Museum Expansion Opponents Highlight Asbestos Risks, Push for Last-Minute Commenting Blitz


A rendering of the new Gilder Center building, via AMNH.

Opponents of the Museum of Natural History’s expansion plans want people to voice their criticisms of the plan now, because time is running out.

The final environmental impact statement was released last Wednesday, November 15, and the conclusions are expected to be finalized 10 days later.

That means Friday, November 24 is the last day to make your voice heard, according to Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, a group opposing the plan. The museum is planning to build a new educational center that will take about one-quarter acre from the surrounding park.

The opposition group has said the museum “disingenuously buried unclear answers to serious concerns over public health and safety under a mountain of paper.” The study, opponents note, is over 8,000 pages. They want people to contact Owen Wells, the director of the environmental review, as well as Borough President Gale Brewer and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In response to the criticism, the museum referred us to the city Parks Department, which conducted the study, to answer the criticisms. “Parks is fully committed to upholding the letter and spirit of all state and local laws regarding this environmental review,” a spokeswoman there told us in an email. The law, the spokeswoman noted, does not even include a requirement for a public comment period for the final environmental impact statement. They must simply wait 10 days after making the study public before making final findings and decisions. There have been numerous other chances for people to make their voices heard on this issue, including public meetings and prior comment periods, she noted.

Opponents point to specific problems with the environmental impact statement that they say ignore dangers to public health, and gloss over crowding issues

Among the issues they highlight:

• “The AMNH has set a low bar with a Remediation Action Plan (funded by New York City taxpayers) that does the bare minimum to prevent environmental disaster.”

• “The projected pedestrian figures are bogus. The AMNH justifies its expected attendance numbers by making a specious comparison of the new building (which will be publicized as a World Tourist Destination) with the renovated Dinosaur Wing more than 20 years ago.”

In particular opponents claim that demolishing current buildings will release asbestos and other toxic materials into the air. “Much of the asbestos in the buildings slated for demolition (contained in window glazing and caulking, drywall, plaster, vinyl floor tiles, ventilation duct and thermal pipe insulation and spray-on fireproofing) is typical in older buildings and should not be hard to mitigate using standard procedures,” they say in a release. “But the AMNH offers no specific mitigation plan, for example, for what the FEIS identifies as an ‘L-shaped rifle range enclosed in concrete beneath what is now open parkland.'”

The parks department counters that asbestos is regulated by multiple federal agencies and that the environmental impact statement addresses these issues.

“The Museum’s Asbestos Management Policy for abatement of existing asbestos containing materials (ACM) is also attached to the FEIS. It requires a survey of areas for asbestos, retaining licensed asbestos contractors, and an abatement plan in compliance with applicable regulations. A New York City-certified asbestos investigator would inspect the buildings affected by renovation and/or demolition for ACM and, if present, those materials would be removed by a Department of Labor (DOL)-licensed asbestos abatement contractor prior to interior demolition, in accordance with applicable regulations. This would include construction of critical barriers, air handling and filtration, and other well-established controls to ensure that asbestos does not mobilize or migrate beyond the abatement exclusion zone. Monitoring would be supervised by DEP-licensed monitors, which would include daily air monitoring in and around the abatement work zone.”

As for pedestrian estimates, the parks department says they were done by a prominent consulting firm and “were prepared with consideration of a variety of factors including detailed attendance trend data, information related to the various market and tourism factors affecting museum attendance, and the historical effect of major capital projects.”

NEWS | 18 comments | permalink
    1. Janice Zupan says:

      If the planned expansion will be anything like the Hollywood-style science addition, you will have compounded your poor planning and design. I vote against this expansion.

    2. EscaroleNYC says:

      How did this idea of demolishing ANY building at the AMNH (let alone this incompatible expansion design) ever get through the Landmarks Commission? And how has it remained the best kept secret in the City, let alone in the neighborhood?

      What a travesty.

    3. Filatura says:

      I would be more inclined to give credence to the arguments of the anti-expansion crowd if they did not use the tactics of vandals and graffitists to push their dubious agenda. Example: the repeated appearance of scrawled, semi-literate foot-high messages on the boards fronting the renovation of the restaurant at 85th and Columbus. And the broadcast blanketing of empty storefront windows and light poles all over the neighborhood with their flyers.

      My personal opinion about the Museum’s plans is not relevant here. But even if I thought they were as bad as the destruction of the old Penn Station I would oppose the CUPTRP’s strident and uncivil uglification of our neighborhood.

      • I’m not sure the person responsible is associated with Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park.

        We are very careful to take down our flyers and also walk the neighborhood to make sure we took down all the tape and paper left on the rare occasion we publicly flyer.

