New York City’s process of managing capital construction projects for cultural institutions and libraries is marred by bureaucratic setbacks, a new report by the Center for an Urban Future finds. Under the leadership of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, costs run high and timelines long for new construction, particularly renovations of the city’s library and cultural projects, reports the nonpartisan public policy think tank. The delays mean communities go longer without the institutions that they depend on for access to information and cultural programing.
The report examines projects completed by the DDC from 2010 to 2014—this excludes high-profile projects like Steven Holl’s Hunters Point South Library, which is expected to be complete this year—and finds that the median capital project takes longer than 1,550 days, or four years, to complete. Per the report, the duration is “shocking” given that most projects were of the renovation variety, involving the replacement or transformation of single components like mechanical equipment or roofs. Of course new construction toiled on longer, taking about 2,467 days, or seven years, to complete.
With these extended timelines come egregious costs. The report found that the construction of new library and cultural buildings costs about twice as much per square foot as it does to build a spec office tower in NYC. The median price per square foot spent by the DDC on these new projects—including the more costly Kingsbridge Library ($1,117) and Weeksville Heritage Center ($1,398)—is $930, compared to the roughly $425 to $500 per square foot the New York Building Congress says developers spent on speculative office buildings in 2016. This cost also exceeds how much libraries and institutions pay when they self-manage construction projects.
The reasons for these exorbitant costs and delayed timelines are myriad, but are largely due to inefficient systems between DDC and the city’s Office of Management and Budget, the two agencies most responsible for these projects. The report pinpoints seven reasons for these setbacks: drawn-out approvals processes; a roughly year-long waiting period for a project to get the go-ahead to proceed; a lack of accountability to deliver a cost-effective product on an aggressive timeline; ineffective communication among involved agencies; frequent changes in scope and funding; a lack of experience among nonprofit clients; and a botched contracting process. The report also goes on to make recommendations of how to fix these problems.
One particularly interesting finding of the report is that the agency’s more architecturally ambitious projects don’t disproportionately affect these findings. According to the report, there’s “no evidence that these investments in quality design have contributed to long delays and cost overruns.” In fact, the DDC’s Design in Excellence program has simplified its application process for these projects to court bigger talent.
The report analyzes 144 projects undertaken during the Bloomberg administration. During the De Blasio administration and under the current management of Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora, the agency has reduced approval durations by 22 percent.
For the DDC’s part, they say the report doesn’t get at the whole picture. A spokesman for the DDC told the Wall Street Journal that the report “fails to recognize the rigorous protections that safeguard taxpayer dollars.”
Find the full report here.
- Slow Build [Center for an Urban Future]