Construction firm did more damage than Sandy, Queens residents say

Ralph Centalano sorts through a stack of documents pertaining to the Build it Back raise and repair on a Broad Channel home. (Photo: Mark Hallum/amNewYork)

Jennifer Blake’s home in Broad Channel, Queens hasn’t been the same since Superstorm Sandy tore its way through the Northeast seven years ago this week.

The city’s Build It Back program, with AECOM Tishman playing a key role in the rebuilding effort, was supposed to be a conduit back to normalcy and future protection, but homeowners feel their worst challenge has been dealing with seven years of poor construction work.

The scenario Blake illustrates of her home today is bleak — she has to set the TV volume to 80 just to hear above the sound of howling wind coming in through the cracks in the walls, floors and doors.

The foundation of the now-raised structure are uneven, making the floors slope in different directions. Her boiler presents a laundry list of grievances.

Jennifer Blake (left) and Ralph Centelano with a poster condemning the “Build it Back” program in Queens. (Photo by Jenna Bagcal)

She cannot even find respite in her jacuzzi tub because the motor has never been replaced by contractors who removed it and it leaks through the floor into the lower level.

Blake’s immediate neighbors to the west claim they have been put in similar positions of hardship with contractors who did sloppy work, with one confirming to amNewYork that this was his experience as well.

According to Blake, the company’s attempts to remedy bad work have been sketchy at best, with contractors passing the blame. When she refuses to sign grant agreements, she is threatened with non-compliance.

“Right on the contract, it says ‘to repair Sandy damage’ — they are not repairing Sandy damage, this is all damage that occurred from Tishman and AECOM doing incompetent work,” Blake said. “I have stress cracks in the flooring, my wood floors are all separating because the left side of the house is sagging off the foundation.”

Blake said AECOM Tishman was paid $900,000 to simply raise and repair her home and three other homes in her neighborhood, which are in similar shape, she said.

“I have seven heat tracers installed in my home and I still have my shower freeze. Their fix for that was to send someone down with a heater,” Blake explained. “Then I only have four plugs in my boiler room to plug in the seven heat tracers. All the thermostats are in the boiler room, so their fix for that was to drop off a surge protector. Then my electric bill went up by $100 in the winter last year.”

The new siding installed on the house was installed upside down, which was something that mystified a home appraiser who told her he didn’t know how the slats were staying attached.

Ralph Centalano lives under the same roof as Blake, but his role in the Build It Back program was from the perspective of more than just a homeowner.

As a union carpenter’s foreman for the rebuild effort by AECOM Tishman under a subcontract with Baumgardner House Lifting; Centalano said he worked on a dozen houses in the area, but claims he was later let go for refusing to deviate from approved prints.

Ralph Centelano and Jennifer Blake examine paperwork from the Build it Back program (Photo by Jenna Bagcal)

AECOM Tishman brought up Centalano’s termination in a statement to amNewYork responding to charges from Broad Channel homeowners.

“Mr. Centelano was terminated by his employer – Baumgardner House Lifting – who did the original work on his home,” a spokesman from AECOM Tishman said. “When we subsequently sent other contractors to address issues and work through final repairs, Mr. Centelano was abusive and used threatening language when addressing contractors and our staff.  Eventually, the City removed this home from our scope of work.  This is a case of a disgruntled former employee of a subcontractor with an ax to grind.”

Blake and Centalano claimed all they ever did was document items that needed fixing which involved taking pictures.

“This is the way we’ve been treated this whole entire time,” Blake responded. “Ralph had nothing to do with it… Ralph didn’t do the poor workmanship here.”

Contractors were granted access on at least 15 occasions and all of the non-compliance complaints were dropped.

Michael Capasso from CAC Industries, which partnered with Baumgardner on the subcontracting venture, said the company signed off on Blake’s house, meaning all work was marked as completed.

But Blake asserted that Centalano wasn’t the one with an ax to grind.

“[The contractors] hated [Centalano’s] guts because he would take pictures and inquire, and then they hung a picture of Ralph over in the trailer that they had on Power Road of Ralph across the street taking a picture of my house… That hung up there for months,” Blake told amNewYork.

Ralph Centalano points out problems with the windows installed by subcontractors. (Photo: Mark Hallum/amNewYork)

 

She explained that she was asked to sign agreements with new contractors that did not attribute the work as remediations to work by previous contractors, but to Sandy itself. Blake said she has been threatened with non-compliance for this, but that she only wants the agreements to represent the situation as the couple sees it.

AECOM Tishman was founded after the international construction firm merged with the family business of Daniel Tishman, which specializes in realty and hospitality. Tishman now serves on the board of directors for AECOM and is a member of the Real Estate Board of New York’s Board of Governors and Executive Committee.

AECOM has historically been awarded big contracts by the city and state for not only multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects, but also for what some New Yorkers regard as less essential builds. Hudson Yards, Battery Park City and One World Trade Center all have AECOM’s stamp on it.

The corporation has also been awarded a $107 million contract by the city to build four new borough-based jails as a future stand-in for Rikers Island. AECOM also completed work on the Second Avenue Subway in 2016 and is making stride in East Side Access to increase capacity on the Long Island Rail Road.

Mark Hallum