2013-08-23 / Front Page


CEO: Looks Like Material Is Bad
By Kevin Boyle


Rust is spreading across what is supposed to be stainless steel covering the lifeguard and comfort stations. The multi-million dollar prefabs just arrived in May. Rust is spreading across what is supposed to be stainless steel covering the lifeguard and comfort stations. The multi-million dollar prefabs just arrived in May. Jim Garrison is the CEO of Garrison Architects, the firm that designed the lifeguard and comfort stations now standing high above Rockaway beaches. When shown a photograph of rusting stainless steel covering the units, he said, “Looks like the material was not to spec, (specifications)” adding, “We’re on it.”

City officials were none too pleased. The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) will be taking “a chunk of the corrugated steel” and send it for testing. Commissioner David Burney said, “The contractor will have to fix this. And we will get what we paid for.”

****UPDATED: FROM DDC (Friday) :our team inspected the modular stations today and it’s not rust; it’s just dirt that likely adhered to adhesive left behind from when the metal pieces were wrapped in plastic for delivery.  (If it were actual corrosion, you couldn’t wipe it up with a wet-wipe.)  As Commissioner Burney mentioned yesterday, we will give the stainless-steel pieces a good cleaning after Labor Day and that should address the issue.

Wave response: We wiped it off too.  But it was surface rust.  We looked at it and SMELLED it. Dirt from when it was shipped?  On the oceanside only?  Not likely!

DDC RESPONSE: The ocean side is where the sand is, which pretty easily gets airborne, in my experience

Wave: So it isn't dirt from shipping. It's airborne sand?  If that is the color of the sand we have here, we have a bigger problem than lack of sand.*****

While it remains to be seen if the modular units are covered in actual stainless steel there’s no arguing they’ve been covered in controversy since they were first unveiled in May.

Residents have taken issue with the design, the cost, the placement, the height and –perhaps most bitterly – they have taken issue with how the units got here in the first place.

Now, there’s no accounting for taste. Some people really like the design of the lifeguard and comfort stations. Some over-the-moon reviews can be found in the Wall Street Journal and on Bloomberg.com.

But even fans of the multi-million dollar modular units can’t be impressed by the rusting corrugated metal, the exposed insulation spray foam, the missing window frames, flapping duct tape, or the bursting open seams apparent on some of the costly units.

And though pleasing to the eye of some (see Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com), the deteriorating outside is only catching up to the issues on the inside. Since their arrival in May, the units have been plagued by their not-ready-for-prime-time condition. Plumbing and lighting problems and leaky ceilings were reported from the outset.

F for Failure? F for Failure? A lifeguard offered an insider’s view of one station: “There are leaks from the ceiling, the sink doesn’t work and it leaks to the outside. The tiles on the floor are crooked, the side window doesn’t open because there’s a pipe blocking it. I’m so disappointed and it hurts to know that this thing cost so much money.”

Ah, the money. The units cost somewhere between $2 and $3 million dollars apiece. More than $50 million dollars were spent on the new modular buildings that were designed by Garrison Architects in Brooklyn.

The design firm and its modular units were selected in January, 2013, after a “sped up procurement process.”

Unit in need of first aid? Unit in need of first aid? How did that happen? City Hall applied the pressure. Not in choosing Garrison but making plain its directive: “Open the beaches on Memorial Day.”

The directive effectively precluded community input, an issue that remains a sore spot with locals.

Although the Parks Department is often the target of community outrage, a lesser known City agency actually pushed for Garrison to design the now-rusting lifeguard and comfort stations. The aforementioned Department of Design and Construction hired McLaren Engineering for the overall design job and then recommended McLaren use Garrison, a specialist in prefab and modular units.

In a call to The Wave, DDC Commissioner David Burney said, “City Hall said ‘Open on Memorial Day.’ A process that would normally take three to six months had to be done in a couple of weeks.” When asked why DDC did not use temporary trailers or cheaper structures, Burney said, “It was considered, but we did not want to spend money on both temporary and then permanent.”

