17 December 2007
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON CAPITAL MASTER PLAN

 


The groundbreaking for the construction of the temporary North Lawn building under the Capital Master Plan of the United Nations complex would begin in June 2008, Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the project, told correspondents today at a Headquarters press conference.


Mr. Adlerstein, meeting with reporters to discuss the accelerated renovation strategy for the United Nations complex that had recently been approved by the General Assembly, said that construction would be the first large-scale visible indication that the Capital Master Plan was under way.  That building would support two functions -- as a temporary home of the General Assembly and in providing all the conference facilities for the meetings of the Organization during the renovation.  It would also be the temporary quarters of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and its related staff.


Many more subtle activities were, however, already under way, he continued.  Those included the testing of the attachment stones to the building and the drilling into the North Lawn to test the subsoil conditions, which would inform the design teams.


Mr. Adlerstein said that the accelerated Capital Master Plan approved by General Assembly resolution 62/87 of 10 December endorsed reducing the period for the renovation of the complex from seven years to five, while retaining the original budget at $1.876 billion.  The new strategy that was proposed by the Secretary-General provided many advantages to the United Nations, including reducing the risk of construction complications and delays associated with undertaking the renovation in a partially occupied Secretariat building.  The two year saving also reduced the time that the normal functions of the United Nations would be disrupted.


The Capital Master Plan had devoted effort to ensuring that the renovation would be a model of environmentally sustainable construction, he continued.  As previously reported, for a visitor looking at the United Nations building in 2013, the only visible difference would be the electricity bill.  However, in addition, he might also see photovoltaic cells and other expressions of sustainable design.


Under the plan approved by the General Assembly, the renovation of the complex would take place in one phase and the staff on all the above-ground floors of the Secretariat would be relocated during the construction, he said.  The project was in the final stage for design and negotiations for swing space for the Secretariat staff.  The plan was to provide easily accessible swing spaces, so that ongoing work and meeting schedules would have the least disruptions during the renovation.


According to him, several swing place locations would be used.  Over 2,000 individuals would remain on the United Nations compound, moving into swing spaces inserted into the temporary North Lawn Conference Building, the Secretariat basements, the South Annex and the Library building.  The balance of the staff would be in four offsite locations.  For that, a lease had been executed for office spaces on 46th Street between First and Second Avenues.  In addition, lease negotiations were ongoing in Long Island City to house the materials and staff of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, and another for office space in a new building for about 350 staff there.  Lease negotiations had also just begun for additional swing space in midtown Manhattan.  Those arrangements would be finalized by the spring.  It was expected that about 1,700 people would go to the mid-Manhattan location that was still under negotiation.  About 1,000 spaces had already been allocated.


The staff of the Secretariat building would be moved to the four swing space locations in early 2009, when the renovation of the Secretariat building would commence.  In parallel to that work, work would commence on the Conference building and the General Assembly building.  The last phase of the project would be the renovation of the basements, the South Annex and the Library building.


As reported a few months ago, the project was over budget by approximately $219 million, he continued.  That was based on the delays from last year.  With the adoption of the resolution, it was now possible to formally begin the process of designing for the accelerated strategy, adding additional blast and greening considerations and revisiting the design assumptions to bring down the budget.  That process was well under way and the results would take time.


He said that the budget could not be re-evaluated until the redesign was done.  Now that that redesign had been permitted by the General Assembly resolution, that re-evaluation could occur.  The Capital Master Plan was committed to bringing the budget back to the original approved budget which was $1.876 billion.


He said that the type of renovation work and the level of change in the finished spaces would vary.  In the historically important areas of the complex, delicate removal of historic material would be followed by the installation of new heating, cooling, security, fire protection, information technology and broadcast systems.  Many of the public spaces, such as the Economic and Social Council, the various conference chambers and the General Assembly, had special designs that needed to be preserved.  Some of them would need to be taken down, along with some of the wood panelling in many of the rooms, to be cleaned and refurbished before being put back.  Once those new systems were in place, the renovated historic materials would be reinstalled.


In other parts of the complex, full demolition and reconstruction was the more appropriate and more cost-effective approach.  The contractors would first ensure the safe removal of all hazardous materials, such as asbestos.  They would then remove all existing materials and equipment, including the enormous glass curtain wall on the east and west faces of the Secretariat.


