by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, March 31 (Xinhua) -- The head of the Capital Master Plan for renovating UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday said while the plan in general is on target, work on the General Assembly and Conference buildings have been delayed to beef up security for the complex.
Michael Adlerstein first briefed then led a few dozen reporters and camera personnel on a tour of work areas that are part of the five year program to bring up to date buildings on the Midtown Manhattan nearly 7 hectare complex along the East River.
"We estimate we might have slipped by several months," he said. "We are still working to streamline the schedule as much as possible."
Adlerstein said he would have a better handle on the schedule in time for the annual autumn report to the General Assembly, housed in the iconic bubble topped, swooped-roofed white building.
He explained completion of work on the 4-story Conference Building, over a portion of the FDR Drive paralleling at water's edge the river, "is directly related" to renovation of the General Assembly Building.
Adlerstein was quick to point out, "Nearly three years since groundbreaking of the CMP in May 2008 the project as approved is on track for completion within reach of the approved budget" of 2- billion U.S. dollars.
It was the Conference Building, home to the UN Security Council and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and a host of other meeting rooms, where work was delayed by security concerns.
Adlerstein explained that partially perched above the expressway at river's edge, the buildings' infrastructure had to be strengthened out of fears of terrorist bombing attacks.
"The enhanced security upgrade developed by the UN's Department of Safety and Security Services and the Department of Management will result in better protection of the delegates, staff and visitors to the United Nations," Adlerstein said.
"The western perimeter of the headquarters, along First Avenue, will be strengthened by many means, including planters, bollards and anti-ram devices," he said. "These design changes will have significant long term positive impacts on the United Nations further strengthening the compound."
Reexamination of the security components "was prompted by an increase in recent years in the number and severity of terrorist incidents around the world," Adlerstein said. "UN facilities world wide have been the target of an increasing number of attacks and the host city (New York) also has seen the number of attacks including the failed attempt on Times Square" by a would-be bomber in 2009.
The Conference Building "is back into full construction activity," he said, as he led journalists through the now eerily, stripped bare traditional homes of the Security Council and ECOSOC chambers. The golden horseshoe-shaped table of the Security Council has been moved to a temporary home in a basement under the General Assembly's huge meeting hall.
A temporary building erected on the North Lawn of the campus is hosting offices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Protocol and additional conference rooms, including one for ECOSOC.
So, work can't start on the General Assembly until the Security Council can move back to its traditional Conference Building home. The 39-story glass-walled Secretariat Building and the basement infrastructure "remain on track and on schedule and are unaffected by the work in the Conference building and the General Assembly building," Adlerstein said.
He projected reoccupation of the Secretariat would begin with the initiation of staff returning "in mid 2012, completing the return within 2012" consistent with the original projections. Return of the press is included in this time frame mid to late 2012.
Members of the UN Staff are scattered about the eastern side of Midtown Manhattan in "swing space" leased in various office buildings.
The press is now housed in temporary facilities on the second floor of the 4-story Dag Hammarskjold Library, the southernmost structure on the campus.
Adlerstein cited accomplishments as "completion of the ( temporary) North Lawn Building, relocating several thousand staff, commencing renovations in the Conference and Secretariat buildings and making substantial progress on renovation work in the basements."
He was so proud of the basement work he even took members of the press to check out the new "state of the art" data center and electrical vaults.
"Other milestones included temporary relocation of the Security Council, the construction of hoists ... and a scaffolding system on the east and west sides of the Secretariat Building" covering several floor and that is raised and lowered as needed, said Adlerstein, his tall frame topped with a blue hard-hat as were all others on the tour.
Adlerstein took reporters to a barren 36th floor, stripped down to the concrete, with old asbestos removed.
"The new glass almost perfectly matches the original bluish transparent glass," he said. "The old glass ... is covered in a 1990's film for blast and sustainability. It is far more reflective and green in color than the original glass."
Adlerstein said, "This complex installation ... is made more complicated by the need to maintain the old systems, for most of the project, to serve the buildings that are still in use," he said. "So we are protecting and managing the old telephone, old air conditioning, heating, security, plumbing and electrical and other essential services while we install the new."