Expediting Headquarters renovation in best interest of UN, says senior official

Expediting Headquarters renovation in best interest of UN, says senior official

Michael Adlerstein
A senior United Nations official tasked with overseeing the renovation of the world body’s headquarters complex in New York has stressed that accelerating the project will ensure that it is done faster, within budget and with the least amount of disruption to the Organization.

The renovations under the current seven-year, $1.9 billion Capital Master Plan (CMP) are expected to make the main UN Headquarters buildings more energy efficient and eliminate safety and health risks.

Last month Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed accelerating the plan approved last year by the General Assembly, known as Strategy IV, to make the renovation “less risky, less expensive and faster” in the long run.

“The major advantage of the Accelerated Strategy IV is that the entire project will be completed in five years, rather than seven, thus reducing the disruption to the Organization and the operations of the Organization by two years,” Michael Adlerstein, the Executive Director of the CMP, told reporters today.

The accelerated plan, which is currently being considered by the Assembly’s Fifth Committee, will also deliver the project within the approved $1.876 billion budget.

Presently, the CMP is approximately $219 million over the approved budget, which Mr. Adlerstein pointed out is a projected estimate for the costs of the project, not funds expended. “The actual expenditures to date, representing less than 5 per cent of the total cost, are well within their budget.”

Accelerated Strategy IV “will reduce the risks of further cost increases, and increase the opportunities for us to get back to the approved budget, and stay there,” he stated.

The accelerated plan proposes to empty the entire Secretariat building in one phase instead of four, which will require more swing space. So far the UN has signed a lease for a swing space building in midtown Manhattan at 305 East 46th Street.

It also proposes to accelerate the work on the Assembly Building and the Conferencing Building into two rather than three phases, which will require a larger temporary conference building on the North Lawn.

“The increased cost of additional swing space and the larger temporary conference building will be more than offset by the lowered cost for the renovation itself,” said Mr. Adlerstein.

The proposal is consistent with the plan approved by the General Assembly in June 2006, in that it allows for the Assembly and the conferencing functions to remain in the Headquarters compound, in a new, temporary building. The Secretary-General will also remain within the compound. The Library will move out, as planned, and the Library building will be used as swing space.

Accelerated Strategy IV is advantageous to the UN because it lowers risk in three categories, Mr. Adlerstein noted. Firstly, it lowers the risk of unanticipated escalation to the cost of construction; the longer the schedule, the higher the risk that inflation could unexpectedly exceed projections.

Also, the possibility of noise and other disturbances requiring the UN to request pauses in the construction schedule, causing significant cost increases, would be greatly diminished, as would the possibility of a construction-related accident in close proximity to occupants.

If the Accelerated Strategy IV is approved by the General Assembly, Mr. Adlerstein expected that the initial vacating of the Secretariat will start in late 2008 or early 2009, and that the entire project would be completed by 2013.

He added that the accelerated strategy will not change the design or appearance of the renovated UN. “We are proposing only a different way of phasing the project, while staying within the approved overall budget.”

He noted that in the case of both the approved plan and the accelerated plan, “we are presently over budget, although somewhat less so in the accelerated plan. So we need to both accelerate the project and revisit the design.”

The CMP, along with pre-construction manager Skanska USA, has started to undertake a value engineering exercise to find appropriate ways to reduce cost without compromising on the quality and sustainability of the completed project.

While the finished product will not look very different from the outside than it does now, the designs of many aspects of the project are being done in a way that will make the UN safer and a “role model for sustainability.”

“Generally, it’s going to look and feel and work very similarly to the way it works now.”