Construction Halt Revives the Question: Is the Museum Expansion Terrific or Toxic?

A rendering of the Gilder Center via AMNH.

By A. Campbell

In the wake of another roadblock to the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, representatives from the museum and the opposition group Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park (Community United) provided updates about their respective next steps at Wednesday’s Manhattan Community Board 7 meeting.

The most recent decision – handed down by Judge Judith Gische of the New York State Appellate Division on December 19th – granted a “stay pending appeal,” in response to a request to halt construction from Community United’s lawyer, Michael Hiller.

According to Zachary Campbell, Community Liaison at the museum, AMNH leadership are “confident” that work on the educational center will be able to continue soon. Campbell referenced Judge Lynn Kotler’s earlier decision on December 10th to dismiss the suit brought by Community United in their attempt to block construction of the building.

Campbell said that representatives of the museum feel Judge Kotler’s decision was clear on the legal merits of the case and they fully expect that Judge Gische’s subsequent decision to temporarily halt construction will be rejected on appeal.

Representatives for Community United vowed to continue to fight the Gilder Center’s construction, not only to protect Theodore Roosevelt Park but also to protect citizens and visitors from toxic chemicals stored underground which they say would be exposed during excavation of the building site. According to Community United representatives, due consideration of the potentially harmful materials beneath the building site was not taken into account when plans for the Gilder Center were conceived.

William Raudenbush, Chairman of Community United, pointed to an environmental engineering report commissioned by the group which notes the presence of chemicals like benzene at the building site. The report also emphasized the need for the museum to comply with regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration. (OSHA)

According to Raudenbush, the chemicals beneath the site do not pose a threat to park visitors at this moment. “It’s not impactful until you disturb it,” Raudenbush said. “But to say that it’s a typical site with that much benzene isn’t true.” An analysis released by the city found that the contaminants on the site “are similar in type and extent of contaminants to many urban areas, including throughout Manhattan. The proposed project would have no known risks with respect to hazardous materials that cannot be controlled through the use of measures commonly used at construction sites throughout New York City.”

Community United representatives encouraged the public to attend a town hall forum on Thursday, January 10th at the Goddard Riverside Community Center at 7 p.m. Raudenbush confirmed that both he and Michael Hiller will be presenting at the town hall.

“It’s going to be focused on fact versus fiction,” Raudenbush said. “We always try to be factually accurate and use a lot of caution. When going to court against such a lauded and beloved cultural institution, you have to be very careful with your facts. We want to talk about what’s very clear in terms of impact to the neighborhood.”

Longtime museum expansion opponent Cary Goodman has also announced a boycott of the museum’s gift shop in protest.

NEWS | 22 comments | permalink
    1. Rob G. says:

      Dear West Side Rag, in all the years I’ve been reading you, I’ve never seen more biased “reporting” than on this subject. Whether you realize it or not, you have basically become Community United’s PR firm.

    2. Jay says:

      Why does this blog continue to promote the unscientific analysis on these two people?

      These two people have never explained how the public will be exposed to these supposed contaminants. They have never explained why they want these “contaminates” to be permanently placed in a public park.

      This project is a done deal. The sooner these two people and the WSR starts to realize that, we can stop wasting time and money

      • UWS88 says:

        According to an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, who reviewed the findings about toxics found on the site said that if left undisturbed in the deep where they are, they are not going anywhere or doing any harm. If the soil is dug up, they risk being released. One of the known chemicals is an invisible gas, a carcinogen. Others include the Erin Brocovich chemical. Does the museum even have an asbestos safety plan for their current building?

        • Jay says:

          Ah.. another person who doesn’t understand the “toxins” that are present.

          Perhaps you should learn about how TCE volatilizes in air before insinuating that the public can somehow be exposed from the construction. You should also read over the mitigation required for the construction.

          Also, if you had read the FEIS, you would have read that an asbestos management plan is already in place at the museum.

          But, I’m guessing you didn’t read the documents and if you did, you certainly didn’t understand them.

    3. Bill Ditt Dammit says:

      Re: “An analysis released by the city found that the contaminants on the site “are similar in type and extent of contaminants to many urban areas, including throughout Manhattan. The proposed project would have no known risks with respect to hazardous materials that cannot be controlled through the use of measures commonly used at construction sites throughout New York City.”

      Does Community United know how to read the above? If not, perhaps they should have a bright Sixth-grader explain it to them!

      • UWS88 says:

        Read the GHD report on this subject. GHD is an independent resource. A neonatalogist from Mount Sinai pointed out that the museum used grown men as the reference point about the toxics. Nothing about women. And no consideration of pregnant women, and children, whose growing brains are especially vulnerable to life-long harm.The museum’s remediation plan is inadequate. Do read more:

      • UWS88 says:

        Know how to read, how to think, and how to separate fact from fantasy:

    4. UWSJoe says:

      Community United and Cary Goodman are public enemy #1.

