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Multi-Million Dollar Venture to Transform NYC Block

The goal is to “create a permanent focal point for the Washington Heights community.

Tue July 14, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Irwin Rapoport

A multi-million dollar joint-project financed by the New York City Department of Transportation and the NYC Department of Design will see the construction of the Plaza De Las Americas in Washington Heights (the Bronx) by July/August.

The work will transform a block of W. 175th Street into 14,000-sq.-ft. of pedestrian space.

The goal is to “create a permanent focal point — a town square or plaza — for the Washington Heights community,” according to a press release. “The dynamic paving design references the style found in many town squares of the Caribbean, Central and South America. La Plaza was specifically designed to enhance the market. For the first time ever, market vendors will be able to access electrical power and water for their booths. La Plaza will also feature trees, pedestrian scale lighting, an information kiosk, benches, café tables and chairs, and an artwork fountain by artist Ester Partegás that celebrates the plurality and richness of cultures that make up La Plaza.”

Community input was sought brings together safe and accessible pedestrian spaces while creating a local hub for economic and cultural incubation. The plaza design was prepared by designers Victoria Milne and Xenia Diente.

“High-quality public spaces add character and community to our neighborhoods,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

The plaza project was awarded in the first round of the NYC Plaza Program in 2008. The Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation applied with a plan to make it a “centerpiece of local cultural and economic life.”

Located between 175th Street — between Broadway and Wardsworth Avenue, the site has long served as a community marketplace. A green market was established in 1980 and in 1994, a local vendor market was added.

“However,” said Shah Jaromi, assistant commissioner of the NYC Department of Design and Construction, “this was only an asphalt street without any public amenities to speak of. When it is fully completed before the fall, La Plaza will be able to accommodate public events during the day and evening; such as art shows, non-amplified folk music/dance, dramatic performances, poetry readings and craft fairs.

“It took about seven years for the design to come into fruition to transform the under-utilized street into a dynamic public space,” said Jaromi. “Right now it’s a two-lane street and it will become a fully open space. Upgrading the infrastructure is very important to the city. We are replacing 130-year-old watermains that run beneath a section of 175th and we are also upgrading drainage infrastructures, street lighting, traffic signalization equipment, and sidewalks.”

The city has contributed $5 million to the project, with another $2 million being spent to upgrade the underground infrastructure owned by the city and utilities. Of the 71 projects targeted for the NYC Plaza Program, 49 have been completed. This is providing a fair amount of work for local contractors and jobs.

“The city’s vision is to build as many plazas as possible within areas that have been under-utilized to provide communities with much needed public spaces,” said Jaromi. “We are integrating these areas and revitalizing the underground infrastructure that has been ignored for so long. Our goal is to ensure that we do as much as we can to fund these projects throughout the city.”

NYC-based (Flushing) Trocom Construction Corporation was awarded the construction contract and a key aspect of the work for it is the relocating and replacement of major underground infrastructure.

“There was sewer and water main work that needed to be done and we had to do it while locating and working around Consolidated Edison gas and electrical lines,” said Joe Trovato, president of Trocom, whose crews broke ground last October. “There is a substantial amount of granite up there, so we are constantly using hoe-rams and rock splitters to create the lanes for these pipes and lines”

Con Ed and Verizon were among the utilities that took advantage of the project to upgrade their lines.

“When they see a new roadway coming in,” said Trovato, “they like to do as many upgrades as possible.”

Con Ed and other utilities often have a rep at the work site to ensure that no line or pipes are ruptured and in the case that a rupture does occur, emergency protocols are immediately implemented.

When the major construction is completed in July/August, Trocom expects to remove 700 cu. yds. (535 cu m) of granite, 500 cu. yds. (382 cu m) of concrete, and 400 tons (363 t) of asphalt. Most of the material was sent to local dumps/recycling centers. In terms of new materials, 500 cu. yds. of concrete, 4 tons (3.6 t) of steel, 2,100 linear ft. (640 m) of pipe, and 14,000 sq. ft. (1,300 sq m) of pavers will be brought in for plaza work.

On an average day Trocom has between eight and 13 workers on site, which is bolstered by another four or five when the subcontractors are working. For this project, Trocom has brought in Hylan Electic for electrical and Capri Landscaping for planting.

Trocom crews operate on a daily shift of 10 to 12 hours.

Working is NYC is no picnic and bringing in vehicles and equipment is not easy, nor is the removal of materials and bringing in of new materials and pipes.

“It’s tough, especially in the Bronx area where we are,” said Trovato. “Dumping is not as efficient as it could be and when bringing materials back, we usually try and keep the truck full. This way, when he goes to the dump, he usually comes back with a clean fill, sand or something that we will need so that we are not travelling to too many different places.”

When contractors bid for projects in NYC, developers/owners are generally aware of the complications and challenges that contractors face and how this is reflected in the bids.

“This project is a bit more out-of-hand than I originally planned due to the traffic up in this area and some of the other surrounding construction jobs that started up on the highways at the same time,” said Trovato.

Scheduling the delivery of equipment and materials is not easy and the firm does its best to send out its trucks at night and after rush hours.

For this project Trocom is using two Cat 450E backhoes and one small rubber tired excavator — a 200 Daewoo.

Trocom’s equipment is electronically monitored and operators do daily checks, with the information sent to David Dowd, the firm’s equipment manager. Master Mechanic Mike Eira has been with Trocom for 10 years and has been to the site on several occasions to repair the equipment.

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