New York City Mayor Says United Nations Building Is a Hazard to Schoolchildren

New York City's mayor says the United Nations building is such a hazard that he's threatening to suspend school visits unless conditions inside are fixed by early next year.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that field trips will stop if sprinklers, smoke detectors, exit signs, emergency lighting, alarms that alert the fire department and other safety features aren't put in place by January and March of 2008, the United Nations told

The 1950s-era complex is reportedly missing many basic fire protection systems on several floors, according to U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Michael Adlerstein.

"We've had an extensive dialogue with New York City going back many months," said Adlerstein, who is also the executive director of the separate, upcoming $1.876 billion U.N. renovation called the "capital master plan." "We have arrived at deadlines we believe are achievable, and we're working toward those deadlines."

But the fixes will be both costly and temporary — Adlerstein said the price tag would be "several million dollars" — because the larger, planned refurbishing project involves gutting the building and tearing up the current modifications, along with everything else inside.

"It's not inexpensive, but it's very important that we protect our visitors and staff," he said. "It's only very short-term, unfortunately."

There has never been a major fire or related injury at the United Nations in its history, according to Adlerstein, who said he didn't know why it took so long to bring the building up to code.

The U.N. had been flagged for 866 violations, and the mayor estimated that fewer than 20 percent had been taken care of so far, according to a report Monday in The Washington Times.

The New York City Fire Department gave the U.N. until January to comply with standards, and until March to finish, confirming to that it has been involved in inspecting the sprawling Manhattan complex and helping install the new equipment.

In an Oct. 30 letter, Bloomberg wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — excerpts of which were quoted by the Times — proclaiming that "if the United Nations does not adhere to these deadlines, the city will be forced to direct the cessation of all public school visits to the United Nations."

The Mayor's office declined to comment on the matter and refused to release a memo about the situation to

Adlerstein confirmed the United Nation's receipt of the mayor's letter. He said the building met the appropriate codes at the time it was constructed in 1952, but it hasn't ever been renovated.

The massive overhaul the complex will undergo at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 is specifically to make it "totally fire safe" and environmentally sustainable, according to Adlerstein.

"Those fire alarms and sprinkler heads were all part of New York City fire codes that came in after the 1950s," he said. "When it was built, it was as safe as any other building in New York. It's never been brought up to code in the past 60 years."

Adlerstein confirmed that to date, the U.N. has installed about 385 emergency lights and exit signs and replaced about 2,000 sprinkler heads. Upgrades are continuing, he said.

A spokeswoman from the New York City Department of Education said school officials wouldn't comment, and referred all inquiries to City Hall.

The U.N. building was designed by architects Le Corbusier and Wallace Harrison. It will close while the capital master plan project is under way late next year into the following, and when it reopens, the difference will be almost imperceptible, according to Adlerstein.

"It will be very difficult to detect any changes from the outside or inside," he said. "The major public areas will look very much the same. It will have fireproof curtains and be safer and greener. The major change will be that our Con Edison energy bill will drop considerably."