blowing in the wind

By Ronda Kaysen

At times, the dust wafting onto the Borough of Manhattan Community College campus is oppressive. It irritates the eyes, throat and skin as it settles on the campus’ third floor entryway. On windy days, coarse silt sweeps across the outdoor patio, rendering it unusable.

“There’s dust flying everywhere, it’s like you need a gas mask,” said one school administrator who declined to give her name.

The dust is coming from construction at nearby Independence Plaza North, a Tribeca residential complex in the midst of a major renovation project of its outdoor plaza. Debris drifting onto B.M.C.C.’s Chambers St. campus caught the attention of school administrators concerned for the welfare of their students and staff.

“They’re creating a certain amount of dust and it’s gotten into the lungs and eyes of a lot of faculty and students and they’re not happy about it,” said Martin Levine, a professor of chemistry, and the environmental health and safety officer for B.M.C.C.

The dust — created by the demolition of brick and mortar while the building’s plaza is renovated — is a dangerous irritant that can cause skin, respiratory and eye irritation. Generally, construction crews wet down concrete before they dismantle it and use tarps to cover an area to protect it from dust, techniques Levine insists are not being followed.

So far, attempts to get I.P.N. management’s attention have fallen on deaf ears, according to school officials. “They just don’t seem to care,” said Levine. “It’s upsetting to us. We try to maintain good relations with all our neighbors.”

Representatives for Stellar Management, the company that owns the building, were befuddled to hear that their neighbors at B.M.C.C. were unhappy. “They’re puzzled,” said Michael Woloz, a Stellar spokesperson. “I would question how many attempts were made to contact Stellar. They’ve never received a letter from B.M.C.C. Your call is the first we’ve heard about this.”

Woloz also insists Stellar has followed proper protocol and the dust is an unavoidable byproduct of necessary construction. “There’s always going to be some dust from a project like this one but it is coming to a close and the result will be a major necessary renovation to the plaza,” he said, adding that the material has been wetted to reduce dust and scaffolding and netting have been used.

Regardless, Woloz expects this phase of the renovation to wrap up in a few weeks. “The major work that may have resulted in some dust problems is coming to a close,” he said.

B.M.C.C. is not unfamiliar with construction. Developer Jack Resnick and Sons is building a residential tower at 200 Chambers St. around the corner and a new Robert De Niro-steered hotel is going up a block away on Greenwich St. Neither project has caused such distress for the staff and students, said Levine.

The school is also in the planning stages of a demolition process of its own. Fiterman Hall, a school property on West Broadway, was badly contaminated and damaged on Sept. 11 and will be demolished early next year, once the Environmental Protection Agency approves the school’s decontamination and demolition plans. “I know what we have to do,” said Levine, who has taken part in the planning process. “There are so many rules and regulations that we have to follow and will follow. We don’t want anyone to get ill or get sick.”

The school recently reported the I.P.N. dust problem to Community Board 1, which subsequently reported the issue to the Department of Buildings, which oversees construction work.

B.M.C.C. is not alone in its frustrations. I.P.N. residents have been suffering through months of construction dust and noise from ongoing construction to the complex’s plaza, the repointing of the facade and balcony work.

“The dust is unbelievable. It’s simply unbelievable. It’s cement dust and God knows what’s in there,” said Diane Lapson, president of I.P.N. Tenant Association. Tenants have complained of dust in their apartments, on their balconies and incessant noise from drilling.

Repeated calls to Stellar Management, which owns I.P.N., have had little effect, said Lapson. Requests to protect apartments from dust with plastic sheeting have gone unanswered. “It’s very frustrating… we have no idea if [the construction] is being done properly or not.”

Woloz insists that building management answers written requests from tenants. Some tenants have even written back praising Stellar for its attentiveness. Stellar “has been very responsive,” he said. “I’d like to see the backup to that claim. Are there e-mail receipts, are there fax receipts?”

Regardless, the worst is nearly over, Woloz said. And when all is said and done, “it’s generally going to be a real benefit to all the tenants.”


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