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Chapin School Construction Causes Water Shutoff on Upper East Side Block

By Shaye Weaver | August 15, 2017 3:46pm
 The crew had been drilling support for a tower crane at the time of the water line break, residents said.
The crew had been drilling support for a tower crane at the time of the water line break, residents said.
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Lisa Paule

YORKVILLE — Construction at the Chapin School caused a flood that forced crews to shut off water to an entire block near the elite all-girls school — leading locals to blast the administration's "inept" response to ongoing issues related to the yearslong project. 

Crews working at the school, which is expanding its 100 East End Ave. building by three stories as part of work scheduled to last until 2021, severed a private water line outside the school late Friday night, sending water gushing down 84th Street and East End Avenue, officials and residents said.

As a result, water had to be cut off to residents on 84th Street between York and East End avenues, according to neighbors and the city's Department of Environmental Protection.

The break happened while crews were drilling support for a tower crane, and water service didn't return to buildings on the block until Saturday morning and afternoon, the DEP and school said.

Chapin sent letters to neighbors when it was initially determined that the water would need to be disconnected, said a representative for the school, Anneli Ballard, adding that the water line was rerouted to ensure future drilling would not impact it.

The Department of Buildings issued a partial stop-work order for exterior work to Chapin for its "failure to safeguard utilities," according to online records.

The DOB met with the school's construction company Monday to review upcoming plans, and the agency was set to inspect the water line Tuesday, Ballard said.

Neighbors complained they were not alerted to the broken water line until 10:30 p.m. Friday, the latest in a series of shortcomings by school staff related to the construction.

"The school had an opportunity to try to do good in view of the water main situation, but they did not," said neighbor Cynthia Kramer, co-founder of Serene Green 84, a neighborhood watchdog group keeping an eye on the construction. “'Inept:' a simple word that can used to describe Chapin's latest response to their self-imposed fiasco."

Work being done at the Chapin School (Courtesy: Lisa Paule)

Additionally, residents complained that they have been seeing large rats in the area since the spring and that the school has failed to increase its garbage pickups.

Neighbor Kevin Kusinitz said it is common to see rats scurrying out of the construction area and into flower pits outside adjacent buildings at night and early in the morning.

"Saturday evening, Aug. 5, we saw rats as big as cats coming from the Chapin alley next to the 533 co-op, and we saw a rat feasting on garbage spilling from one of the bags in the alley," said Lisa Paule, another co-founder of Serene Green 84 who lives next to the school, in an email. "We also saw trash inside their shed that could attract rats. They are not overseeing their cleanup effectively to prevent rats."

Ballard insisted that Chapin has coordinated efforts to keep rats away and in recent weeks has stepped up efforts to clear any and all litter from the area, including from its subcontractors.

"We have not had any rodent sightings or been made aware of sightings since these efforts have been in place, but understand that we must remain vigilant and must continually review and evaluate our practices to maintain effectiveness," she said.

► READ MORE: UES Private School's 'Noisy' Expansion Project Delayed by a Year: Officials

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The group has been going to the school's community meetings since 2016, but Paule said Chapin hasn't gotten better at responding to their concerns.

The entire project has been a hot-button issue in the neighborhood, with complaints over noisy construction  to parking by construction personnel and the placement of the construction shed and crane.

The school currently has after-hours permits to work 24 hours a day from Aug. 8 through Aug. 21, though after-hours exterior work will only be done on Sundays, according to DOB records.

"The noise is constant during construction hours," noted Kusinitz, who said the bulk of the work takes place between 8 a.m. and 5 or 6 p.m., with construction happening five or six days per week. "That this is supposed to continue into, I believe, 2022 is a pretty awful thing to contemplate.

"Residents of 84th Street and East End Avenue warned the city that this construction was going to be a mess, no matter what Chapin claimed, but we were ignored," he added. "I don't think Chapin officials care because one, they don't live here, and two, as long as parents are willing to shell out big money for their children's education, they're going to do whatever it takes to increase the tuition."

Ballard countered that the school's community meetings have resulted in "many effective solutions" to issues that have risen since the start of the construction.

"We are extremely mindful of the fact that this is a complicated project, with many moving parts, and at each step of the way we have made necessary changes and incorporated important accommodations based on thoughtful community feedback," she said. "We know that construction is inconvenient for all, and continue to be grateful for the patience of our neighbors and the community at large. We will continue to work closely with the community, share information and incorporate their useful suggestions going forward."

The next community meeting at Chapin School is on Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m.