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Anne Bayefsky

The UN Renovation Plan: The Questions Grow

Monday, November 21, 2005

On Friday the UN released a new report on its renovation plans. Instead of responding to criticism that its earlier 1.2 billion dollar price tag was inflated, the new report revises the estimate upwards - to a total of a possible 1.9 billion dollars. (1.588 billion basic cost, plus $161 million for "additional security, sustainability and redundancy", $63.9 million for a conference room contemplated for a later stage, and $100 million for furniture and equipment.)

This enormous price tag, divided in the same proportions as assessed contributions to the UN's regular budget, would hit the American taxpayer with 22% of the bill. Congress has therefore been taking a much-warranted closer look at the project and its justification.

But the new report only deepens the mystery. Exactly which parts of the building(s) are to be renovated? Why is the estimated cost per square foot not commensurate with industry standards for renovation in New York City, which some developers estimate to be a maximum of $250 a square foot?

The report calculates the cost of renovations on the basis of an area of 2,587,000 square feet, an area which "includes all types of spaces, from the infrastructure-intensive technology centre to the functional spaces of the parking garages." The report estimates this will amount to $613 a square foot.

"All types of spaces" would include storage space, basements, and garages. What is the breakdown of the 2,587,000 square feet? What is the cost per square foot of the component parts, taking into account that such spaces ought to be able to be renovated at a much reduced price?

Time to get some straight answers.