Volume 76, Number 37 | February 7 -13, 2007

Sparks still flying over N.Y.U. co-generation plan

By Albert Amateau

New York University tried again on Jan. 10 to convince neighbors that the university’s plan for a new expanded co-generation plant beneath a city-owned strip along Mercer St. would benefit both the university and the neighborhood.

But residents of 250 Mercer St. who came to a presentation by university officials remained dead set against the site where N.Y.U. wants to install the plant under the tree-lined greenway on the east side of Mercer St. between W. Third and W. Fourth Sts. across the street from their home.

Residents insisted that an alternative site for the new plant beneath Gould Plaza, university property west of the Mercer St. strip, where N.Y.U.’s present smaller co-generation plant is located, would spare the neighborhood two years of disruption.

Despite assertions by Alicia Hurly and Allison Leary — the N.Y.U. officials making the presentation — that the 20 existing mature trees on the Mercer St. strip would be replaced by as many or more mature trees, residents were skeptical.

“I’ve been watching those trees for 27 years and I’ve seen them grow five stories high. I don’t want to lose any of them,” said Elaine Hudson, a resident of 250 Mercer St.

While N.Y.U. has not yet decided whether to put a new plant under the Mercer St. strip or to upgrade the present plant beneath Gould Plaza, the university has made it clear that it prefers the Mercer site. One reason is the Gould site would mean the loss of 13 classrooms in the basement of Warren Weaver Hall.

The existing co-generation plant, which currently provides seven university buildings with heat and electric power at 45 percent efficiency, could be updated to meet revised diesel emission standards at a cost of $60 million. A new plant operating at 75 percent efficiency would serve 30 university buildings with heat and power at a cost estimated between $110 million and $120 million.

The university insists that construction on the Mercer St. side between W. Third and W. Fourth Sts. would be less disruptive than the Gould Plaza alternative. The Mercer St. option would allow the plant to eliminate two vents at the surface and would give the neighborhood a new park, the university officials said at the Jan. 10 meeting.

But residents at 250 Mercer St. said they dread the prospect of a year or more of construction closing one traffic lane on Mercer St.

“It’s public property,” John Berg, a resident of the 270-unit complex, said in a recent telephone interview. “It will involve an excavation 40 feet deep for the entire block and the construction estimate of less than two years is wishful thinking. The Mercer St. option would really devalue our building,” Berg said.

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