Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mold mystery persists at B2 modular tower: state records show unresolved, six-month wait for consultant's report


The setting of the final modules for the pioneering but troubled modular tower built in the Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park) project drew much press coverage, as has the opening of the lottery for 181 units of affordable housing inside. (Half the units are market-rate.)

The narrative regarding 461 Dean Street, aka B2, has changed from the delays that pushed the timetable back two years, major cost overruns, the buyout of an investment partner, the unusual early payback of a tax-exempt loan, the winding down of the modular factory that was once supposed to build the entire project, and the legal battles that persist between developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) and its former construction and module fabrication partner, Skanska.
5/8/14 mold observation;
click to enlarge

But a mystery persists about just how well Forest City--and its New York State overseers--responded to problems at the building, notably the testing for possible mold, which can cause upper respiratory tract health problems.

This innovative, 32-story tower was plagued by leaks and even mold in its early stages, with the first four floors largely gutted, as documents from Skanska and the state's own construction monitor indicated.

No publicly released document shows how the mold concerns were resolved. Notably, documents I recently received show that a state monitor waited at least six months for a promised report on mold--and we don't know whether it arrived or what it said.

5/23/14 mold observation; click to enlarge
Taking "appropriate actions"?

When City Limits on 8/31/15 published Documents Reveal Woes at Pioneering Atlantic Yards Building, my report relied on state documents only through September 2014, acquired via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority with the uneasy role of both overseeing and shepherding the project.

An ESD spokesman said at the time, "When the ESD project team notified FCR that our owner's representative had observed evidence of possible mold, FCR took appropriate actions to remedy the situation."

From STV, 7/31/15 weekly report
New redactions don't leave much to go on
(Note that use of language. Indeed, most of the monitor's mentions did regard possible mold, but mold was indeed found; see screenshots above stating "Wallboard with mold in 2nd floor corridor removed" and "a thoroughly moldy upper sheetrock layer [in a third-floor mod], which was promptly removed.")

Whether Forest City "took appropriate actions" remains unclear. When I asked last year for specifics, I got the generic response regarding "appropriate actions."

Now, newly received documents covering the period through August 2015 leave lingering questions, as well as suggest a lack of transparency.

No, they don't directly contradict the ESD's August 2015 statement.

But the new documents suggest that "appropriate actions," if they came, arrived slowly, with an unresolved, six-month wait.

New document: no response after six months

Thanks to FOIL, I received copies of daily reports, through 3/31/15, filed with ESD by William King, the lead staffer for STV, the state's construction monitor.

In his final daily report, under the category of "Information Previously Requested," King noted that, on 7/16/14, he'd sent Forest City a second request for a response to 6/19/14 questions regarding leaks, mold remediation, and air monitoring to "measure potentially high mold spore counts in a unit where any mold is not visible."

On 8/13/14, he sent a third request. Two days after that, King wrote, Forest City responded that it was bringing in a second environmental consultant. After that, who knows.

From STV 3/31/15 daily report; full page here


Some six and half months later, that section of his report indicated no follow-up. The issue was unresolved, as far as the daily documents indicate.

Similarly, King's 6/6/14 query to Skanska regarding possible mold in installed, discolored drywall, had not been answered by 3/31/15. (Skanska had left the project by then.)

What about the weekly reports?

King's daily reports ceased at the end of March 2015. Why? "It was determined that weekly reports were sufficient," an ESD spokesman said in response to my query. That also reduced the opportunity for granularity and candor.

If King's questions were resolved after March 2015, we don't know, because STV's ongoing weekly reports--at least as delivered to me--compound the murkiness. They're so heavily redacted there's no mention either of his questions or the responses, if any. See above right.

From STV, 8/15/14 weekly report;
note lack of redactions
That redaction pattern suggests a government agency concerned about what information might emerge.

By contrast, STV's weekly reports issued a year earlier (see full set here) were delivered to me significantly un-redacted, with information used in my earlier article. See screenshot at left.

In those reports, STV did address concerns about leaks and construction integrity, albeit without the granularity of the daily reports.

Presumably its staffers continued to do so--but we don't know what they asked or what they found. Crucially, we don't know what Forest City's second environmental consultant said.

Previous editing?

Indeed, the previous set of STV weekly reports, though less redacted when delivered to me, may have experienced significant editing--or, perhaps, inconsistency.

Consider the report for the week ending 5/9/14, which presumably would have mentioned that second floor wallboard with mold reported in the daily report just one day earlier. Instead, it stated, "Gut ceiling and wall demolition continued on the 2nd floor."

Then again, the report for the week ending 5/23/14 did mention mold, while the associated daily reports did not.

A lingering question mark

In an interview with NY1 recently, Forest City  executive Adam Greene shrugged off the delays that doubled construction time to nearly four years.

"Because it's innovation, innovation sometimes takes a little bit longer, but that's OK," he said.

That's not clear. After all, Forest City once claimed it had "cracked the code" and promised to build the entire project via modular technology.

Now those plans are history, with new joint venture partner/overseer Greenland USA building the towers conventionally. (Greenland owns 70% of the project, outside B2, owned exclusively by Forest City, and the Barclays Center operating company, owned by Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim.)

Absent more sunlight and un-redacted documents regarding oversight of 461 Dean, a question mark about the building's history--and integrity--will persist.

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