City to Loosen Grip on Buildings Commissioner Position?

Due to the unusually high number of construction casualties this year, the NYC Department of Buildings this week launched Construction Safety Week. From scaffold worker training, to harness tutorials, the city appears to be taking a much-needed closer look at the industry’s regulations and training procedures. Amidst the reviews and crackdowns, and in light of the resignation of Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster, FAIA, rumor has it that Mayor Bloomberg is looking to change some of the requirements of the Commissioner position itself — for the worse. The New York Times, among other publications, reported that, “the administration is talking with the City Council to remove the requirement that the commissioner be an architect or engineer” (“City’s Buildings Chief Resigns as Outcry on Accidents Grow,” by Diane Cardwell and Charles V. Bagli, 04.23.08).

As Buildings is creating new regulations to improve safety on construction sites, it seems inconsistent then to loosen the requirements on the commissioner. It is the commissioner’s role — as it is an architect’s or an engineer’s — to mediate different professions on a job. Whether the new commissioner is an architect or an engineer, or both, it is important to make sure he or she has the professional experience to manage the huge volume of construction being erected throughout the city. It is the commissioner’s role to handle permitting and code enforcement, and the department’s responsibility to review building plans and permit applications. Buildings also oversees the 400-plus building inspectors. Without a qualified individual running the department, tested and licensed by the NY State Education Department, more incidents will surely follow.

“Like the Health Department, it is necessary to employ a certified professional when life and death is involved,” stated AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA. All five AIA chapters in NYC are joining forces with local engineering and architectural organizations to release The Established Legal Requirements for the Individual Filling the Position of Commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings to be distributed to City Council members:

It is strongly recommended by the undersigned representatives of all of the Architectural and Engineering Professional Associations that the current reading of the charter of the City of New York with regards to the requirements that the Commissioner of the Department of Buildings of the City of New York being a licensed and registered architect or licensed Engineer in the State of New York, NOT be altered in any way so as to continue and guarantee the protection of safeguarding the life, health, property and public welfare of the over eight (8) million residents and over one (1) million visitors to the great City of New York.

To read the full document, click the link.