Ratner’s modular building: the world’s tallest and a `first’ for Brooklyn

December 18, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Groundbreaking took place on Tuesday for “B2,” the first of the Atlantic Yards development’s long-awaited residential buildings – but it was like no groundbreaking that most people had ever seen.

In back of a see-through tent where the ceremony took place, visitors didn’t see a conventional construction scene. Rather, they saw what looked like a large container made up of steel beams, with a corrugated plastic roof.

That structure is the first of the hundreds of “modules,” to be assembled at a new facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that will be transported to the site between Flatbush Avenue, Vanderbilt and Fourth avenues and Dean and Pacific streets and then be put into place. (The foundation, of course, will be built in the usual way.)

As this paper has already reported, the building, to be constructed by the giant construction firm Skanska USA, will be the tallest modular building in the world, at 32 stories. Forest City Ratner, the developer, and Skanska have formed a new company, FC + Skanska Modular.

Several speakers alluded to the fact that during the long process that led to the construction of Barclays Center, the first phase of Atlantic Yards, some people doubted, because of the economic recession, that its accompanying housing component would ever be constructed.

The new building will contain 363 units, 181 of which will be affordable. The developer, Forest City Ratner, has several “bands” of affordability.

For example, for a three-person family, annual income for “Band 1” can range from $22,410 to $29,880, while annual income for “Band 5” can range from $104,581 to $119,520.

Bertha Lewis of Mutual Housing Association of New York (formerly ACORN), who worked with Ratner on the affordability component, said that she wanted “affordable housing” to include not only low-income people.

She also wanted it to include “many people who have in the neighborhood a long time, like teachers and firefighters, who otherwise might be pushed into the market-rate range [but couldn’t really afford it]. “We also want to include seniors,” she said, pointing at the gray-haired Borough President Marty Markowitz, to the laughter of the crowd.

Lewis was one of the early supporters of the Atlantic Yards plan. She cried when she thanked the late John Kest, a leader of ACORN and, like herself, a founder of the Working Families Party. “There will be a little bit of him in every brick, in every stone,” she said.

Several local elected officials who opposed many aspects of the Atlantic Yards Plan and who were noticeably absent from other Ratner-led ceremonies were present. They included Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope), Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Park) and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Brownstone Brooklyn).

Markowitz alluded to their presence by saying, “I see some faces who were noticeably absent from the groundbreaking and the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for Barclays Center [also part of Atlantic Yards]. Now that I see them, how sweet it is!”

Later, Barbara Sherman, a spokeswoman for James, said, “Councilwoman James was there because she supports affordable housing, and this is an affordable housing development.” Of course, officials who have always supported the project, such as Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Coney Island), were also present.

Bruce Ratner, president of Forest City Ratner, added that the affordable renters will received “exactly the same amenities” – such as a doorman, fitness center, lounge, game room, washer/dryer in the units – as the other tenants.

This stands in contrast to, for example, the Williamsburg development The Edge, in which renters of affordable apartments were initially not allowed access to pools, billiard rooms and Jacuzzis, according to the New York Times.

Gary LaBarbera, head of the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents the city’s construction unions, recalled that Bruce Ratner approached him about a year and a half ago.

“He told me,” said LaBarbera, “that in today’s economy, using modular technology was the only way he would be able to complete the building, and that he was committed to build it because he believed in affordable housing. Affordable housing is very important to us, too – many of our members would also qualify.”

A “year and a half of intense discussions,” followed, added LaBarbera. In the end, a new modular division of the Trades Council was formed. Workers will receive $36 an hour, which is somewhat less than outdoor construction workers, but will also work every day because they won’t be subject to weather conditions.

Forest City Executive Vice President MaryAnne Gilmartin, alluding to the long relationship between Forest City Ratner and the unions, said, “If it isn’t a union job, it isn’t a Ratner job.”

The building is designed by ShoP Architects, which also designed the next-door Barclays Center. As for Skanska, it has a long history of working on Brooklyn projects, such as Brooklyn Bridge Park, the renovation of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and renovation work on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The building is also expected to receive LEED silver certification, a method of rating energy efficiency and sustainability.

Toward the end of the ceremony, this writer asked one longtime spokeswoman for Forest City Ratner whether the building’s name would be changed – it’s difficult to imagine someone saying, “I live in B2!”

“I’m not aware of any name change,” she said. “For now, it’s B2.”

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