PS11 Construction Changing Sights and Sounds of Chelsea

“GIANT,” by OSGEMEOS and Futura, has adorned the side of PS11 since 2010, but will have to be removed due to construction on the exterior of the school. | Photo by Kristen Ancillotti

BY KRISTEN ANCILLOTTI | A familiar sight on W. 21st St. is about to change, at least for the time being. The 80-foot mural on the side of PS11 (320 W. 21st St. btw. 8th & 9th Aves.), entitled GIANT, must come down, as exterior construction commences at the school.

While the construction is needed, some residents were sad to hear of the loss of a unique piece of street art. The mural was created in 2010 by Brazilian twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, who work under the name OSGEMEOS, in a collaboration with internationally recognized New York street artist Futura.

They called the project “one world, one voice,” referencing the flags painted in inverted colors that can be seen on the giant’s clothing. The giant painted on the side of PS11 is one of several that have been painted around the world, including Greece, Germany, Holland, England, Brazil, and Portugal.

“I heard from some of the parents at the school that the repair work was going to be done, and then we got a note from the contractors who were doing it, but what I didn’t realize is that the mural was going to be lost,” said Matilda Brooker, a Chelsea resident of nine years, who lives across from the school and feeds their chickens. “But, I found out the roof is crumbling, and it is kind of essential work.”

The principal of PS11, Bob Bender, declined to comment for this article, but he did address the construction in a letter to PS11 families found on the school’s website. The May 1 letter explained that the school building is almost 100 years old and needs external masonry work, which is expected to be completed by June 2021. In the process, several of the playgrounds will be closed, and the mural will be removed.

The work was also detailed in a letter sent out to parents, staff, and neighbors of PS11 on April 26, by Steven Tuozzolo, the project support manager for the School Construction Authority (SCA). It includes construction on the exterior walls, parapets (roof walls), windows, and roof, as well as the removal of asbestos, which requires that special care be taken during the removal process.

Kevin Ortiz, manager of External Affairs for the SCA, explained in an email to Chelsea Community News, that, due to water infiltration and the aging of the building, which was constructed in 1928, there is advanced deterioration to the terra cotta and limestone ornamentation, along with brick masonry failures. Though the work being done should help with these issues and rehabilitate the historical ornamentation and brick masonry on PS11, the loss of the mural is an unfortunate side effect.

“The school principal expressed his concern for the mural, noting it was important to the school and surrounding community, so the SCA began to work with the architect on a potential solution,” said Ortiz. “The architect has designed a solution that calls for an exterior wall [with panels] that will allow the artist to repaint the mural or paint a new mural of the school’s choosing.”

One resident who was not sad to hear of the removal of the mural was Pamela Wolff, treasurer of the Chelsea West 200 Block Association (covering W. 20th through 22nd Sts. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.). She finds it unattractive, uninviting, and potentially frightening for children. Wolff said she did not appreciate the lack of consultation with the neighborhood prior to it being put up in 2010, and would rather not have it repainted.

The mural, as it appeared on July 17, 2019. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

“I am not a fan of that mural,” said Wolff. “As far as I know, no one in the community was consulted at all about that, and didn’t know. It was part of a citywide art project or something, I don’t know—but it was done with no input. I mean, how can you stick something as huge as that in the midst of a community of residential people without giving them at least the opportunity to know it’s going to happen, and to have some input into what goes up there?”

Some people in the neighborhood were less concerned with the construction causing the loss of the mural, and more concerned with the amount of noise created.

“At our last meeting, people had been very upset, because the construction has made a lot of noise, and they’ve gotten permission to work till midnight and on Saturdays to get the work done,” said Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA). “There were about eight people from the community who said there is a lot of noise.” He added that people from the SCA were also at the meeting, and they said that they know it is a problem, and they are trying to brainstorm different ways to reduce the noise.

Albert Taylor, from the 300 West 20th Street Block Association, is one of the residents experiencing that noise firsthand. He has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, and has seen the building under construction three times, so at first he did not see how the construction could possibly be necessary. After hearing what the SCA had to say, he acknowledged that it is, but that the necessity does not lessen the effects of droning saws and boards clapping to the ground, or the concerns over tenants leaving to avoid the din.

“If their strategy is to wear us down, that kind of works, because we get a feeling of not much we can do,” said Taylor. “At night time, they say they’re going to not do noisy things, they’re going to stop noisy work after 10:30. Defining noisy things—dropping planks is not considered a noisy thing, but some people might think it was. They’re a little quieter after that, but it still goes on. It’s still punctuated. Instead of hearing planks drop every 10 or 15 seconds, you hear it every three minutes, but it doesn’t help you sleep.”

Taylor also said that the SCA did send out a two-week notice that they will be working around the building and that it will be a noisy time, but he felt they did not give enough specifics as to when, where, or what they are doing, and even though the SCA has been communicative, it does not prepare people living in the area for what is in store for them.

“If you come home and find that on your door, you can’t even comprehend that that meant that we were going to have what we got, and that it was going to be going until midnight,” said Taylor.

Ortiz said that the SCA tries to schedule loud work during the day (when school is not in session) and limit work to hours indicated in NYC Department of Buildings work permits. “We are always cognizant of construction-related noise and its impact on our neighbors, and we make every effort to mitigate,” said Ortiz.

For now, the neighborhood is bracing for the next steps in the construction process beyond the erection of the scaffolding, and crossing their fingers that the work will be completed by the expected two-year deadline, so they can return to a relative sense of peace and quiet.

As for the mural, whether or not you are an admirer who will welcome its return, or someone who won’t miss it, the fact that it lasted this long is remarkable. After marveling that GIANT has been a part of the neighborhood for nine years in a city known for its transient nature, Brooker said, “It is actually a long time for a bit of street art.”

July 19, 2019 UPDATE: The next two-week “look ahead” for forecasted construction work on the school was sent out by the SCA. Here is what you can expect from July 17 to 31:

–In addition to work happening during the week, there will be work the next two Saturdays (July 20, July 27).

–The work from last week will continue, including the installation of temporary electric, the installation of supports at the roof level to secure the roof enclosure for future work, and the setup for ACM removal.

–Paint removal will begin the latter part of this week, and is expected to go into next week, possibly longer. It will occur at the base of the building at both the 20th and 21st St. sides simultaneously. Temporary partitions will be set up to ensure the safety of the public.

–Demolition of the parapets will begin at the same time as the paint removal, and will also be done at the 20th and 21st St. sides simultaneously. This work is expected to continue into next week.

–Raking of the mortar will begin along the 21st St. side, starting at the fourth floor and working down to the first floor. Upon completion, workers will move to the 20th St. side.

–There may be minor changes in the work being done depending on the progress made and unforeseen factors.

On June 20, scaffolding could be seen on the school. The mural is now completely obscured. | Photo by Kristen Ancillotti


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