This month, residents and environmentalists took issue with Borough Hall when the city cut down about 10 blooming cherry trees near the complex’s rear courtyard.
The city first said the trees were cleared to make way for construction equipment needed to begin work on a $14 million atrium; then said the trees were diseased; and then that some of the trees were diseased and the others were to be studied by arborists.
The construction is continuing less than two weeks after a series of rallies aimed at saving two Queens-based afterschool Beacon programs that serve tens of thousands of residents and cost about $334,000 apiece.
The construction also comes one month after Borough President Helen Marshall presented a $258 million plan to fund programs in Queens that her office claimed could be fully funded with $1.23 billion in “suggested savings and revenues,” several of which were questioned at the time and most of which have not materialized.
Marshall spokesman Dan Andrews said Tuesday that the project is being funded completely by Borough Hall’s discretionary funds. He also said stopping the project because of the economic downturn was not feasible, that the money could not be allocated for things like Beacon programs if it was delayed.
Andrews also said there was no consideration of listing the project in the suggested savings column in the March budget address by either delaying it until better economic times or eliminating it altogether.
“Capital funding could not be used for expense items,” Andrews said. “The preliminary work has begun, and canceling it would not have been feasible because we have signed contracts.”
One of the items on Marshall’s list in March was a settlement with the company implicated in the CityTime payroll record scandal, which netted $500 million.
Marshall’s numbers, however, were counting on up to $600 million.
They also relied on massive tax hikes on influential entities ranging from Madison Square Garden to the insurance industry, which would have taken approval of the state legislature; and massive reorganization of the city’s procurement process that would require approval at several government levels and from numerous city employee unions.
Andrews said the project will take about one year, though he did not have an exact date for the startup of major construction work. The city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services did not respond to a request for scheduled starting and completion dates.
As for the trees cut and those still remaining, Geoffrey Croft, the spokesman for NYC Park Advocates, said he still is not satisfied with the city’s responses to his inquiries.
He said one report that particularly disturbed him is one that says the city had a professional arborist examine the trees that were cut down on or about April 5, less than two days before they were taken down.
“If you were taking the study to a reputable laboratory like the Cornell Extension, I don’t think that would leave you enough time to get a thorough report,” Croft said.