Courthouse contretemps: Unions contend new building far from finished

by | Oct 2, 2014 | Press


The new state Supreme Court building appears on-target for a late summer opening, said officials. (Staten Island Advance)

Article from By Frank Donnelly |

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A battle is brewing between officials and several key unions whose members will staff the new state Supreme Court building in St. George.

Leaders of two court officers unions vowed not to send their members to the building until problems with the air-conditioning and elevator systems are resolved.

Last week, city officials said the five-story, $230-million building, which has been bedeviled by delays, appeared on track for a late-summer opening.

A spokesman for the de Blasio Administration said then that officials expect to obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy for the building by the end of August, with move-in occurring shortly thereafter. He did not provide an exact date.

“We want the major problems resolved before we move in. I don’t know what the reason is for the rush,” said Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association. “Don’t you want to get this fixed before you move in? We are not going to go into that building until we’re sure that that building is working property.”

Patrick Cullen, head of the New York State Supreme Court Officers Association, said his group “stands together” with their fellow court officers union.

“We won’t be sending our officers to that building until we’re satisfied that all of the things that need to be working, and any other issues that arise, are taken care of,” said Cullen. “It’s a safety issue for our people, and we want to make sure it’s ready for the public.”

Cullen said there had been problems with new court and justice buildings in the Bronx and Brooklyn where workers were “put in the buildings a little too soon,” and he wants to avoid such a situation here.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, confirmed there are problems with the air-conditioning and elevator systems. He said they are being worked on.

“We are aware of these issues, and they will be addressed before we move in,” said Bookstaver.

John D. Chirlin, a spokesman for the state Dormitory Authority, which is overseeing construction, said final work is winding down, although the building isn’t currently in move-in condition.

“It is our job to make sure the building is ready for occupancy, and we intend to do just that,” he said.

He did not say when that would occur.

The building has been plagued by delays for more than a decade – initially with the finding of remains from a 19th-century burial ground at the site, a former municipal parking lot, and more recently, with construction set-backs and other tie-ups.

The remains were re-interred in an underground vault on the grounds during an April 27 ceremony.

Since January 2013, the projected completion date has been rescheduled six times.

When it opens, the 182,000-square-foot environmentally and energy-friendly complex will hold both the civil and criminal terms of state Supreme Court. It will also contain Criminal Court, which will move from Targee Street in Stapleton.

The Central Avenue complex is around the corner from the existing state Supreme Court building. It will be bounded by St. Mark’s Place and Hyatt Street.

The building will boast 14 courtrooms, jury assembly, hearing and deliberation rooms, judges’ chambers and court offices. There will also be holding cells for prisoners.

The transition will significantly upgrade Criminal Court’s dated facilities and expand Supreme Court’s resources, said Justice Judith N. McMahon, Staten Island’s administrative judge.

Officials have said the transfer of courtroom equipment, files and other material to the new building could be accomplished fairly quickly – over the course of a weekend. Supreme Court and Criminal Court would probably not shift on the same weekend, they said.

But union heads insist the move-in shouldn’t take place until all systems are in complete working order.

Quirk, the head of the state Court Officers Association, said his members would report to the extant Supreme Court building if the union deems the new courthouse isn’t ready on the opening date.

Other union leaders also expressed concern.

“We’re going to monitor the situation,” said Joseph Walsh, head of the state Court Clerks Association. “It has to be a safe and clean and healthy environment for my people to work there. I’m going to be there on the day it opens and, if it’s not safe, I don’t think my people should work there.”

Brian DiGiovanna, president of the Association of Surrogate’s and Supreme Court Reporters agreed.

“You want to make sure things are safe before you send your people into a building,” said DiGiovanna. “If things are not completed and not passed by code, we’d have a problem with that.”