    5. StevenCinNYC says:

      Such BS. The museum serves a public good and is replacing the couple trees with many more trees. There’s a tiny net reduction in park land. If you need more park, there’s a much bigger one just across the street. Wasting taxpayer money in court on a personal crusade, greasing at every possible pretext to preserve some childhood obsession to keep things exactly the same as they were in memory.

      • Casey Curtis says:

        Sounds to me like there has been a tiny net reduction in your understanding of what makes a city livable. When there are miles and miles of concrete jungle, use that for a new center. I don’t want to see an inch of park taken away, nor have you tell me about a bigger park across the street. May I tell you where to go? Have fun playing on cement. And enjoy a years long construction project and then finally enjoy the lines and crowds on Columbus Avenue and the garbage and rodents that will bring. the museum can and should build this project elsewhere.

        • Martin says:

          The scrawled graffiti on the NE corner of 86 and Columbus Avenue (Boycott the Museum’s Gift Shop! Trees Not Trinkets!) tells you all you need to know about the morally bankrupt members of “Community United.”

          They happily deface private property with a ridiculous slogan that, if you didn’t know it, looks like it was put up by a comedian mocking the group.

          I suggest the members of “Community United” get some part-time employment to occupy their sullen and dull lives.

    6. Tim says:

      “Cary Goodman has also announced a boycott of the museum’s gift shop in protest.”

      That cracks me up! :-D. This perfectly illustrates how self-absorbed Goodman is.

    7. Jan says:

      Are u aware that the plan is to make the Amsterdam
      Entrance the main entrance with all the accompanying busses tourists food carts etc arc. Resident and owners are screaming! We don’t need a science center here as Columbus U has one great science center 25-30!blocks north
      Architect Jeanne Gang said publicly “this is an unnecessary bldg”. Space in the existing bldg
      Can be reconfigured for a science center

      • Bob Lamm says:

        How great to discover that the Museum of Natural History has an “Amsterdam entrance.” Now I won’t have to walk over to Columbus Avenue to get inside. Just wondering: is there also a secret tunnel from Zabar’s to the Museum? 🙂

        • Tim says:

          And, “architect Jeanne Gang said it’s unnecessary since there’s a science center at Columbus U.”

          Well, that pretty much is the most worthless, baseless argument I’ve heard yet, lol.

          Um, I know an architect who says it is necessary. See how that works? 🙂

      • E. N(uff) Awreddy says:

        Re: “We don’t need a science center here as Columbus U has one great science center 25-30!blocks north”

        1) FIRST: it is COLUMBIA U. not Columbus U. And you obviously have NOT heard that “Columbus” is now officially a VERY VERY BAD PERSON ’cause of all the teh-wibble things he supposedly did hundreds of years ago.

        2). Is the Columbia Science Center OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, including groups of noisy elementary school kids, and is it prepared to conduct educational activities with groups of 10-year-olds? Also does it have a café to which they can bring their lunch-kits?

        3. Finally, many of us cherish the holiday visits from our out-of-town grand-children, who always enjoy “The Natch” and, though they are suburbanites accustomed to being driven everywhere, even tolerate the relatively short city-walk to A.M.N.H.
        So, following YOUR logic, we can soon tell them: “We’re going to the Columbia Science Center; it’s only a short mile-and-a-half slog!

    8. soldier says:

      West Side Rag needs ‘LIKE’ button.

    9. UWS Craig says:

      I believe we should have a thorough fact-based analysis of the potential biological and toxic hazards associated with the project. If it takes a few more months to investigate, I support a delay rather than rushing into something that may be dangerous, even if the risks are hard to quantify at this time.

    10. P. Salta says:

      More unessesary construction. The museum is HUGE… leave that wonderful little park area.

    11. UWS88 says:

      Evidence-based, scientific examination needed. Too much misinformation in the comment thread. Study the documentation. The Atrium portion of the proposed Gilder Center would alienate public park land while containing no educational, research, or exhibition functions. The museum testified at a Community Board hearing that it would be a grand entrance, an atrium which they intend to rent out for parties, too. The law says that public park land is not to be alienated from the public without going through a standard process called ULURP. What is NOT in question is what happens inside the museum’s existing ‘footprint.’ See

    12. Fritz Mueller says:

      my main objection to the Gilder Center is that behind the cover screen of “Science, Education and Innovation” the museum’s main goal is a huge new entry hall, the “atrium”, for an expected 1 million expected annual visitors, and that at a site which is exceptionally unsuited for such an influx of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The multistory hall is deigned to also serve a party and fundraising venue. Can someone explain to me what a new large entry hall has to do with “Science, Education and Innovation”?