UN chief opens temporary UN conference building

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Wielding giant scissors, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cut a ribbon Monday officially opening the $140 million temporary building that will house his office and host conferences during the renovation of the landmark U.N. headquarters complex.

The U.N. chief told several hundred U.N. diplomats and staff that the opening of the three-story building on the U.N.’s north lawn was “another milestone” in the five-year, $1.9 billion project to modernize the sprawling complex.

The United Nations kicked off the long-delayed renovation of its 57-year-old headquarters overlooking New York’s East River in May 2008 and the project is expected to be finished in 2013.

“This is our down payment to ensuring a modern, energy efficient, and possibly the greenest 21st century Secretariat building for generations to come,” Ban said.

The glass-and-steel headquarters has not had a major overhaul since the buildings opened in 1952 and now violates several key New York safety and fire codes. The buildings — designed by many leading architects of the late 1940s and early 1950s, including Switzerland’s Le Corbusier and Brazil’s Oscar Niemeyer — are packed with toxic asbestos and lack a sprinkler system to resist fires.

More than 20 asbestos abatement projects have already taken place in the 39-story Secretariat building where about 1,300 U.N. staff continue to work. The target date for emptying the building is late March.

The temporary building on the north lawn includes five large conference rooms, five smaller conference rooms, four meeting rooms and offices for 272 U.N. staff including the secretary-general and his top team, the president of the General Assembly and the committee that oversees the U.N. budget. More than 7,000 other U.N. staff members are working from rented office space in Manhattan.

Ban said the “no-frills” temporary building was designed “to be functional and cost-effective.”

“There are no escalators. The windows are limited. We have simple concrete floors. No carpets,” he said.

“When this structure is no longer needed,” Ban said, “it will be dismantled, its components recycled or reused, and our beautiful north lawn will be restored.”