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Lexington Ave. Traffic Lane to Close for Two Years

By Mary Johnson | May 15, 2012 12:52pm
The building at 17 Lexington Ave. was constructed in 1929, and officials said they decided to renovate the building rather than raze it to preserve its history.
The building at 17 Lexington Ave. was constructed in 1929, and officials said they decided to renovate the building rather than raze it to preserve its history.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

FLATIRON — A lane of Lexington Avenue between East 23rd and 22nd streets will be closed to traffic starting at the end of 2012 and stretching through 2014 as Baruch College undergoes a massive overhaul, officials revealed Monday.

The project will also affect the southern lane of East 23rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues, which will be closed to vehicles for about a year, officials added.

“All measures will be taken to minimize inconveniences to the community,” Iris Weinshall, CUNY’s vice chancellor of facilities planning, construction and management, told a crowd of two dozen students and community members at a public meeting on Monday night.

A fence will be put up along Lexington Avenue for two years, shutting off a lane of traffic to contain the construction and debris from the building at 17 Lexington at the corner of 23rd Street.

The first phase of construction on the 1920s-era building, funded by $40 million in state dollars, is expected to last until 2014 and will shut down lanes of traffic on both Lexington Avenue and East 23rd Street.

“Time has certainly taken its toll [on the building],” Weinshall added. “As enrollment has gone up, we can’t just let this building not be used.”

The building was once the only structure of Baruch’s Flatiron-district campus, which has since grown, but it remains the centerpiece of the school, said Mitchel Wallerstein, president of Baruch College.

“This has been the historic and sentimental hub of Baruch College,” Wallerstein said. “It was the one and only building of Baruch College for many, many years.”

The overall plan to renovate the building calls for replacing antiquated cooling and electrical systems, modernizing the elevators, replacing the windows, adding gathering spaces for students, renovating the lobby and making the entire building accessible for people with disabilities, said Julia Doern, an architect from the firm Davis Brody Bond.

But only a portion of those tasks will be tackled in the first phase of the project, which is scheduled to begin this summer.

Over the next two years, a new electrical system for the building will be installed, Doern said. The lobby will be renovated to include granite flooring, limestone columns and a glass façade, and the basement of 17 Lex will be excavated and repurposed to house key infrastructure elements.

Stephen Burke, of the construction firm The LiRo Group, said site preparations will begin as early as this summer.

Demolition and abatement will begin in winter 2012, Burke said.

A lane of East 23rd Street will be closed for about a year to allow Con Edison to install a new electrical system for the building.

At the meeting on Monday, Burke assured residents that steps are being taken to mitigate the project’s impact on the community.

He said the goal of the planning was to get the major construction projects completed early on so that the remaining upgrades and renovations will be confined to the interior portions of the building.

Still, residents who attended were concerned about noise and sidewalk access.

One woman worried about the bus stop on East 23rd Street and whether it would be accessible during construction. Officials said they did not believe a formal relocation would be necessary for that stop, but commuters may have to move further down the block to board the bus.

Another woman, who said she lived south of 23rd Street, wondered how she could access the commercial areas around the college once construction begins.

“That kind of construction, no matter how sweet you make it sound, is going to make it impossible for people to go to commercial areas,” she said.

Burke said the project included plans to build a dedicated pedestrian walkway so that the sidewalk wouldn’t be entirely closed to pedestrians. He added that those who bid on the project will be required to keep equipment and debris within certain areas to ensure the site is kept in order.

But the resident said those promises weren’t enough.

“The guys working on the sites don’t care. They want to get it done,” a resident said.

Baruch College has set up a website that will provide updates on the project and contact information for residents who have questions or complaints.

“We are committed to remaining good neighbors during this entire process,” Wallerstein said.