Volume 77 / Number 33 Jan. 16 - 22, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Fountain challenge doesn’t hold water

By Albert Amateau

City Councilmember Alan Gerson on Tuesday issued a finding that the Parks Department has essentially told the truth that the cost of the proposed moving of the Washington Square Park fountain would not significantly exceed the cost of repairing the fountain in place.

The one uncertainty, according to Gerson’s finding, is whether relocating the fountain would interfere with water mains and force the city to spend considerable money to reinforce or relocate the mains.

Gerson said he put that question to the city Department of Environmental Protection and the agency has not yet come up with an answer.

The Parks Department has said that if left in place the ring foundation underneath the fountain would require an expense for reinforcement or replacement about equal to the expense of moving the fountain.

Gerson said that he consulted with the American Institute of Architects and its executive director Ric Bell about reasonable engineering practices regarding the fountain issue and came to the conclusion that the ring foundation would sooner or later need reinforcement or replacement.

Gerson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had made an agreement with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in 2005 regarding the fountain issue, and the finding issued on Tuesday was to determine if the department complied with the agreement.

But Jonathan Greenberg, a plaintiff in a lawsuit that would have required the city to conduct a more extensive environmental impact statement on the park plan, rather than the environmental assessment statement that the city did conduct, called Gerson’s findings a “whitewash.”

Greenberg and other opponents to the park renovation plan contend that moving the fountain about 22 feet to the east as called for in the plan would cost $500,000 more than leaving the fountain in place.

Greenberg dismissed the A.I.A. consultation as not qualified and biased in favor of the park renovation plan. He noted that he had presented a report by Building Conservation Associates stating that moving the fountain would cost over $500,000 more than leaving it in place.

The B.C.A. report found that the ring foundation under the fountain could last for years with minor adjustments at minimal cost. But Parks rejected the B.C.A. report.

Greenberg noted that the Parks Department had engaged Jabonski Building Conservation to draw up plans for repairing the fountain but had never consulted Jabonski about the cost of moving the fountain. Greenberg has demanded the hiring of a “bona fide professional expert or even Jabonski” to assess the B.C.A. report.

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