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Construction on City Hospital Back Offices Goes On After Cuomo Work Halt

A development at 7 Hanover Sq. in Manhattan was considered an essential project during the coronavirus outbreak.
Work on Health + Hospitals Corporation offices at 7 Hanover Sq. in Manhattan is considered an essential project, March 30, 2020.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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With coronavirus cases flooding hospitals and construction barred for all but “essential” projects, renovation work on new administrative offices for the city public hospital system forges on, THE CITY has learned.

Workers toiling at 50 Water St. in Lower Manhattan are indoors — running wiring and installing plumbing fixtures, a new sprinkler system and new heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Most of the floors are currently gutted, with the job expected to continue for months.

The city’s Health + Hospitals Corporation (HHC) contends the work is essential to house IT staff dealing with patient records. But some workers at the site say the project should be shut down like most other construction across the state amid the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s certainly not worth the risk to our families,” said one worker, who requested anonymity to protect against retaliation by employers.

“If this were an actual hospital, we’d be in there 14 hours a day going at it, and let’s get it done, he added. “But for an office building, it just doesn’t make sense to keep going in there.”

An ‘Essential Job’

Work renovating the Financial District complex also known as 7 Hanover Square continues only on the Health + Hospitals offices, Courtney Adham, a spokesperson for building owner GFP Real Estate, confirmed. She said the city project “was deemed essential.”

“But obviously, if people aren’t comfortable coming in to work, that’s totally fine,” she said.

Construction workers say the situation is not so simple. They fear forfeiting unemployment benefits if they leave a job before it is shuttered.

The HHC offices will occupy 14 floors of the 29-story building, according to a press release on the deal from last year. Approximately 2,600 employees will be located there and at 55 Water Street, consolidated from six locations, the release says.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order halting all construction that is not “essential.”

But some exceptions in his order — including affordable housing and infrastructure projects — left many construction workers out on jobs they say do not serve immediate public needs during the pandemic and potentially put their lives at risk.

Under the rules, which took the form of guidance from the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, most commercial and market-rate residential construction was stopped.

The essential sites listed included roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, and homeless shelters.

Space for IT Staff

HHC spokesperson Christopher Miller said the administrative offices project counts as essential work.

“This facility will house our employees who are vital to the day-to-day operation of our more than 60 patient care sites across the city,” he said in a statement. “This staff includes hundreds of IT members who support our vital electronic health record, in addition to other employees who supplement the care for our patients.”

The state guidance says that construction sites must maintain “distance and safety best practices.”

But workers roundly told THE CITY that constantly staying apart from colleagues on the job is near-impossible. Little fresh air circulates at the Water Street site as people labor indoors, a worker said.

Construction workers point to cases of coronavirus turning up among laborers at various job sites. Last week, Stephen Jozef, an electrician who had been working indoors on Google’s offices at 111 8th Avenue in Manhattan, died from COVID-19, his daughters said.

“We understand the need for essential electrical work but there are many jobs that aren’t,” his three daughters, Valerie, Amanda and Rachel Jozef, said in a joint statement.

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