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DOB says Ratner should've anticipated Ward Bakery danger & also used shed; violations assigned

Forest City Ratner and its contractors should’ve been much more careful. That’s the conclusion of a report by the Department of Buildings (DOB) on the April 26 collapse of a 200-foot section of the parapet of the 100-year-old Ward Bakery on Pacific Street. The fallout was alarming, as the 55-foot drop spread terra cotta and rubble around a sidewalk not protected by a shed, but fortunately was not fatal.

(Photos from DOB report except as marked.)

DOB’s report, dated “July 2007,” first surfaced in a Daily News exclusive this morning, headlined Building's collapse no surprise: Ratner knew of damage to Ward building, but didn't halt demolition - report. (The headline is overstated, because it was the parapet, not the building that collapsed, and it was asbestos abatement rather than full-scale demolition.) The Daily News says the report was issued July 25.

The department’s Forensic Engineering Unit concluded that the parapet had suffered extensive structural deterioration:
Forest City Ratner had been apprised of the deterioration of the façade and the parapet, but the extent of the deterioration and the risk of collapse had apparently not been communicated to the crew that had been assigned the task of removing tar and asbestos coatings from the rear of the parapet. As a result of the deteriorated conditions, even the relatively passive construction activities involved in removing the coatings precipitated the collapse of the terracotta tiles and the bricks on which they were mounted.


[Updated] The DOB reports the following violations:

(Owner) Forest City Ratner Companies, LLC: Failure to maintain the exterior building wall. Approximately 200’ long by 7’ high section of parapet wall at Pacific Street side of building collapsed and fell approximately 55 feet to grade level. DOB Forensic Engineer Report dated July ’07 shows that collapsed parapet structure and related building area was deteriorated and structurally defective before the collapse and contributed to the collapse. Chipping hammer observed at ground near collapsed debris.

(Owner) Pacific Vanderbuilt Development Company, LLC: Failure to maintain exterior building wall. Approximately 200' long x 7' high section of parapet wall at Pacific Street side of building collapsed and fell approximately 55 feet to grade level. DOB Forensic Engineer Report dated July '07 shows that collapsed parapet structure and related building area was deteriorated and structurally defective before the collapse and contributed to the collapse. Chipping hammer observed at ground near collapsed debris.

(Demolition Contractor) Gateway Demolition Corporation: Failure to safeguard persons and property during building work. Work to remove asbestos-containing material with scrapers and electric chipping hammers observed to be 90% complete. Approximately 200' long x 7' high section of parapet wall collapsed and fell approximately 55 feet to grade level. DOB Forensic Engineer Report dated July '07 states that collapsed parapet structure and related building area was deteriorated and structurally defective before the collapse AND no steps were taken to secure already compromised structure before the parapet work began.

It's not clear from the DOB's violation page what the maximum penalty is, but it's typically a $2500 fine. The penalty will be determined by the Environmental Control Board, according to DOB.

The Daily News quoted an opponent:
Forest City Ratner "should be heavily fined for this," said Daniel Goldstein, a member of the opposition group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. "Ratner's negligence is stark evidence that the community desperately needs the ombudsman promised by [state officials] over 93 days ago."

An FCR spokesman was quoted:
"Our contractors were engaged in necessary predemolition asbestos-abatement work," [Bruce] Bender said. "We believed at the time that all safety measures were being taken."

What about the shed?

[Updated] It wasn't clear to me that the report says the developer was cited for removing the shed. DOB spokeswoman Kate Lindquist had said in April that a sidewalk shed was not required for asbestos abatement, the report suggests that the failure to reinstate the shed was wrong:
Given the deteriorated condition of the façade and parapet, the asbestos removal should not have proceeded without protective measures in place.

Lindquist today confirms that both her previous qoute was correct and that a violation was issued:
The Building Code does not require a sidewalk shed to be installed during asbestos abatement work. However, the Code does require the contractor to safeguard the public and property during construction work and the property owner to maintain his or her building in a safe and lawful condition. Knowing the condition of the parapet and façade, as outlined in the engineering report prepared by Thornton Tomasetti, Gateway and the owners were made aware of the condition but failed to take appropriate action to safeguard the public and property during construction operations.

