By Sabina Mollot
Last August, Town & Village reported on how the project to build a flood wall outside the VA Medical Center was scheduled to be finished by March of this year.
However, as anyone who has walked past the construction site recently could see, the project is still ongoing and the actual wall hasn’t even been built yet.
This week, when asked the reason for the delay, a spokesperson for the VA blamed the delay on “unforeseen factors,” specifically a less than cooperative construction site.
Work on the part of the wall along Asser Levy Park is now expected to be finished this summer, according to “tentative projections,” the spokesperson, Claudie Benjamin, said. The walls and work along 23rd and 25th street is now expected to continue until the end of the calendar year. Benjamin added that once the work along Asser Levy Place is finished, the park, which is now partially blocked off, should be “like new” at some point in the summer.
As for the difficult work conditions, Benjamin said this was discovered during the excavation for the flood wall’s foundation.
“We found some unanticipated site conditions that required us to bring in archeological and architectural teams to review and opine that we were doing everything safe for the site and the local community and that we didn’t have any archeological sites of significance,” she said.
Ultimately, she added, nothing especially interesting was found at the site.
Another problem workers ran into was that the materials found at the site were rocks, old timber piles and debris, making drilling impossible.
“Correcting and excavating this debris allowed the contractor to establish the proper pylons for the foundation,” Benjamin said, “but delayed us several months.”
Meanwhile, news of the delay will not likely be music to the ears of residents of Peter Cooper Village along East 23rd Street, one of whom recently told T&V that the work had started around 7 a.m. some mornings, and there’d been no shortage of jackhammering. Once, she was told by a neighbor that the work started right at 6 a.m., but that day she didn’t notice it.
The resident, Tenants Association Board Member Anne Greenberg, confessed, “I guess I sleep pretty soundly.” Nevertheless, Greenberg added, “I think before 8 a.m. is too much.”
Normally, she closes her windows to drown out the noise, but it’s still been audible since the construction site is across the street from her apartment.
Greenberg added that the work sometimes goes on during Saturdays, and it’s been ongoing since a month long hiatus after winter storm Jonas. The current part of the construction also seems to regularly involve use of a back hoe picking up and breaking up concrete by dropping it through the grill of the vehicle’s metal bucket.
“That in itself is incredibly noisy,” Greenberg told T&V recently, as she watched the action from her window. The noise is over by 4 p.m. each day though.
In response to the noise issue, Benjamin told T&V that when the hospital received complaints earlier this month about work beginning too early (prior to 7 a.m.) the contractor on the project, J. Civetta and Sons, was “admonished.”
Benjamin also said that as far as she knows work being done that early only happened on one occasion and the Department of Environmental Protection issued a citation to the contractor. As for the regular 7 a.m. weekday start time, this, she said, was coordinated with the city.
“Civetta has a long history of this specific type of work and therefore knows when they can work and has apologized for starting early on that one occasion,” Benjamin said.
She added that the weekend work is over at this point, with the contractors having worked on Saturdays to try to make a deadline for reopening the hospital’s main driveway to patients.
Additionally, the noise, which is at the Manhattan campus’s south side on East 23rd Street doesn’t appear to be disturbing neighbors living at the north end on 25th Street, east of First Avenue.
Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, said she hasn’t heard complaints about construction noise from neighbors, although, she added, “That doesn’t mean people in the 10 building aren’t hearing it.”
Handal said she was more concerned by the lack of outreach to the community on changes to the construction schedule.
She noted that the previous March completion timeline isn’t the first change in schedule, with reps for the contractor telling Handal last February that work was supposed to be done by October of 2015.
It was in February, 2015, when preparation work quietly began on the flood wall or “floodwall protection system,” as the hospital has referred to the project. This included placement of temporary fencing on the east side of the building by the new Asser Levy Playground.
The wall, which will be 14.5 feet tall at its highest point, is part of a larger $207 million hurricane repair and restoration project for the VA. Of all the hospitals on the East Side of Manhattan that were flooded by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Manhattan VA was damaged the most heavily and remained closed for six months.
Although the flood wall, which is designed by a firm called HDR, will be 14.5 feet high by Asser Levy Park it will appear to only be 11.5 feet high due to the ground there being three feet elevated from the hospital. The wall will stretch around the hospital’s east side and go west three quarters of the block towards First Avenue on 23rd Street and the entire length of the block towards First Avenue on the 25th Street side. The wall will slope downwards towards First Avenue to about eight feet from the ground. At 23rd Street it will vary from 11 feet high to about four feet high at the hospital entrance to match the existing wall.