Downtown

Work halts after explosion at LIU Brooklyn construction site

No injuries, but damage to LIU library building.

August 16, 2019 Lore Croghan and Mary Frost
City inspectors and other personnel walk past the pit at 196 Willoughby St. on LIU’s Brooklyn campus where excavation equipment hit a live electric line and caused an explosion. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

An explosion Thursday at a construction site on LIU’s Downtown Brooklyn campus has brought work to a halt on excavation for a high-rise development.

No injuries were reported, city Buildings Department spokesperson Andrew Rudansky told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The Buildings Department issued a Stop Work Order for 196 Willoughby St., where workers were doing excavation prior to constructing a 34-story, 476-unit apartment building.

A separate complaint was filed at an alternate address for the site, 153 Ashland Place, for “failure to safeguard all persons and properties.”

The complaints say Con Edison must inspect the construction site before work will be allowed to resume.

RXR Realty is the developer of the residential high-rise at 196 Willoughby St. The base of the building, whose address is 153 Ashland Place, will be a garage with offices on the first floor and LIU athletic fields on its roof.

Inspectors gathered on Friday morning to discuss the damage at the site of Thursday’s explosion. Work on the 34-story building is halted. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Inspectors gathered on Friday morning to discuss the damage at the site of Thursday’s explosion. Work on the 34-story building is halted. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Prior to excavation, RXR worked with Con Edison and other utility companies to identify any utility conduits and lines on the site, a spokesperson for RXR Realty told the Eagle.

“It turned out that there was an unmarked, unsurveyed electric line nobody knew about,” he said.

Workers hit the live electric line with excavation equipment on Thursday afternoon and caused a “small explosion” at the development site, the developer’s spokesperson said.

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When the line was cut, there was an “arc flash” in the electrical room of a neighboring LIU building, the spokesperson said, during which there was a power surge and the electrical line overheated and went dead.

Rudansky, the Buildings Department spokesperson, identified that building as 33 University Plaza, an LIU library building. It was empty at the time of the incident, he said.

He said there was an electrical explosion in the cellar that caused “non-structural damage to interior walls and ceiling tiles.”

Rudansky said the Buildings Department’s investigation is ongoing.

He added that agency inspectors “determined that there is no danger to the public, and the effects of the incident are confined to the construction site and the cellar of the neighboring library building.”

The Buildings Department issued a “partial vacate order” for the cellar of the library building, Rudansky added. People need to stay out of it until the order is lifted.

RXR’s spokesperson characterized the damage to the LIU building as “minor.”

A Buildings Department inspector at the construction site, however, told the Eagle the damage was greater than what’s caused by a typical electrical explosion.

A worker at the site of Thursday’s electrical explosion greets an inspector from Con Edison on Friday morning. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
A worker at the site of Thursday’s electrical explosion greets an inspector from Con Edison on Friday morning. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Residents of neighboring University Towers told the Eagle they are concerned that toxic materials might have been released by the explosion.

“DOB is not aware of any environmental concerns related to this incident,” Buildings Department spokesperson Rudansky said. But anyone who thinks there are air or water quality issues should make a complaint to 311, he added.

“There was no indication that any hazardous materials were released,” RXR’s spokesperson said.

NYC Buildings Department inspectors and other personnel affiliated with the construction gathered at the building site on Friday morning to assess the damage.

A Fire Department spokesperson told the Eagle that FDNY was not called to the construction site on Thursday.

A Con Ed spokesperson told the Eagle that the company is “in touch with contractors for the job and with representatives of the Buildings Department to ensure safety.”

Goldman Sachs recently granted RXR $225.6 million in financing for the apartment tower and athletic fields project, the Commercial Observer reported. About 30 percent of the apartments will be affordable units.

The RXR development is the biggest expansion of LIU’s Brooklyn campus since its 1926 founding, Newsday reported in January 2018. The university received a cash infusion of $41 million because it sold RXR air rights to build the apartment tower.

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