305 problems
Photo by Rich Robbins of another window ledge at The Esplanade.

Greta Greene, the two-year-old hit by pieces of a falling brick facade at The Esplanade on West 74th street Sunday died Monday. Greene’s family lives in Kensington, Brooklyn; she was sitting with her grandmother in front of the Esplanade on Sunday around 11 a.m. when she was hit.

The shocking tragedy led to the Buildings Department demanding that the building’s owners immediately install a sidewalk shed around the building. Workers constructed the shed throughout the night, according to nearby residents.

There was no construction going on at the building at the time of the incident — the bricks may have fallen because they were water-logged, according to one account.

“The Department of Buildings said the 8th story ledge, made of porous terracotta material, may have become water-logged by rain causing it to crumble off the building,” according to CBS.

Other ledges at the building look ominous too: Rich Robbins took the photo above of a cracked window ledge from an apartment on the 74th street side of the same building. Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal says that the Buildings Department will be inspecting all of the windows at the building.

The building was in compliance with Local Law 11, which demands buildings have their facades inspected, according to Pix11. But the Buildings Department issued a violation to the owners for failing to maintain the property in a safe and code compliant manner.

“The owners did file a façade inspection report, as required by law, with the Department of Buildings in 2011.  At the time, the engineer who conducted the inspection pronounced the conditions safe.

Under Local Law 11, all buildings over six stories high must have engineers conduct an inspection of the facades every five years.  The owners of The Esplanade were compliant with that aspect of the law, and the next inspection report would be due next year, in 2016.  But now the Department of Buildings is holding the owners accountable for not keeping track of potential problems with the façade that had cropped up.”

We also reported on Friday about debris falling off of a building on 104th and West End Avenue, and received a response from the Buildings Department on Monday. A piece of brick fell from a hanging scaffold on the 12th floor of the building and smashed into a parked car, according to Buildings Department spokesman Alexander Schnell. A sidewalk shed had been set up at the project, but was inadequate, he said. “The catch-all that was installed on the shed was inadequate and does not extend far enough to catch falling debris.”

The department issued two violations: for failing to safeguard public and property, and for installing a non-compliant sidewalk shed. A partial stop work order has also been issued for any exterior facade work.

NEWS | 17 comments | permalink
    1. AC says:

      As an engineer, I am familiar with such occurrences. Rain infiltrates at the roof level, usually at the parapet/coping stone. From there it usually migrates its way down between the cavity of building and the façade. In ‘newer’ buildings, weep holes exist which help drain this water. In these older buildings, the water tends to get trapped, resulting in this clay-type material to soften, and eventually lose its strength. Exacerbating all of this is the fact that DOB does not have the manpower to check every single building, and so they leave it to the landlord to self-check and certify that their building is okay. Some landlords are compliant; whereas, others tend to slack off. Then there exists instances such as these, where the building was compliant; however, the deficient area was not captured when the last inspection took place. Probes are usually performed wherein the façade is removed in random areas and the area behind the façade is inspected for water damage.

      A possible preventive measure would be to pass legislation requiring that older buildings be checked every 3 years as oppose to every 5. But this could be an expensive burden on the owners.

      • Why says:

        You mean expensive burden like death? Is permanent burden less burdensome than expensive? While a city crumbles we aren’t concerned with peoples safety or this poor family tragedy but that the solution might be costly. I hope the lawsuit is exceedingly more expensive than the cure as I walk this city.

        • Eric says:

          It seems that considering the age of these/our buildings – and that a new failure can occur at any time (even AFTER inspection/maintenance/repair) – the only thing that could be a 100% solution would be for sidewalk scaffolding to remain in place 100% of the time.

          Not every problem can be detected from inside the apartment, and many buildings cannot be inspected by “window washer” rigs. The inspection of our building required that the entire structure be sheathed in scaffolding from the street to the roof.

          Given how may people complain about the length of time these sheds already stay up I am not sure such a solution would ever be tolerated.

          It’s an awful problem for which I am not sure there is a 100% cure.

        • T50R says:

          The question is not about expense, but about efficacy. The question we should be asking is “how long does it take for a building facade to degrade”. If it happens quickly enough, no increase in frequency of mandatory inspections would be able to prevent this tragedy. If, for example, the sill cracked due to the extreme fluctuations in temperature this winter, a 6 month old inspection would not have caught it.

          I wish there were an easy answer. I looked up facade maintenance recommendations in London (a far older city) and found this link. http://www.bre.co.uk/pdf/facademaintenance.pdf It is clear that the building owners need to proactively maintain the facade outside of normal inspection periods. Especially if there is evidence of cracking, seeping etc. It should be the same here – if there is any evidence of facade degradation, the building should be immediately responsible to inspect and fix it. Any time there is a leak, a crack, a joint issue… Not wait until the next inspection cycle.

