U.N. to announce major renovation plans - but funding a big question

UNITED NATIONS - In the aftermath of World War II, a team of 11 architects from around the world came together to build a ''Workshop for Peace'' - a home for the newly created United Nations.

A half-century later, their architectural gem that has helped define the New York City skyline is in disrepair. Asbestos tiles violate building codes. Electrical wiring is antiquated. Inefficient windows drive up heating bills. Sprinklers to guard against fire don't exist.

This week, the United Nations plans to announce ambitious proposals to overhaul its global headquarters on Manhattan's East River - although funding for a project that could reach $1 billion at the cash-strapped organization has yet to be secured, diplomats say.

The United States, which hosts the United Nations and its missions in New York, is expected to be asked to pay a significant chunk of the bill.

U.N. ambassadors were briefed last week on the ''Capital Master Plan,'' which proposes various deadlines and price-tags for an overhaul of the complex's main Secretariat office tower, curved General Assembly hall, Dag Hammarskjold Library and other smaller buildings on the U.N. site.

U.N. administrators are believed to favor a six-year renovation estimated at about $964 million, said the diplomats, who were briefed on the plans.

Other proposals include building new office space or even adding extra floors onto the existing library or main office tower - although the latter is not being recommended, the diplomats said.

Undersecretary-General for Management Joseph Connor, who has spearheaded the U.N. renovation project, estimates that the organization would have to spend $1.6 billion including energy costs over 25 years if the United Nations continues with its current, inefficient ways and slowly replaces equipment as it wears out, the diplomats said.

Washington, which is already $1.6 billion in debt to the United Nations, is a tough sell on new U.N. costs. The deputy U.S. ambassador in charge of U.N. management issues, Donald Hays, said Friday that approval of the renovation plans was not imminent.

''There is no doubt that many factors indicate that it's time to be overhauled,'' Hays said in an interview. But he stressed that Congress, the incoming administration and the General Accounting Office would need more time and study before the United States could commit to any plan.

Americans were fundamental to financing and building the United Nations. The Rockefeller family provided the site and Wallace K. Harrison headed the team of architects in constructing its imposing glass-encased tower and graceful curved side assembly hall.

But the complex, which features Leger murals and a Norman Rockwell mosaic, hasn't had a top-to-bottom renovation since Harrison and then-Secretary-General Trygve Lie laid the U.N. cornerstone on Oct. 24, 1949 - and it shows.

Connor, who is expected to make the proposals public Tuesday, has asked the U.N. membership to endorse the six-year renovation plan in principle and authorize an initial $8 million for a more detailed schematic design, the diplomats said. Connor was out of the office and unavailable for comment Friday.

By comparison, the Pentagon building in Washington, which was completed in 1943, announced plans last year for a $1.2 billion renovation.

Hays, the deputy American ambassador, said possible payment options for the U.N. renovation included interest-free loans, increasing the budget allotment over time for U.N. member states or securing a bond from private firms.

''The United States will want to do the right thing,'' he said, noting that the renovation was part of the U.S. campaign to streamline and reform the United Nations' bureaucracy. ''It's part of the reform process.''


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