NEW YORK — A new audit has found that renovating the iconic U.N. headquarters building is already $148 million over budget, long before the dirt has been shoveled.
Delays and design changes to the nearly $2 billion project have created the initial cost overrun, according to a report from the U.N. Board of Auditors, which further finds that the United Nations has yet to undertake important pre-construction surveys.
The auditors also found that the organization has been slow in recruiting staff, noting that the executive director’s office has been vacant for 26 of the past 36 months.
“A range of events account for that delay, including the time taken by the General Assembly to reach a decision on the project, the addition to the project of new options that increased its complexity, the inadequate planning schedule and the vacancy of the Executive Director,” says the report, which was posted this week without fanfare on the Web site of the U.N. office overseeing the project (www.un.org/cmp).
A February analysis from the U.S. Congress’ Government Accountability Office found similar concerns, but estimated the costs were over budget by $128 million after likely cost-savings during construction.
The present U.N. headquarters complex was designed by a dozen global architects, chief among them France’s Le Corbusier.
The famed glass-walled office tower is now leaking heat and air-conditioning, with its occupants vulnerable to fire because it lacks sprinklers.
The tower also lacks safety glass and structural reinforcement to protect against attacks. In addition, its electrical, mechanical, communications and security systems are badly outdated.
There has not been a serious disagreement on whether the U.N. headquarters’ nearly 2 million-square-foot complex needs to be rebuilt.
Asbestos permeates the Secretariat, the General Assembly hall leaks, the garage has inadequate security, and the library suffers from a sinking foundation.
But how to plan and pay for such a massive project has crippled the early preparations before construction can begin.
As the U.N. auditors note, the building has not undergone major repairs in 60 years, and the construction will be complicated because three-quarters of the Secretariat will still be in use throughout the project.
The overall Capital Master Plan (CMP) is now six months behind schedule, with each month ratcheting the cost by roughly $10 million according to CMP officials.
The contract for a general contractor has still not been signed, although CMP spokesman Werner Schmidt says it will be “soon.”
Total costs will be borne by U.N. members, with the United States slated to pay $377.7 million over five years. Washington has also agreed to kick in $10 million for its share of a working capital reserve.
U.N. officials say the project is moving ahead.
The CMP has recently agreed to a 10-year lease for a 140,000 square foot midrise office building on East 46th Street, a gutted space that will have to be fitted out for 700 employees to use while the headquarters is rebuilt.
Published reports say the budget for the lease is about $215 million.
Architect and historian Michael Adlerstein has been hired as executive director, a post that has been vacant since Fritz Reuter abruptly resigned in May 2006.
The General Assembly was to have September’s annual debate in a new temporary structure, designed to house the world body’s chambers and several large meeting rooms.
But ground-breaking for that hangarlike building can’t begin until soil samples affirm adequate drainage among other conditions.
“The project has remained an abstraction in the minds of many because it has been in the pipeline for so long,” the auditors wrote.
The audit team includes professionals from France, South Africa and the Philippines. The head of U.N. administration and management, Alicia Barcena, declined to talk about the CMP yesterday, referring calls back to Mr. Schmidt.