By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Tenants of a huge apartment complex next to the site of Columbia University's West Harlem campus expansion are demanding air conditioners to mitigate noise and dust.
Alicia Barksdale, president of the 3333 Tenants Association, said the university's plan to give air conditioners to some residents should be expanded to all occupants of the 35-story building at 3333 Broadway, at 135th Street.
The school should also provide financial compensation for the additional expense of having to operate the units during the summer.
"If you are concerned about the noise and air quality you should be concerned about the whole building," said Barksdale. "There's low and fixed income people that simply can't afford the increase in the electricity bill if we have to keep our windows closed because of construction. Maybe because the air conditioners are free they feel they are doing us a favor."
The board of 3333 Broadway is meeting next week to decide how to proceed.
Columbia is extending into West Harlem on 17 acres of land from West 129th to West 133rd streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue. The $6.3 billion plan will see the creation of 6.3 million square feet of space, with the first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by 2015. Later phases are scheduled to be completed by 2030.
Building tenants whose apartments face 133rd street are being offered air conditioners.
University spokeswoman Victoria Benitez said steps are being taken to limit the impact of construction on local residents, including a "Clean Construction Action Plan that focuses on mitigating noise and controlling dust."
Under the plan, older construction equipment was retro-fitted with diesel filters, new construction equipment was utilized where possible and there are active noise and dust reduction plans in place.
"The university is committed to fulfilling its responsibilities outlined in the environmental impact statement to limit the impact of construction on local residents by using the most up-to-date clean construction practices and, in this case, mitigating noise through the provision of Energy Star air conditioners for those identified residents," Benitez said in a statement.
But that explanation has not satisfied long-time 3333 Broadway residents such as Gricele Thompson. The 26-year-resident of 3333 Broadway said assurances about air quality are not enough and residents want an independent monitor.
"We know what happened after 9/11. They said the air quality was good and years down the road first responders are still getting sick," said Thompson. "I want to know that Columbia will allocate a certain amount of funds so that, if respiratory illnesses increase due to construction, people can see a doctor."
Although she is one of the tenants who is slated to receive an air conditioner, Thompson said she normally keeps the windows of her 14th floor apartment open during the summer to save on the electric bill. She also said that residents who don't use air conditioners for health reasons should be provided with alternatives such as a screen.
Barksdale said some residents who use air conditioners during the peak summer months see their electric bills jump up hundreds of dollars.
"If my electric bill jumps up to $300, who will pay? Everyone in the building will be affected by this. Dirty air travels just like sound," said Barksdale.