Tags: new | york | united | nations

U.N. Renovation Mired in Controversy

Monday, 05 May 2008 12:01 PM

By Stewart Stogel

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As the United Nations officially kicks off a massive six-year, $2 billion renovation of its New York City headquarters, the project is already mired in controversy.

The so-called Capital Master Plan (CMP), which got underway Monday morning, will upgrade and modernize the U.N.'s 38-story Secretariat building and several supporting structures.

Most of the headquarters complex dates back to the early 1950s and has had little, if any, major maintenance.

The safety of those structures has been the subject of repeated complaints by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer. The U.N. is laden with asbestos and other building hazards all used during the original construction. Most areas did not even have sprinkler systems in the event of fires.

Only recently did the world body move to install such devices in selected areas of the headquarter's campus. That came after pressure from the Bloomberg administration. The mayor went so far as to prohibit New York school children from taking United Nations tours for fear of their safety.

U.N. employees have often complained about the complex being "rat and mice" infested, with minimal efforts made to address the problem.

The United Nations thwarted several attempts by New York health authorities to inspect the five restaurants serving thousands of staff and the general public daily. New York records revealed that sanitary inspections of the U.N.'s eateries had not taken place for over a decade.

The posh "Delegate's Dining Room," a haven for such celebs as Richard Branson and Naomi Campbell, had throngs of mice seen traversing its main kitchen during overnight hours.

When Newsmax photographed the numerous health violations, including mice droppings inside food preparation equipment, the UN responded by "reviewing" Newsmax's press accreditation.

While the United Nations is considered "international territory" and normally exempt from U.S. laws, that does not apply to issues of health and safety says the State Department. Unofficially, New York City authorities gave the U.N. a safety and health pass on areas not normally accessible to the public.

Only recently had city officials moved to address such issues, and only in areas visited by the public.

During the renovations, more than 11,000 U.N. employees and affiliates will need to be relocated. The organization will accommodate its own internal "refugee" migration by temporarily renting several nearby office buildings and constructing a new office tower on its North Lawn between 45th and 48th Streets in mid-town Manhattan.

U.N. sources tell Newsmax that the project, which officially starts just this week, is already more than $250 million over budget.

Though the United Nations has had problems raising the $2 billion needed for the renovations, it seems that squandering a reported $80,000 for "celebrations" related to the CMP's "official" kickoff was no problem.

Unlike previous UN "parties" where "private" donations have been sought to defray expenses, the CMP bash is being financed directly from funds "earmarked" for the reconstruction, explain U.N. sources.

With the renovations about to begin, Newsmax been told that several "unanticipated" problems have surfaced.

Among the challenges facing the U.N. construction crews:

1. The land on the U.N.'s north lawn where a new multistory temporary office center is to be built may not be strong enough to support it.

Unless modifications to the building or the land it will be built on are made, leaks (or worse) from the nearby East River could occur.

2. Numerous rare trees that sit on the same tract of land will need to be relocated. Word at the U.N. is that this problem will cost the organization at least $1 million in unanticipated costs. Moreover, numerous trees will not be saved.

3. Several of the existing office buildings the U.N. plans to move into do not meet safety and health codes.

Last week, officials ordered a temporary halt on the move into at least one of the temporary buildings. The U.N., it is reported, did not have the proper renovation certtificates.

4. In one of those buildings, word at the UN is industrial "radioactive" waste (from a previous tenant) has been discovered. It is not clear just how hazardous the waste is nor how it will be removed.

The U.N. Staff Union, which represents more than 5,000 workers at the New York campus, is said to reviewing the situation.

Both Bloomberg and U.S.-U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad were conspicuous no-shows at the Monday groundbreaking ceremony.

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