In 2010, he said, the central core, structure and the bare concrete slabs would be visible.  The glass facades of the east and west sides of the tower would be gone, with new more sustainable glass walls being installed in their place.  Everything would be stripped out and then replaced with modern equipment from the floor slabs up, on each of the Secretariat’s 39 floors.


To conserve energy and funds, certain components would be reused, including furniture for use in the swing spaces, he stated.  However, the building systems, including heating, cooling, fire protection, information technology and others would all be new.


The purpose of the Capital Master Plan was to renovate the Headquarters facilities to provide sustainable, safe, modern and efficient facilities for the representatives of the Member States, staff and visitors.  In order to promote increased communications with the United Nations Staff Union on the renovation, the Staff Union had nominated a single focal point to act as its principal liaison with Management on the Capital Master Plan.


In response to a question, he said the Capital Master Plan was working on the assumption that the ability to receive visitors within the complex would always exist.  It was possible that, at some point during the renovation of the General Assembly, that building would not be available, but there would always be visitor access to the complex.  There might also be short periods of time when, logistically, construction might prevent access, but closing down the visitor function was not foreseen.


On where the press area would be during the renovation, he said that, with the approval, the issue of where everyone would go was being looked at again.  Some people would go to swing spaces but the press would stay in the compound.  Their exact location had yet to be determined.  The Capital Master Plan would be working on the location for everyone during the next two months, and there would be discussions with the correspondents at some point during that time.


He added that the Security Council would remain at its present location, except during the period of time that the conference building would be renovated.  For the two years that the conference building would be under renovation, the Council would be in the temporary conference building.


Mr. Adlerstein added that the greening measures were still a work in progress, but the general concept was to cut energy consumption by at least 40 per cent, both by creating better envelope and by creating better systems to generate the heat and lighting.


He said the removal of asbestos would be totally safe, as staff would not be in the same building.  The building would be vacant during the work.


Responding to another question, he said that the Capital Master Plan was in agreement with Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the United Nations building should be safe and was working towards making it safe.  It was also working on some dates and deadlines with the State and the City of New York and everything was on track.


On security, he said that the Capital Master Plan had been moving in the direction of a very secure new facility, even before the Algiers bombing.  Security had played a large role in the considerations for the renovation of the buildings, as well as for the construction.  The project met a level of consideration for blasts that would make the building very safe.  The Capital Master Plan was also working with the City of New York and the United States Government on many aspects of security.


Since the United Nations was facing East and West and did not have a large South facing area, there was not a very large surface area for the installation of photovoltaic cells, he said.  Thus, the ones being installed would be mainly symbolic and would energize a portion of the building, but would not be a major source of energy.  Other forms of energy generation were also being looked at, as possible symbolic sources, as well as for generating energy.  The most sustainable energy source in an urban area like New York was electricity.  The new complex would have a variety of energy sources and there would be back-up generators for emergency and for security installations.  Currently, the basic energy bill for the complex came to about $13 million per year.


With regard to the art collection, the Capital Master Plan was in discussion with some Member States to take back some of them during the period of construction, he said.  That would allow them to clean and restore the artwork.  Other pieces that could not be moved at all, because they were embedded into the building, would be protected in place, while some others would be moved to safe locations in the basement.  Still, others would go to warehouses, but, in the end, they would all go back to their present locations.


He added that correspondents would come back to roughly the same locations they were currently occupying, although that matter was currently being looked at and revisited.  A lot of reconfiguration was going to take place on some of the spaces.  In terms of the infrastructure, everything in the spaces would be removed, including all wiring.


The temporary conference building could not be saved for later use, as it would involve a far greater cost if it was to be made a permanent building, he explained.  A permanent structure would take far longer to design as an appropriate facility for the North Lawn.  The building was being designed not to be beautiful or permanent, and was not funded to the level that would allow it to be permanent.  It would be a metal structure called a “ Butler type building” with a metal frame that could be put up and taken down quickly.  The parts were reusable.  It would most likely be a two-story structure and would be used to house the functions of the conferencing building in one phase and the General Assembly building in another, since it would not be large enough to house both the conference rooms and the General Assembly at the same time.  It would serve for two years in one phase, and would then be reassembled in the second configuration for the next two years.


For linking the swing spaces, the use of shuttles was a possibility, if necessary, he said.  The idea of a ferry had not yet been looked at with regard to the Long Island City location, but there was a good subway connection.


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For information media • not an official record