Harlem building deemed unsafe in Jan.

Collapse shut down Metro North
March 6, 2008 8:39:38 PM PST
Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster says the investigation into the collapse of a vacant East Harlem apartment building reveals that the building was declared unsafe more than a month before it collapsed, but her agency didn't process the paperwork. The partial collapse of the building at East 124th Street and Park Avenue suspended Metro North service for about two hours Tuesday, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of rush-hour commuters.

Lancaster said in a statement that the Buildings Department had determined that 102 East 124th Street was unsafe on January 11, 2008 and issued an Immediate Emergency Declaration to let the city secure the building at the owner's expense, if the owner didn't immediately do the work.

It appears the declaration wasn't processed by the Buildings Department and no one did the authorized emergency repair work before the building collapsed on March 4.

Metro North said Tuesday evening that train traffic on its four tracks going in and out of Grand Central Terminal was back to normal.

The five-story apartment building was vacant at the time. It lost its facade about 12:30 p.m., and by mid-afternoon, the entire building came down.

"We were forced to stop the traffic on all four Metro-North tracks because we were concerned that the vibrations would cause the collapse of an adjoining building," an FDNY official said.

A spokesman for the building's owner, Jared Kushner of the Kushner Co., said Tuesday that before the collapse, the owner initially had planned to rehabilitate the building, which had been vacant for six months, as well as the one next to it.

Then, on Sunday, bricks began falling from the building, spokesman Howard Rubenstein said. Engineers for the company visited the site, deemed the buildings unsafe and contacted city buildings officials to get permission to begin demolishing them on Wednesday, Rubenstein said.

The Buildings Department issued the following statement:

"The preliminary investigation into the cause of the collapse on Tuesday indicates that on January 11, 2008, the Buildings Department determined that 102 East 124th Street was unsafe. On that day, the Buildings Department put the owner on notice of the building's condition and issued an Immediate Emergency Declaration to enable the City (through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)) to secure the building at the owner's expense, if the owner did not immediately perform the work. It appears the Immediate Emergency Declaration was not properly processed by the Buildings Department and although inspectors from Buildings and HPD performed a joint-inspection on January 23rd, neither the owner nor HPD performed the emergency repair work authorized by the Immediate Emergency Declaration before the building collapsed on March 4. In addition, a permit was issued to the owner for repair work on January 31st. The Buildings Department is investigating why the Immediate Emergency Declaration was not acted on, and why a permit was issued for work after the Immediate Emergency Declaration was in place. This lapse is unacceptable and we will take appropriate measures - including disciplining anyone who did not do their job - to ensure that this does not happen again. We have also undertaken a review, with HPD, of every outstanding emergency declaration in the City to ensure that the building owner or the City has taken appropriate steps to maintain public safety."


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