One reason could be FEMA reimbursement. Even though the units came with a hefty price tag, FEMA is expected to reimburse the city. Although no city official could say if temporary measures would have been reimbursed or not, the City is now in line to get its money back.

In any case, the decision to go permanent has been derided in the community as has the design of the units. Locals have called the units such things as abandoned diners, electric pencil sharpeners, Star Wars Imperial Walkers, and trailer park double-wides.

Aesthetic preferences aside, the rust and dilapidated condition of the stations, are now irking many. Maribel Araujo who operates Caracas Rockaway, the concession at Beach 106th Street said, “This is what happens when you commission design jobs to people that have never been in the place they are designing for.”

A Rockaway resident, Sandy Bernstein, remarked on the results of the hurried effort. “Not only does haste make waste. When you want it bad, you get it bad.”

In recent weeks the rusting on the corrugated metal of the units—- not yet determined to be stainless steel—- has grown more apparent. The Wave sent a photographer who found moderate to severe rusting on every unit from Beach 116th Street to Beach 32nd Street. When The Wave contacted Garrison, the architect, he said he was familiar with problems on the railings leading to the units but was not aware of any rust on the corrugated metal that covers most of the units. “We ordered really high quality stainless steel (Grade 316). This is very, very unusual. If that is rust it would be as odd as odd can be.”

The Wave sent Garrison yet another a photo to which he responded: “Looks like the material was not to spec.” He said he would be looking into how the “high grade” stainless steel was in such shape just three months after arriving on the beach. Although Garrison designed the units, a company by the name of Deluxe Building Systems supplied the materials.

Deluxe is a sub-contractor hired by Triton Structural. Triton is the overall construction contractor; McLaren is the engineering and design company.

Burney and other city officials say the poor condition of the units reflects the City’s all-out effort to get the beaches open by Memorial Day and that some issues were to be expected. Burney said, DDC will be “mobilizing after Labor Day” to address the stainless steel question and other cosmetic issues such as temporary windows and frames. The post-Labor Day repairs will be the responsibility of DDC. Once the stations are in satisfactory condition, the Parks Department will assume maintenance responsibility.

One beachgoer said, “They rush just to say the beaches are open even though they’re not really. And now they’re saying things will get done after Labor Day? Gimme a break.”

Some locals are bothered by the whole episode. “There’s a reason they were called lifeguard shacks!” Steve Stathis, owner of Boarders Surf Shop, said, “While families are struggling, the City spent all this money on lifeguard shacks for a three month season. And now the things are rusting and falling apart. And two of them are rotting in a grass field on Beach 105th Street. Lifeguards need lockers not condos!”

Jon Gaska of Community Board 14 said the City made a poor choice from the start. “We understand that City Hall was in a hurry to provide bathrooms and lifeguard shacks but they could have rented temporary trailers instead of wasting millions of taxpayer money for these ugly RV’s on stilts, that will probably have to be replaced in the next year or so.”

Although DDC acknowledges its role in selecting Garrison and is responsible for the current state of the stations, the Parks Department continues to be in the crosshairs of locals. Community activist, Joe Hartigan, frequently asks, “Can you name one thing, one thing, that Parks has listened to from the community?”

John Cori, one of the founders of Friends of Rockaway Beach, says “People should be fired. Queens Parks people should be looking out for this community and they’re not. People should be fired.” He repeated Hartigan’s assertion that Parks is unresponsive to community input. “They’re now putting in parking lots for lifeguards in spots that could be used for a park or some form of recreation. Queens ”

Community Board member Hank Iori is no fan of the lifeguard and comfort stations. “They should be taken down and used as reefs in the ocean.” He, too, believes someone should be fired. “Someone at City Hall. Someone at the company that supplied the materials. Someone should lose a job over this mess. It wouldn’t have happened if they listened to the people who live here.’

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