U.N. Headquarters Set for Renovation

U.N. headquarters was built 55 years ago, and there haven't been many improvements in the building since then. But next spring, a makeover will begin, with a price tag of nearly $2 billion.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Well, world leaders don't agree on how to deal with every crisis, that's just one of the many ways in which diplomacy can be uncomfortable. These days, the buildings of the United Nations are adding to that discomfort.

The U.N. headquarters was built 55 years ago, and let's just say there hasn't been a lot of home improvement since then. The roofs leak, the air-conditioning seeps out of the walls, and there are no fire sprinkler systems.

Mr. MICHAEL ADLERSTEIN (Executive Director, Capital Master Plan): The danger is a potential danger. The building is not dangerous in the sense that there's any risk in the building, but the building was built with a significant amount of asbestos, which was a wonderful insulator, but it's obviously well known now as a problem.

MONTAGNE: That's Michael Adlerstein. He's the U.N. official in charge of the renovation.

He says the building control systems are so out of date that they're considered antiques. In fact, the manufacturer wants to actually put them in a museum once they're removed. That will happen next spring when bulldozers take over the U.N.'s lawns.

Mr. ADLERSTEIN: It won't be in chaos. It will be in construction - it will be a controlled construction.

MONTAGNE: That may be wishful thinking. A thousand U.N. employees will have to move off-site. Some of them will be moved outside Manhattan as far out as Queens, and they're the lucky ones. The other 3,000 will be working on a construction site for the next seven years.

Mr. ADLERSTEIN: We're hoping that it disrupts work minimally. Construction always disrupts work to a certain extent.

MONTAGNE: Of course, disrupting work at the United Nations will be a pretty big deal. The price tag of almost $2 billion and it will involve 192 countries.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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