Red Tape Delays Student Center Construction
As a concession to protesters’ demands during the 2008 occupation for more student space, The New School administration promised to build a new student center by this fall. However, because of various construction delays, the schedule has been pushed back, leaving students without much needed space for another semester.
As of now, the student center, to be located at 90 Fifth Ave., is slated to open spring 2011.
The stakes are high for 90 Fifth Ave. because of the controversy caused during the 2008 protests. Students and faculty were not only outraged by President Bob Kerrey’s decision to name himself provost, but also his plan to demolish 65 Fifth Ave., which deprived the community of needed space. Demolition began last spring, but the new 65 Fifth Ave. won’t open until 2013. The fact that no interim student space was ever established led to the two days of protest.
90 Fifth Ave. was meant to be that interim space.
The reasons for the delays in opening 90 Fifth Ave. are convoluted at best.
The school did not initially have a direct relationship with the owner of the building, which caused construction delays.
Lia Gartner, the vice president for design, construction and facilities management at The New School, said that construction delays occurred after JP Morgan Chase donated the building to The New School — it used to be one of their branches.
Gartner admitted that she knew the school’s not having a direct relationship with the owner could be a problem. But as it came at no cost, the school felt they had to take advantage of the space and were eager to move forward with the project.
“While this was a welcome opportunity to save the university’s money, it put us in a complicated position relative to the building ownership,” Gartner said.
In the beginning, The New School dealt with the owner of the building, RFR Realty LLC, through Chase. However, RFR brought along its own host of problems.
Communication between the The New School and RFR has improved, but Gartner acknowledged that it could be better. She also added that she was surprised how difficult it was to stay in good contact with RFR. “In many instances it took longer than it should have for the landlord to respond to our plans,” she said.
While the school now has blueprints for construction, they took time to finalize because RFR didn’t approve of the first drafts.
RFR Realty, founded by real estate tycoons Aby Rosen and Michael Fuchs, also owns 160 Fifth Ave., 275 Madison Ave., and 451 Lexington Ave.
They are currently facing their own legal woes. Electech Real Estate is suing RFR for defaulting on an $11.7 million loan taken out to remodel Century Tower on 400 E. 90 St. that was due in May of this year. They accepted $79.6 million for units in the tower by March 2010.
According to real estate magazine The Real Deal, they are being sued for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting against Rosen and Fuchs, fraudulent conveyance, conversion and unjust enrichment.
The New York Observer reported that Hasidic and Orthodox Jews protested against RFR and Rosen twice in the past two months. The company began developing land in Jaffa, Israel, and disturbed graves in the process. Protesters gathered in front of RFR offices at 390 Park Ave. on August 10 and again at Stamford Plaza on September 7.
Gartner is trying to be understanding, because the renovation process is dramatic. “A student center is quite different from a bank,” she said.
However, communication problems with RFR delayed The New School from gaining access to the building to verify its condition, Gartner said. And once they got in, there were unexpected problems.
“We had planned to remove the second floor suspended ceiling to increase the ceiling height of the space,” Gartner said. However, the ceiling is not as secure as they thought, so the area will have to be fortified before it is removed.
The verification process hasn’t been completed yet.
“We will not be able to verify the full extent of needed repairs until after we remove the tile and demolish the existing walls,” Gartner said.
And, according to Gartner, all of this will cost more money. Because there were so many delays, the funding for the project ran out. Money was taken from what was left over in the budget from projects done this past summer and from pushing back construction of a new provost office in 79 Fifth Ave.
-Additional reporting by Mark Josephson, Reporter