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City Takes Too Long and Spends Too Much to Finish Cultural Projects: Report

By Eddie Small | April 10, 2017 5:09pm
 The think tank Center for an Urban Future released a report Monday morning saying that projects at libraries and cultural institutions in the city cost too much and take too long to finish.
The think tank Center for an Urban Future released a report Monday morning saying that projects at libraries and cultural institutions in the city cost too much and take too long to finish.
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Center for an Urban Future

NEW YORK CITY — Projects at the city's libraries and cultural institutions are costing too much money and taking too long to finish, according to a new report.

The report, which is entitled "Slow Build" and was put together by Center for an Urban Future and the Citizens Budget Commission, found that the median new library and cultural projects in the city take about seven years to finish and cost about $930 per square foot, which is roughly twice as much as its costs to build a new office tower in the city.

It singles out projects for criticism including construction of the new Kingsbridge Library in The Bronx, which took more than nine years to finish and cost $1,117 per square foot, and development of the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, which also took more than nine years to finish at a cost of $1,398 per square foot.

"Slow Build" analyzed a total of 144 projects completed between fiscal years 2010 and 2014 that were managed by the city's Department of Design and Construction and found that half of the routine mechanical upgrades, such as replacing fire alarms and boilers, took longer than 4.3 years to finish.

When cultural institutions are allowed to manage their own capital projects, however, they typically cost 40 percent less and are completed much faster, the report found.

For instance, major projects at the New York Public Library that DDC managed between 2005 and 2016 cost an average of $656 per square foot and took almost seven years to finish, whereas projects that the NYPL managed itself cost an average of $412 per square foot and were finished in less than two years.

"We and DDC want to do these projects efficiently," NYPL Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall said. "When projects take a long time, it means people can't avail themselves of books and programs."

Center for an Urban Future Executive Director Jonathan Bowles said that the report shows a need for the city to reform the way it manages projects at cultural institutions.

“This is a broken system that results in needless delays and squanders the extremely limited public dollars available for addressing the infrastructure needs of libraries and cultural organizations,” he said.

A vast majority of the delays in such projects—86 percent—occur before construction even starts, according to the report, which cites inefficient processes and systems at DDC and the Office of Management and Budget as a major reason for the slow pace.

Specific factors criticized in the report include a "complex and time-consuming approvals process" with DDC and OMB, a lack of coordination between city agencies overseeing the projects and a procurement process that requires DDC to hire the lowest bidder without taking the overall quality of contractors into account.

The report also features 12 recommendations for improving projects at libraries and cultural institutions, which include simplifying DDC's design review process, creating a "Director of Libraries" position in City Hall and assessing the quality of contractors rather than just choosing the lowest bid.

The DDC has reduced its construction time by about 40 percent and its design time by about 50 percent for public building projects that started after July 1, 2014 and have been completed, according to the agency.

DDC spokesman Ian Michaels didn't refute the findings, but put the blame on the Bloomberg administration.

“The report focuses on 144 projects that took place up to Fiscal Year 2014, during the previous administration," he said. "Since 2014, DDC has made significant improvements to its procurement, design, and construction processes.”