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Concerns Over St. Barnabas Project Eased

May 8, 2008

An April 10 community meeting afforded Mount Hope residents an opportunity to express their concerns and ask questions about the controversial construction project at 2050 Grand Concourse, where St. Barnabas Hospital is building an out-patient facility.

Most in attendance thought the meeting went well. However, it seems some are still unhappy with the project. The following day, a protest was held outside the construction site, in which protesters threatened workers, say police.

St. Barnabas began demolishing the building currently at the location – an abandoned Elks Lodge – in early March. Over the past few months, the project has been a controversial topic for a number of local residents. Galvanized by the perceived lack of communication between St. Barnabas and the community, locals have demanded the hospital share information about the project.

The matter reached a boiling point at Community Board 5′s March meeting, during which residents shouted insults at the Board for their alleged complicity in the lack of information sharing. “My problem is with Community Board 5 and how they’ve interacted with the public,” said Cathy Coleman, a resident of Morris Avenue. “We had no public hearing.”

At the meeting, residents also broached the subject with Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who was in attendance. In response, Gotbaum’s office organized the April 10 meeting at St. Simon Stock Church. “We set up the meeting because we felt these people had the right to know what was going on in their neighborhood,” said Daniel Ilan Radin-Contreras, Gotbaum’s Bronx community liaison. St. Barnabas Hospital

There were about 12 representatives from St. Barnabas in attendance, while only 10 community residents were present. CB 5 did not send a representative to the meeting.

The evening started with an open discussion, in which residents were allowed to question St. Barnabas.

“My major concern is that we were not informed about the destruction,” said Victoria Gambino of 2060 Grand Concourse. Gambino raised questions about the removal of asbestos from 2050 Grand Concourse, the constant trickle of water off 2050 onto passing pedestrians, and a foreboding security net protruding from the site.

Some asked about potential damage to neighboring buildings, and the fact that St. Barnabas’ destruction permit had apparently expired.

“People are afraid anything could happen,” Gambino said.

Following this session, St. Barnabas was given the opportunity to respond. Susan Hayes, the president and CEO of Caldwell Wingate (CW), the construction company heading the project, gave a power-point presentation intended to dispel residents’ doubts.

“We are going to be living in your community for a while,” said Hayes. “We don’t want you to be unhappy.”

Hayes’ primary point was that the project has to meet citywide regulations. She added that because the departments of Housing and Buildings monitor every aspect of the project, residents were not in danger.

Hayes also specifically addressed residents’ questions. She explained that all of the asbestos had been removed from 2050 Grand Concourse in a safe manner. She claimed noise pollution would not be an issue because the site’s main generator was shrouded in a noise-reducing sheet. She also explained that CW had vibration monitoring that would ensure vibrations from construction are not damaging surrounding buildings.

Hayes conceded that mistakes had been made, especially in regard to the lapsed permit. “We made an administrative mistake,” said Hayes. However the issue was rectified and all the correct permits are now in order. Hayes also apologized for the water trickling off the site and said it would be resolved.

In anticipation of future problems or uncertainties, Caldwell Wingate has set up a Web site with information about the project. Hayes said that 2050grandconcourse.com will be updated every two weeks.

Hayes concluded by saying they hoped to finish destruction by the beginning of May. As of May 7, the Elks Lodge was almost entirely demolished.

“I was put at ease by her presentation,” said Gambino. “I was like, ok, I don’t have to worry about this. I’m ok with it now.”

Other residents shared Gambino’s sentiments, but deplored the poor turnout. “There should have been more residents here,” Coleman said.

Indeed, the next day, a protest was held outside 2050 Grand Concourse. According to Sgt. Mark Turner, threats were made to workers at the site. “Threats are unacceptable,” he said. “We will make arrests.”

Turner and others have speculated that the protesters were construction workers who wanted jobs. However, their identity could not be confirmed. Turner said an investigation was under way.

By CHRIS MATTHEWS of the Mount Hope Monitor

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