Investigation finds no violations at Washington Irving construction site

The construction site outside the Washington Irving High School campus (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A report on the ongoing construction at the Washington Irving High School campus released by the Department of Investigation last Monday determined that the School Construction Authority has not violated city, state or federal regulations as a result of the work, contrary to complaints from neighbors regarding noise, dust and other safety issues.

The SCA’s Office of the Inspector General received numerous complaints about the project regarding noise and dust but said in the report that the testing of noise levels has not resulted in any violations from the Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Buildings.

Although the DEP received more than 80 noise complaints between March 24, 2017, and December 17, 2018, and inspectors visited the site more than 80 times, the agency never issued a summons for a noise violation.

The report also noted that after a massive scaffolding was put up, neighbors immediately had concerns about congestion around the school and about homeless people congregating there and sleeping under it on the sidewalk. According to the report, the SCA addressed these complaints by reducing the work space and reduced the size of the scaffolding, referred to in the report as a sidewalk shed, to ease congestion. Additionally, a security guard was hired and the black netting around the shed was replaced with white netting and additional lighting was installed to improve visibility.

However, Gramercy residents have been holding monthly calls with the SCA about the work and have said they still have concerns about noise and dust, as well as the construction timeline.

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s office logged a complaint about noise on February 27 from a resident of East 17th Street adjacent to the school building.

DEP inspectors followed up on the particular complaint to schedule an in-apartment inspection but residents have expressed concern at previous public meetings on the topic that the construction noise hasn’t been monitored from apartments where residents would be most affected.

A noise monitoring device that the inspector general used to record sound levels for the investigation was installed on the roof of 146 East 16th Street, which is on the corner of East 16th Street and Third Avenue, almost a block away from the Washington Irving Campus.

The school as seen from Irving Place (pictured last fall) (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Residents have also previously contacted various city agencies involved in the project and local elected officials regarding trash from the school building that is often piled up outside the sidewalk shed on East 16th Street along the side of the campus.

The report from the DOI only addressed the noise, dust and safety issues related to the construction and representatives from the DOI did not clarify why the complaints about garbage were not included in the report. But residents in the neighborhood maintain that garbage is not being properly stored and cardboard is being stored in tilt trucks without fully closed lids.

According to Rivera’s office, residents requested that the garbage be moved to Irving Place from East 16th Street once construction is completed and although the Department of Sanitation said this is not safe, the agency said that they are willing to revisit the location for the garbage once the construction fencing is removed.

The SCA started the project in 2016 and the construction involves exterior modernization of the building, which is more than 100 years old, in addition to removing existing parapets, replacing the face brick, repairing the limestone and granite and repairing the interior walls and ceiling.

The DOI serves as the city’s inspector general and although the agency reports to the mayor and City Council, it operates independently of both offices. The DOI opened an investigation to review the SCA project after members of the community filed complaints about noise, dust and other safety issues related to the construction shortly after the project began.

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