I-Team: Why a Massive Boiler Has Blocked Manhattan Traffic for a Year

What to Know

  • A temporary boiler outside High School of Graphic Communication Arts has been partially blocking traffic on West 50th Street for a year
  • It was supposed to be out by the end of January but it could stay there for another 8 months because of unanticipated asbestos removal
  • Neighbors are concerned about the continued traffic annoyance and the fuel tank that supplies the boiler

A temporary boiler blocking part of West 50th Street in Manhattan could remain a nuisance for another eight months, even though a contractor was supposed to remove the heating equipment by the end of January.

The mobile boiler has been parked outside the High School of Graphic Communication Arts since December of 2015, raising concerns among neighbors about traffic that has to maneuver around the machine and about the fuel tank that supplies it. 

"It’s dangerous. I mean, look at the building. Look at the school. It shouldn’t be there," said Juan Abreu, who has worked in the neighborhood for 7 years.

The purpose of the equipment is to heat the school while the NYC School Construction Authority replaces the building's old boiler with new, cleaner machines that emit less pollution. The work was originally slated to be done by Jan. 20, but now the SCA says the deadline has been pushed back to September, partly because of unanticipated asbestos removal.

"We’re anticipating September 17th," said Melanie La Rocca, the SCA Chief of Staff.

Despite making that projection, the SCA has not indicated whether the new boilers have actually made their way to the building. Although the I-Team has been inquiring about the boiler project since October, La Rocca said she didn’t know the status of the heating equipment.

"Because I sit here in sunny, industrial Long Island City, I can’t tell you for a fact that the boilers have gone in and are in place," La Rocca said. "But whether they are there or not, I am confident that our team is able to meet the date."

The I-Team requested an interview with School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo to talk about the delayed boiler project. So far, she has not responded. The boiler project contractor, Queens-based Independent Temperature Control Services also did not respond to the I-Team’s request for comment.

According to bid documents, the city can fine the contractor $2,000 per day for not completing the boiler project by the contractual deadline, but Toya Holness, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education suggested the de Blasio administration would not pursue the fines.

"The delay was not caused by the contractor," Holness wrote in an email to the I-Team.

The project to replace heating equipment inside the High School for Graphic Communication Arts is part of a larger effort to phase out dirty boilers city-wide.

In partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, the Bloomberg administration launched the campaign in 2008 as part of the PlaNYC campaign to reduce air pollution. Since then, more than 6,000 public and private buildings have undergone boiler conversions.

The School Construction Authority alone has asked City Council for $750 million dollars to upgrade more than 100 school boilers from no. 4 heating oil to cleaner fuels by 2030. That’s more than triple the cost of phasing out no. 6 oil boilers, which was mandated by 2015.

Holness said it’s more expensive to upgrade from no. 4 oil because that requires full equipment replacement, whereas upgrading from no. 6 can often be accomplished by retro-fitting old equipment.

The de Blasio administration says it’s worth the cost. 

According to city estimates, phasing out the dirty boilers has helped prevent 210 premature deaths and 540 hospitalizations each year.

Abbey Brown, Clean Energy Project Manager with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the health benefits to kids are exactly why it’s important for school boiler replacements – like the one in Hell’s Kitchen - to finish on time.

"These are schoolchildren who are potentially breathing in air that's not as clean as it should be and there are health impacts from that," Brown said. "For buildings to comply with the deadlines, or do the work even before they are required to by deadline is incredibly important."

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