          Having been on a Co-op board for 3 LL11 inspections, I know that the engineers we have worked with would never permit our building to leave any part of the facade in a state that causes risk to anyone. I do not imagine this is a regulatory frequency issue, nor do I imagine it is the result of an incompetent inspection. It probably has to do with owners/residents not noticing changing conditions, reporting those changes and getting repairs done immediately.

    2. DMH says:

      Oh, this is so devastating. Poor little girl and poor family. My heart goes out to them.

      West Side Rag, any chance you would relink the piece from a few weeks ago on how to research the history of local buildings?

      Also, how can we ensure that buildings are properly inspected by DOB? I don’t want to repeat random internet rumors but I’m wondering about this building’s facade inspection history.

    3. Bruce Bernstein says:

      maybe we should fund 2x or 3x more DOB inspectors!!

      on a related note, i passed by a large demonstration of PS 75 parents on my way to work today, at the corner of 95th and West End. they were protesting the new construction atop the rental building on 95 and W End and asking Mayor De Blasio to step in and stop DOB from issuing a permit (which is supposed to go through today). Good for them! As a De Blasio supporter, I hope he does so. The 2 year construction project would be dangerous for the children.

      Sorry I didn’t get pics WSR.

    4. Kate says:

      How tragic. That girl’s poor family…

    5. As buildings on the UWS age, the chances of some sort of accident increases. Only a small number of properties actually have buildings built after 1950, the majority are approaching one hundred years of age.

      In the last year , we have seen a number of extreme incidents in Manhattan involving old buildings where the damage was greater than the cost of constructing a new building. The hundreds of people that were displaced and surrounding damage to property was great from each incident. The massive amount of resources and destruction caused by these old buildings may be greater than the cost of building new ones.

      Old construction materials and techniques are not superior to new fireproof and earthquake resistant structures we are building today. Well designed new buildings provide many additional benefits to tenants and residents of the community.

      For various reasons Westsiders are demanding historic protection of entire neighborhoods. Bad maintenance and poor construction may be lurking inside these buildings which may look great on the outside.

      Trying to save small numbers of buildings for the sake of neighborhood character is not a good policy when the buildings have out lasted their usefulness. The Building Department does not have the capability of inspecting all of these buildings and can only keep up with complaints they receive.

      Elected officials and community organizations may not be helping by demanding solutions that hamper removal of buildings that need to be replaced.

      It is sad that a child was killed. How much worse would it have been if an entire façade had fallen onto a number of people on the street? A structural failure of a bearing wall causing a domino affect and a few other older buildings collapse? A resulting fire from the collapse requiring hundreds of firemen and first responders.

      Maintaining and replacing older buildings is healthy and necessary for the community. The cost may be high to do so, but the consequences may be worse. Ultimately we will have to pay the price for the unintended consequences of too many old buildings.

      • nymiki says:

        AHH, I was wondering when a REBNY troll would show up! The historic buildings on the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, The Village etc contribute to the remarkable fabric of our City. Only the representatives of the vulture real estate developers would see these magnificent structures as deficient and deserving of destruction, not preservation. This owner is known for deferring repair work in all of their buildings. It has nothing to do with the building and everything to do with the owners.

        • I am not going to tell you what you want to hear in order to get votes like our politicians do. The reality is that we urgently need to upgrade our buildings, that’s a fact. The Lower East Side incident is a perfect example of what could happen on the UWS. Lots of damage from a very small building.

          • DMH says:

            It’s not hard to think of new constructed buildings that have suffered catastrophic defects or failure or incredible cost overruns. Or historic buildings that are major contributors to neighborhood and local value. Or historic buildings that fell to the wrecking ball, much to the worse for our neighborhood and city.

            Nothing about the LES building explosion was connected to the age of the property. Is that really what you’re suggesting?

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              the Lower East Side explosion was because someone had illegally hacked into the gas lines.

            • The illegal and obsolete gas work started the fire. The age of the property directly contributed to the amount of damage and fire that resulted. The building’s structure did not contain the blast and the resulting fire. The shared the bearing wall collapsed and caused the adjoining building to fail. The large amount of old and extremely dry wood fueled a large fire which spread very rapidly.

              A new building would have given occupants a better chance of surviving and exiting the building. Containment of the fire would have minimized its spread into adjoining buildings. A similar explosion and fire occurred uptown on 116th and Park Avenue. The newly built adjoining buildings had minimal damage, the old buildings completely destroyed. The fire at the Citibank in 111th and Broadway in another small old building took a day to extinguish. It too caused damage to adjoining properties.

              The resources needed to put out fires in old buildings is considerable. The Lower East Side fire required over 250 fire fighters and additional personnel to put out the fire. Luckily none of them were injured. The cost of such incidents is considerable in human and financial terms. New buildings can mitigate the risks.

    6. BPG says:

      Buildings of this age require periodic maintenance be done to the facades, such as pointing, caulking, brick and terra-cotta replacement. A review of building department website shows that there was no maintenace performed at this building over the last 20 years or so.