        You don’t deserve to have your community carelessly treated by another individual’s activism or cause. Apologies regardless. I’ll keep an eye out up there just to make sure.

        email me if it happens again and I’ll take care of it

        williamhraudenbush@gmail.com

    4. Pedestrian says:

      The sad thing about this process is that the City never intended it to be open and honest. It was a done deal even before the initial public hearings. Our local council member had already committed $16 million of our tax dollars! As a result, the Environmental review is filled with boiler plate that dismisses each and every substantial impact as unimportant: traffic…who cares….pollution…who cares…the theft of park land….who cares…the presence of asbestos…who cares…the wasteful demolition of sound buildings one built only 16 years ago…forget about it. The City including our local council member are happy to accommodate a billionaire who wants a vanity project even if it looks like it was designed for Fred Flinstone and will be emblazoned with his name. The concerns of residents and tax payers don’t matter.
      The Natural History Museum should be ashamed but its not because it’s all about the MONEY!

      • Ye Olde Englishe Teachere says:

        Re: “…even if it looks like it was designed for Fred Flinstone and will be emblazoned with his name.”

        The Science Center will be named “The Fred Flintstone (b/t/w: NOT “Flinstone”) Science Center ?!?!?

        Yabba-Dabba-Doo! How cool!! Dino-mite!!!

    5. Josh says:

      There’s a rifle range beneath the AMNH?
      Also, these people don’t speak for the neighborhood and need to get a life.

    6. Faith Steinberg says:

      Faith Steinberg – Upper West Side
      November 21th, 2017
      “It is…vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, [a park] or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals….” Theodore Roosevelt
      Owen Wells, Director of Environmental Review
      Dear Director Wells,
      I have lived on the Upper West Side for 44 years, and I have seen traffic increase exponentially at certain times of day– mornings through early evening due to the needs of the added population resulting from the huge increase in high-rise buildings. As a result, the quality of life of the area has been diminished—the air quality has been affected* and the simple task of walking and traversing the neighborhood has become a chore, maneuvering the sheds and scaffolds, the renovations of buildings plus repairs to the underground systems; it has resulted in greater noise levels as well.
      As to public policy, the district has been designated by the Federal, State and City as an historic district and the LPC has run roughshod over designations all over our city. What is the point of having designations if they can be surrendered to the highest bidder.
      As I learned in elementary school, trees can alleviate the air pollution created by all this activity—humans and autos release CO² and trees absorb these elements and emit oxygen without which humans cannot live.
      But fossil fuels have been a major factor in climate change and has been common knowledge for many years. And yet, the hierarchy at the Museum–stockbrokers; the President, a Board Member of Consolidated Edison; plus the climate change deniers– have held onto to the Museum’s investments in fossil fuels until as recently as September 2016 and relinquished them only because they have been pressured from a consortium of National Museums of Natural History and other concerned environmentalists to divest these holdings. The Board Members are undoubtedly holding on to their private investments. The plans by the American Museum of Natural History for the Gilder Center work counter to the needs of the people.
      I have great respect for the scientific world whose aim is to improve the human condition, but I believe that Gilder Center’s aims run far short of these aims. An indication of this, the EIS statement reports that a new 6 tree canopy will replace the magnificent 7 125+ tree canopy in existence without mentioning that saplings take from 20 to 40 years to mature. If we have
      Continued —
      Faith Steinberg – 2 –

