The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Columbia Expansion Site Has History of Safety Violations

Columbia's Manhattanville Campus expansion project has resulted in two deaths so far, and several violations by the city for dangerous working conditions.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Michael Miguez

By Leslie Albrecht and Serena Solomon

DNAinfo Staff

HARLEM — The Columbia University-owned property where a construction worker was killed in a tragic accident Thursday is one of several sites in the Ivy League school's Manhattanville expansion that have a history of safety violations, according to Department of Building records.

The death of 69-year-old Juan Ruiz was the second fatality at the site of the university's future campus, a $6.4 billion project that will bring state-of-the art scientific research facilities to West Harlem.

Columbia has had a history of problems at their 17-acre contruction site which stretches from 125th to 133rd streets, between the Henry Hudson Parkway and Broadway, as crews convert it into the future site of the university's controversial Manhattanville Campus.

Protesters marched hours after an accident that killed one worker and injured two at a construction site owned by Columbia University.
Protesters marched hours after an accident that killed one worker and injured two at a construction site owned by Columbia University.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

In February 2010, a 51-year-old worker was killed when he suffered a heart attack and fell down an elevator shaft at 3229 Broadway. The DOB issued safety violations then against contractor Breeze National Inc., the same company involved in Thursday's accident.

Breeze National's vice president, Toby Romano, reputedly has ties to the Lucchese crime family and was convicted in 1988 of bribing inspectors over infractions at his asbestos removal site, according to reports.

DOB records showed that inspectors issued violations at at least five other sites within the expansion area over the last several years, including one that was filed March 19.

In that case, inspectors issued a partial stop work order at 637 W. 125th Street after they found a damaged crane in use. At that same site, the DOB issued a partial stop work order in Nov. 2010 after inspectors found an unsafe scaffolding there.

Other DOB violations within the Manhattanville expansion area include:

• At 3243 Broadway, Columbia was fined $800 in Jan. 2010 after failing to file engineering reports properly. In Sept. 2010, DOB issued a violation at the same site for performing work that did not conform to construction documents.

• At 3205 Broadway, DOB inspectors issued a violation and a $5,000 fine after finding a wall had dislodged bricks, mortar and cement in April 2011.

• At 3251 Broadway, the DOB issued a violation in Jan. 2006 for hazardous conditions after inspectors found cracks in a wall. In 2009 at the same address, the DOB issued a violation and $800 fine for working without a permit.

A university spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment on the past violations Thursday, but the school issued a statement about Thursday's accident, saying, "First and foremost, our hearts go out to the family, friends and co-workers of the construction worker who was killed in this tragic incident, and our thoughts remain with the two other workers who were injured this morning and their loved ones."

At a rally held just hours after Thursday's building collapse, protesters slammed the university, saying the accident was evidence of a pattern of neglect.

"I think it shows that Columbia did not take care of the people that live and work in Manhattanville," said protester Ellen Isaacs. "We are concerned about the general racism and neglect of community.”

The expansion has been a source of tension in West Harlem, where the university's acquisition of the property led to a U.S. Supreme Court battle over whether the property was blighted enough to demolish.

Community groups have criticized the university because they say they don't see that the thousands of jobs promised as part of the project have materialized, while functioning businesses were displaced because of the project.

Jeff Mays contributed reporting. Michael Miguez designed the interactive.