6 March 2008


6 March 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The historic renovation of the United Nations Headquarters complex -– the Capital Master Plan -- was on track, within budget and moving faster every day, Michael Adlerstein, the project’s Executive Director, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Updating the media on progress since December, when the General Assembly had approved an accelerated renovation strategy for the United Nations complex, he said that, by signing two additional leases, the Organization had secured all the swing space required for the temporary relocation of 2,600 staff members.  In particular, the United Nations had just signed a lease for a building at 380 Madison Avenue and 46th Street, which would accommodate about 1,820 staff.  Space would also be used in the buildings under existing leases, including the DC-1, DC-2 and FF buildings.

Design work on the Albano Building at 305 East 46th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, was almost complete, he continued.  It would accommodate some 750 people and house the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Design work on the recently leased space in Long Island City was also near completion.  Three floors of that building would be used for the Information Technology Division and one floor for New York staff of the International Computing Centre to be funded by the International Computing Centre.  Plans had been revised for the storage and staff of the library collection, who would remain on site for the duration of the renovation.

He went on to say that. in May, the builders intended to start construction of the temporary North Lawn conference building, the most visible aspect of the Capital Master Plan.  The structure would first serve as a conference building while the existing conference facilities were under renovation.  Afterwards, the temporary building would be reconfigured to house the General Assembly.  It would also serve as a location for the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and related staff.

The Plan would upgrade the United Nations facilities to bring them into compliance with modern building, safety and fire codes, he said.  Following productive negotiations between the United Nations and the City of New York, an understanding had been reached on a number of important aspects of the project.  Under the agreed framework, the Organization would voluntarily apply New York City building and safety codes, inviting City safety officials to visit periodically, as appropriate.  The framework would take into account “the important interests of New York City, while preserving the privileges and immunities of the UN, without reservation”.

He said progress had also been achieved in updating and revising the design of the project to incorporate the sustainability and greening initiatives championed by the Secretary-General, the blast concerns required by security and the value-engineering required by the budget.  While initially aiming to improve energy efficiency by 30 per cent, the Plan was now setting a more ambitious goal of 40 per cent.  Fresh-water consumption would be reduced by 30 per cent, instead of the initially envisioned 20 per cent.

Responding to several questions about the temporary North Lawn building, Mr. Adlerstein said its construction would take 14 to 15 months.  As soon as it was completed, renovations would start on the Conference Building, which would take about two years.  In late 2011, the temporary building would be converted into a “GA-receptive building”, following which renovations of the General Assembly Building would begin, also taking about two years.

Regarding the codes, he said the current work on fire safety and fire detectors was on “a totally separate track” from the Capital Master Plan.  That work was being carried out according to the schedule agreed with the City of New York.

On plans to move some 200 journalists working at the United Nations to the Library, he said meetings had been held with the media to discuss the logistics of the move, but that was part of a larger discussion.  Work on the Secretariat Building would start in the latter part of 2009, and with some 5,000 staff members to be affected by the move, the Capital Master Plan Office was involved in complex talks with all departments to determine who was moving where and when.  All those determinations would be made in the course of 2008.  As for the concerns of broadcast journalists, clearly, the required infrastructure would be in place before they were moved.  Under the new configuration, the media would have the same opportunities, formal and informal, as they presently enjoyed.

“We have committed ourselves to staying within our budget,” he said regarding the costs of the project, which the Assembly had approved in the amount of $1.87 billion.  As reported last December, the project had been $219 million over budget, but under the current accelerated strategy, adopted to save time and money while reducing risks, the Capital Master Plan Office and the Organization’s contractor were trying to trim the over-budget amount through value engineering.  The budget had already been reduced by some $100 million.

In response to a question about possible “add-ons” associated with the Plan, he said that, from the very beginning, some associated costs had not been included in the Capital Master Plan.  They included additional security, maintenance and information technology costs involving rewiring and the establishment of a data centre.  There was an ongoing dialogue among all departments to determine those costs and see how to proceed.

Regarding the relocation of the Security Council, he said that that issue had not been finalized, but the Council would move along with other entities soon after the completion of the temporary conference building.  “We will not disturb any of the conference functions until we disturb them all.”  A number of locations had been considered for the Council, which would not leave the compound.  The North Lawn building was considered to be very safe, and other locations within the complex were “even safer”.

On moving out of the Secretariat Building, he said that would start at the end of this year.  The consultants had identified the freight elevators as “the neck of the funnel”.  Moving on weekends, it would take four to five months to move all employees out.

Responding to a question about “the Skanska scandal” in Argentina, he described that term as unfortunate, noting that, during the selection process, there had been an issue relating to one of the company’s partners in South America.  The details had all been cleared by the Office of Legal Affairs.  The United Nations had conducted a separate investigation to ensure there was no problem.  Skanska had acted in accordance with the highest standards of behaviour.

On a related matter, he said he had issued an ethics letter to everyone involved in the project.  Although he had no doubts about the integrity of his staff or anyone working for the project, the purpose of the letter was to remind everybody concerned that perception was as important as reality.

Regarding art work, he said the first four floors of the building would be treated as culturally significant space which must be preserved.  All the panelling would be restored.  The varnish and dirt that had accumulated over the years would be removed, making the rooms lighter.  While “greener lighting” would be used, the lighting patterns in the public spaces would not be changed.  All the spaces above the fourth floor, except for the 38th floor, would be treated as “modern office environments”.  All “non-historic” walls would be removed, and all toxic materials, including asbestos, would be disposed of properly.

In response to another question, he said that, according to the estimates, about one third of the materials in the building were worthy of being moved, one third would be archived and about one third would be recycled.  Efforts would be made over the next 10 months to start sorting the materials out.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.