      another Sandy, chances are that the saplings will be lost immediately and flooding will possibly follow.
      In addition, NYC is on the Ramapo fault line and an earthquake of 4.2 magnitude hit the City in 1992 (which I personally witnessed). The East Side had experienced one in 2001. The U.S. Geological Survey predicts that the frequency and magnitude of earthquakes will increase. With the increase of activity on the UWS, the high-rise buildings and removing the old and huge roots of the TR Park tree canopy can only place us in danger of such an occurrence.
      As to the Gilder Center providing new enhanced space for its various exhibits and research, et al., the Museum’s architect Jean Gang, responding to a question at a community hearing, acknowledged that a new Museum could fit into the present footprint by eliminating wasted space (BTW, lots of waste) without depriving the Park of its magnificent tree canopy and encroachment into the Park. Instead, a massive, energy-guzzling is in the offing. Not a solar panel in sight.
      The EIS states that off-site Gilder Center would not serve its purposes is a very weak argument. The existing building could be renovated to eliminate the present deficiencies without destroying Teddy Roosevelt Park. I understand the Gilder Center will be used for scientific research and educational purposes. Just as many, many of our cultural, educational and even our hospitals have off-site buildings all over our City, e.g., The Metropolitan Museum has the Cloisters and now The Met Breuer; MOMA has PS1 in Queens; our universities, e.g., NYU, and Fordham have buildings in various boroughs and areas; our hospitals are scattered as well.
      We, on the Upper West Side are blessed with an abundance of cultural and educational facilities within a very short distance. The Guilder Center would do well to build in an under-served area in one of our boroughs. (The only reason not to, is that the billionaire, Mr. Gilder, deems it beneath him and would prefer the chi-chi UWS in competition with the likes of the Koch Bros., Schwartzman, et al.)
      *Following is a map indicating the high density of PBs in our area, which should deter any “scientific” research facility from adding to the pollution. The estimate of 500,000 new visitors to the Center, can only be deleterious to the U.W.S. in spite of what the EIS states: “would not result in any adverse impacts, to land use, zoning and public policy.”
      Dear Director Wells, I hope you will take seriously our pleas to not destroy what is considered a very beautiful park in our city which has less green space of any city. Don’t let Theodore
      Continued–
      Faith Steinberg — 3 —
      Roosevelt Park be destroyed, made into a new Times Square area with busloads of students and tourists, with hot dog stands and the garbage and vermin that result.
      Your attention to this matter in the peoples’ favor will be remembered.
      Thank you for your consideration.
      Faith Steinberg
      P.S. You might take note that all our major media has refused to print or air this debacle—which may say something which I will allow you to guess. Further, the community and taxpayers (so far, $135 million) have not been consulted regarding this frivolous venture declaring It’s a done deal. Period!

      Faith Steinberg – 4-
      *Maps reveal NYC neighborhoods with the worst air pollution and exposure risks
      POSTED ON FRI, SEPTEMBER 2, 2016
      You might be able to get some fresh air in Manhattan—if you hang out in Central Park all day. Otherwise, the hazards of breathing city air change just about as quickly as it takes for your Uber to arrive at your destination, according to a new study from MIT Senseable City Lab.

      • Robert Goodman says:

        If you are close enough to TR Park to fret about 1/4 acre of it you are close enough to spend all day in Central Park without spending any commuting time. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 60 years visited the neighborhood for the AMNH when I was a child in the Bronx.

        The neighborhood is blessed with more parkland than virtually any other in NYC. (Riverside, CP, TR plus vest pockets and Morningside)) We can spare a 1/4 acre for the sake of the magical AMNH and the gift it is to children of the region.

    7. Martha M Dwyer says:

      Given the obvious bias of the Parks Department, we can only look to Community United to defend the neighborhood against this outrageous project. I strongly encourage opponents of the proposed Gilder Center to contribute to Community United by going to https://www.saveourpark.nyc/ and using PayPal or sending a check to 150 W. 79th Street, Suite 6E, New York, NY 10024.

    8. Patricia Gilman says:

      100% in favor of the expansion

    9. Claudia DiSalvo says:

      This entire FEIS process has been a travesty & a sham. We did not get 10 days. We got 9 to review 8,000+ pages (btw-approx 60#’s of technical information &
      data.) a sham that the Department of Parks is carrying on for the AMNH! The spokesperson who’s name is not identified Is anonymous! This person has no credibility speaking about the process unless name is released.Anyine speaking for the Museum &lying about the 10 day process requirement w/o giving their name should be fired!. At the completion of the June 15th meeting we were informed that upon release of the FEIS, the Community would have 10 days for public comment. The DOP is in violation of its vision and mission & guiding pRinciples. The agency is charged to protect thousands of acres of public parkland, thousands of trees while ensuring the health & safety of New Yorkers. Additionally our politicians have been deaf, dumb & blind giving a private institution $135 + million tax payer dollars. We need to set in motion an investigation of the process. And I urge fellow New Yorkers to drop what they are doing to send an email to owen.wells@parks.nyc.gov I urge you to go to saveourpark.nyc
      This is one of the most critical life decisions you will ever make.

      • Filatura says:

        “This is one of the most critical life decisions you will ever make.”

        A masterpiece of overstatement.

    10. your neighbor says:

      Another UWS resident supporting the expansion. If it is using my tax dollars it is better use of my taxes than most things NYC wastes money on.

      Sick of the opponents of the expansion using fear mongering.

    11. NYWoman says:

      Before Art Deco, large city buildings resembled a pantheon of Parthenons. This addition echoes the newest architectural movement while expanding outreach to over 5 million global visitors. I’m selfish for our UWS restaurant owners, for our retail store owners, for our children. What are YOU selfish for? The good old days? They were great for a very Select Few.

    12. UWS_lifer says:

      Yes, let’s stop the AMNH expansion because like 8 people are against it!!!! Great idea!!

      What a bunch of selfish, self-important jerks. Yup, I said it.