While its building rots from the inside out, the Board of Equalization has announced that crews will work on improvements this weekend – to improve scaffolding that skirts the tower’s exterior to protect pedestrians from falling glass.
In a memo to employees on Tuesday, board Deputy Director Edna Murphy said that the Department of General Services will dispatch workers on Saturday to replace weathered plywood side panels and switch plastic sheeting intended to keep rain off pedestrians with “new roofing material.”
The upgrades to what Murphy’s memo refers to as “the covered walkway” are fresh reminders that the temporary protection, an eyesore erected in 2012 after an exterior glass panel fell eight floors and narrowly missed a pedestrian, has become a symbol of the building’s long, expensive history of defects.
Taxpayers have spent more than $60 million on the 450 N St. tower to repair leaky window seals, fix burst water lines, clean up water damage and toxic mold, remove bats, repair unreliable elevators and to continuously monitor air quality for toxics.
And some of the most expensive fixes are yet to come. The drain system that laces the building is corroded and needs replacement. All of the tower’s exterior glass panels need to be switched out before the scaffolding can come down. General Services, which acts as the state’s landlord, has said those repairs will start sometime next year.
The scaffolding also has become a symbol of a larger conflict between Equalization officials who want to move the agency’s 2,200 employees out of the building and General Services officials who say that it is adequate and safe. (A pending lawsuit claims that Equalization officials knew the tower has made employees ill, but covered it up.)
Last year, General Services purchased scaffolding to replace equipment it was leasing. Officials said buying was cheaper in the long run, but the decision touched off a blast from Equalization Chairman Jerome Horton that General Services had “officially” made the scaffolding “permanent” around an “irreparably broken building.”
Another board member, George Runner, has pointed to the scaffolding and the danger it guards against as symbolic of the state’s “great hypocrisy,” since city authorities would likely require a private landlord to fix the building and take down the scaffolding. But since the BOE tower is state-owned, Runner noted, local officials have no authority over it.
The scaffolding work this weekend will take about 12 hours to complete, according to Murphy’s memo, which closes with the same conciliatory note she has used in eight other building-repair and scaffolding notices since January:
“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”