- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

NEW YORK — The United Nations yesterday appointed an executive director to head the stalled $2 billion renovation of its New York headquarters, a giant step toward getting the massive project back on track.

An architect and project manager with experience in historic sites, Michael Adlerstein has a resume that reads like a tourist map: He has worked on the rehabilitation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the New York Botanical Gardens, Civil War battlefields and the Taj Mahal.

He will head the eight-year U.N. program called the Capital Master Plan (CMP), which has gotten off to a delayed start because of shifting plans and the early refusal of the General Assembly to allocate money to keep project planning on track.

Mr. Adlerstein’s predecessor, Fritz Reuter, quit in frustration more than a year ago, after only 11 months.

Mr. Reuter’s resignation and design changes from member states have derailed the project for months, according to CMP officials, who note that delays in Manhattan’s tight construction market means higher prices for materials, contracts and rental space.

“For more than six months, this project has had money and authority but has made no real progress,” said a frustrated U.N. official. “Mr. Adlerstein’s arrival means no more excuses. The current building is a safety hazard to its occupants. Every day that goes by is another day of risk, and every month that goes by means another $10 million is added to the overall project cost.”

The CMP office will oversee the wall-to-wall renovation of the iconic Secretariat, as well as the General Assembly, garage and library buildings totaling 2.5 million square feet.

The General Assembly Chamber and several large conference rooms will be housed for the duration in a temporary shelter, about the size and luxuriousness of a Wal-Mart store. That structure will be erected just north of the Secretariat on the north lawn of the 17-acre U.N. compound.

The Secretariat will be stripped down and rehabilitated in 10-floor chunks, with roughly 700 staffers from the affected floors moving to commercial office space on East 46th Street.

The remaining floors will continue to be inhabited, although employees have repeatedly expressed their concern about chemicals and construction debris so close to them.

“They have been removing asbestos from Manhattan buildings for years, and they know the proper way to do it,” said Werner Schmidt, a public information officer who is charged with explaining the CMP to the press as well as U.N. employees. “The construction companies know how to block off ventilation ducts and so on.”

The library and other unspecified services that are not directly linked to the daily running of the world body will be moved directly across the East River to Queens, where leases are cheaper.

The 54-year-old U.N. compound is riddled with asbestos, leaks heating and air conditioning, and fails New York fire codes and workplace protections by no less than 150 counts, according to the U.N. management office. The roof of the General Assembly hall leaks, and all buildings host mice and worse.

In 2015 or so, when the work is done, the Secretariat — a landmark designed by Le Corbusier — will look no different to visitors or viewers, but it will be more energy efficient and better wired for the Internet and communications networks that were never envisioned in 1949.

The glass curtain walls — unprecedented in New York in 1953 — will be retrofitted to accommodate blast-resistant panes, and other counterterrorism measures will be incorporated into the design.

All of which will force Mr. Adlerstein to stretch his construction and materials budget even more carefully.

U.N. officials say he will have to quickly figure out how to make up for expensive lost time in the CMP timetable and how to execute the project on a budget.

“The project is much further advanced, we have a program and a budget from the General Assembly, and all the questions that were so difficult to deal with for his predecessor have been resolved,” said Mr. Schmidt.

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