(Top two photos by Robert Guskind of the Gowanus Lounge. Bottom photo by Jonathan Barkey. Composite by Lumi Rolley of No Land Grab.)

In April, I noted that a shed had existed for years—18 months, the DOB clarifies--but apparently was removed at some point after March 3. On March 21, the developer filed for a permit to build a new shed, but it had not been installed, as sewer work took precedence.

New measures

The asbestos abatement work resumed in early July. That announcement promised "new protective measures, such as additional site safety engineers to oversee demolition operations and the installation of sidewalk sheds and netting at all abatement and demolition sites." Also, "the developer has revised its means and methods plan for abatement and demolition operations to ensure the sequence of both types of work do not interfere with one another."

The new report states:
Based on the parapet failure, the owner’s engineer and demolition contractor are now “front ending” removal of the remaining portions of the parapets prior to the remaining asbestos abatement. This procedure should have been adopted earlier. The remainder of the building can be safely demolished with usage of standard demolition techniques and safeguards.
(Emphasis in original)

This isn't the first unsafe demolition performed by Forest City Ratner contractors; the use of a backhoe last year, when use of hand tools was mandated, was the first.

Building history

The report explains that the 4- and 5-story "through block" building has multiple sections and wings, serving as Pechter’s bakery for 90 years. Constructed from steel beams and columns supporting cinder concrete slabs, the complex was ornamented with white glazed terracotta blocks, clay made to simulate cut stone.

The report states:
Based on Italianate architecture, the bakery was designed to have a monumental appearance when viewed from afar. Ornamental white glazed terracotta blocks were used to frame the large windows. Steel angle frames were placed behind the 7’ high parapet to support signage announcing the bakery.

Indeed, a photo from 1955 shows that sign proudly proclaiming the building’s identity.


Though preservationists have called for saving the building, slated to be razed for interim surface parking, and developer Shaya Boymelgreen was said to have plans to turn it into a hotel, DOB cites “long term structural integrity problems with the exterior walls” and says “structural deficiencies with the façade date back at least to the early 1990’s.”

A report developer Forest City Ratner commissioned and submitted to the New York State Office of Historic Preservation in August 2006 said a majority of the façade’s glazed terracotta is damaged and would have to be replaced, not repaired. With the cost of lowering window sill heights to meet current code requirements, a renovation would be technically feasible but “impractical and unrealistic.”

The report calls 800 Pacific Street “a vacant and deteriorated warehouse;” that may be so, but a segment of a connected structure at 808 Pacific--a warehouse, according to DOB--still operates as Pack It Away Mini Storage.

Causes of collapse

The report explains that that structural steel became corroded because of “long term water infiltration through the terracotta and brick.” The development of rust led to an increase in volume, pressuring the adjacent brickwork, eventually snapping the exterior brickwork.

Such deterioration “is frequently encountered (and repaired) with similarly constructed steel framed buildings in New York City,” the report states. However, “parapets and cornices are especially susceptible to failure” because they experience weather effects “on both interior and exterior faces.”

Should've been foreseen

The report concludes:
Based on the steel and concrete building’s nearly one hundred years of exposure to the elements, the corrosion of the roof support steel, and the building’s decades of deferred maintenance, it is not surprising that the entire 200’ length of the Pacific St parapet fell to grade under the stress of the relatively passive construction procedure of removing tar and cementitious coatings from the parapet’s rear. The potential for an imminent failure of the parapet and façade should have been apparent to the owner and the demolition contractor from the façade’s deteriorated condition and/or from the Thornton Tomasetti report that documented the condition of the façade and the parapet. Review of the asbestos and tar abatement procedure leads us to conclude that even the light loads of the scrapers and chipping guns were sufficient to propagate losses of large areas of the façade.


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