By Jeff French Segall
The Stephen Wise Towers are undergoing major changes both within and without, and one recent change has unsettled people as far away as Italy.
The Stephen Wise development is a NYCHA property that occupies four buildings with addresses on West 90th and West 91st Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue.
This week, a sculpture of several concrete horses by Italian artist Constantino Nivola in 1964 was removed from the site, alarming some art-lovers — even those as far away as Sardinia, Italy. The Nivola Museum there wrote on Facebook that the removal was “terrible news.”
“It’s not about vandals, it’s about a ‘renovation’ project,” the museum said.
Deeply saddening. There are demolitions done out of ignorance and demolitions done out of greed, and the fact that this is in the former category doesn’t make it any more acceptable. The effect on the city is the same. https://t.co/RzERpr3Dee
— Paul Goldberger (@paulgoldberger) March 16, 2021
NYCHA and a private company are undertaking a renovation of the area, including apartments and the grounds of the housing project.
Rochel Leah Goldblatt, the Deputy Press Secretary for NYCHA, said that the art installation will be restored and highlighted as part of the project.
“This installation has four main features: concrete horses which had been previously damaged, a wall mural, sculpture wall along 90th street, and two concrete pyramids, that originally operated as a water feature but has not functioned in years,” she said in a statement. “Due to the need to repair a vital underground water line [which feeds the fire suppression systems in the buildings], the concrete horse sculptures were recently removed. The concrete horses are currently in the basement of one of the buildings and the restored horses will be replaced when the grounds repairs are complete.”
(The prior damage to the horses occurred in the 1980’s when vandals knocked off the muzzles of each of the horses.)
There are other major changes already going on at the property:
Heavy construction equipment is onsite and temporary barricades block the wide community space between the buildings. A company called PACT Renaissance Collaborative is upgrading not only the recreational areas but all four of the buildings, according to Amy Stokes, Assistant Vice President of PRC. Outdoors, there will be new swings and jungle gyms, BBQ pits, new seating, new bushes and trees, and a rebuilding of the basketball courts and creating a smaller soccer field, she said. Many new security cameras will be installed outside as well as inside the buildings – in elevators and hallways.
Indoors, every one of the 399 apartments will be completely renovated, she said. New stoves, appliances, windows, plumbing and wiring will be installed. Residents can stay on site during the renovations, and the company will mitigate dust and debris with filtration and negative pressure air machines, Stokes said. Elevators, boilers, wiring and plumbing will all be upgraded or replaced. She believes the whole job will be completed by the end of this year, or early into 2022, depending on the weather.
Wise Towers is part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) that allows public housing authorities to transfer their units from public housing to the Section 8 program, and to confer section 8 status to all residents even if some of them are not currently on that program. That Section 8 status will be portable in case a tenant decides to move to a different state.
Residents had mixed opinions on the changes. ”They’ve been replacing the plumbing in the building because of years of damage in these buildings,” said Esther (above), one tenant. “The bathroom will be renovated first. It’s not like they’re going to renovate the whole apartment all at once. They’ll close off the bathroom, but first they’re going to make sure that all the pipes are fixed and will be new.”
Chino (above), the President of the Tenants’ Association, expressed doubts and reservations about the changes. “I wonder who allowed that to happen?….What part of government gave NYCHA the necessary funds and let us get on the market and be bought by these private entities? To me this is not NYCHA.” He accused NYCHA of “letting these people tear up the heartbeat and the essence of what these buildings are all about…In my opinion NYCHA left us. They don’t do anything. They don’t do repairs. Somebody has to be responsible.”
To learn more about the current program, see NYCHA’s press release at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/press/pr-2020/pr-20201130.page