2019-02-06 / Front Page

LICP Breakfast Hears From Buildings Department

By Thomas Cogan

The Long Island City Partnership’s latest business breakfast last week welcomed two Department of Buildings executives to talk about how traffic and communication has been improved through its Building One City Plan.  One of them was Commissioner Rick D. Chandler.  According to LICP Executive Director Elizabeth Lusskin, he got in touch with the group to suggest that recent news from the DOB would be a significant topic, and he could help present it.

New York’s Department of Buildings probably has never been a highly popular institution, if only because it is so necessary, large and unavoidable.  Chandler, the person in charge of it at present, has the great responsibility of overseeing well over a million buildings and 45,000 active construction sites.  It has a history of being run both well and badly, which has gained it a reputation as a necessary nuisance.  In recent years it has had to be pulled into the 21st century, though there is much of it that is still an old-time operation even if many of those old days are well within the lifetimes of the currently living.  Time quickly deserts technology that is still remembered as newfangled.

Chandler is a professional engineer and a certified buildings commissioning professional (CBCP) who has also served as assistant vice president of facilities at CUNY Hunter College and as borough commissioner for Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx for DOB.  He said that the department must be completely online and transparent to the public.  The drive to make it that way is proceeding, he said, and turned the meeting over to Marc Wollemborg, executive director of the department’s project management office.

Wollemborg has been with DOB since 2107, having previous Long Island City experience as a vice president at Citibank in Court Square.  He began by saying that in 2015 Mayor Bill De Blasio declared it imperative the DOB modernize an informational system that was based on 40-year-old mainframe technology.  As head of project management he is in charge of DOB NOW, the overall name for the modernization drive.  

The department has four operational rubrics: Build, Safety, Licensing and Inspection.  With inspections, the old regime known as BIS or buildings informational system is being brought into the new one, DOB NOW.  With licensing, 40,000 active licenses are online now, along with other pertinent documents.  The safety paperwork of old can now be completed without typical three-month waits for approval.  Job filing can be submitted online and dealt with in real time, without the formerly necessary visit to a DOB office.  

As for the build part, plumbing, sprinklers and standpipes were the first things dealt with in the summer of 2017, followed by antennas and curb cuts.  Information about cranes and derricks and general construction and certificates of occupancy were online by the following summer.  That last one, the all-important C of A, can now be granted for parts of buildings.  Duplicate copies of documents such as summonses are now online, sparing everyone searches through duplicates hell.

The department must still have one foot in the old regime and one in the new.  Older buildings still have most of their information under BIS and will remain there until the now-undetermined time when everything can be consolidated.  New buildings are all in DOB NOW.   

Wollemborg showed his audience some online information about the building that’s perhaps more famous than any other in the city.  He called it House No, 20, West 34th St., otherwise known as 350 Fifth Ave. but familiar to all as the Empire State Building.  As a building close to 90 years old its information is largely in BIS, but nothing stands still there, particularly the elevators.  There are countless documents for the many of them, related to several sections of each.  The documents Wollemborg showed were all recent and therefore can be found in DOB NOW.

As the question period opened, Liz Lusskin said that LICP has a lot of information about local buildings, some of it from DOB, which surprised Chandler.  The first inquirer asked if the software is off-the-shelf or customized.  Wollemborg said that it’s from Microsoft but modified.  To a question about registration he said that it is linked to email addresses, whether individual or collective, according to preference.

He answered a question about training by saying that general announcements or individual ones are made about two months in advance.  Chandler said one look-up can display 60 to 70 job types.  He said that IT is trying to ease the search for particular information without having the searcher plow through a mountain of information.  


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