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PA to decide fate of 'survivors staircase'.

New York firefighter, Bill Spade, recently peered through the construction fence at Ground Zero and recognized the marred granite staircase firmly anchored in the earth as the path he took to freedom.

The staircase sparked a clear memory of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the moment he turned east from the twisted steel beams he was wedged beneath and saw sunlight illuminating St Paul's chapel and, beyond it, the intact staircase leading down to Vesey Street. Spade remembered how he stumbled half blind down the staircase and reached the street just seconds before the North Tower collapsed.

When Spade stood at the site for the first time in nearly five years, he was reminded that a miracle might have occurred to spare him. He also realized that the staircase--dubbed the survivors staircase to commemorate the thousands who used it to escape the crumbling towers--was truly the only above ground remnant from the original World Trade Center. Spade linked arms with the coalition of advocacy and preservation groups that has been fighting to keep the staircase from being destroyed.

The staircase is poised in a precarious position, being one of the last items left unresolved as the push to begin rebuilding in earnest is kicked into high gear and construction of Tower 2 at 200 Greenwich Street set to begin at the excavation site.

The uncertain fate of the staircase was intensified with the recent release of design plans for the 143,000 s/f of retail space and 60-story office tower indicating the staircase would have to be removed.

Advocates opposed to the destruction of the staircase include members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation who named the survivors staircase one of the World's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2006 and launched a public campaign to save it.

The 64 foot wide staircase has come to be regarded as a relic by many, marking a time when the nation's culture was irrevocably altered. "There are many thousands of people who probably look at that staircase and see those final steps they took out there onto the street, and remember how it felt to know, after all you had just been through, you were probably gonna get out of there alive," Spade said.

In response to alarm over the staircase, Silverstein Properties recently issued a press release stating: "We would like to see the staircase preserved and believe that it can be. At present, the Port Authority is examining if, for safety and preservation reasons, it will need to be removed during construction. That is the necessary first step."

The staircase's fate should be determined by the end of October, following a meeting of a PA steering committee that is expected to address whether the staircase should be left where it is and construction undertaken around it, moved from the site until construction is complete, or destroyed completely.

If a decision is made to destroy the staircase, it would require the Port Authority to prove why it could not be saved under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Robert Silman, principal of structural engineers, Robert Silman Associates, is investigating alternative methods for preserving the staircase as a consultant to the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

To leave the staircase in place, the foundation would have to be secured with steel X braces, and the piles extended where they didn't already reach bedrock. As the building is developed it would brace the staircase, which would eventually be built into the structure.

"This method is the preservationists preferred method and perfectly technically feasible," Sillman said.

Silverstein Properties has already said it will incorporate the staircase into its plans. "There are several options about where the staircase may ultimately go on the site, all of which should be studied with input from the community. We have intentionally kept all potential options open in our design for the 200 Greenwich Street tower as we wait for results of that review and input from the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation on how the stairway might fit into the memorial experience," the company's press release stated.

Two methods could be used to move the staircase. The first is a common method for moving large structures which Stilman's firm used in the late 90's to move the 4,000 ton Empire Theatre. Using this method the 175 ton staircase would be scooped up by three tiers of steel beams, cut free from its foundation, jacked up into the air and then moved on a track onto Vesey Street. It would then be moved by dollies to a temporary holding place while the building is constructed.

The other method would be technically difficult, Stilman said. The stairs would have to be cut into component parts and hauled away to a holding facility, then reconstructed at a chosen site later. Erasing the scars that occurred when joints were cut into the stone is not always possible. The concrete masonry walls may not hold together when the stairs were cut. Putting the stairs back together and making them look like they were never taken apart would also be tricky.

"It is very difficult, to replicate the look of a ruin. Ruins are not quite straight edged, they are ragged and fuzzy and it is hard to reproduce that," Stilman said.

And according to advocates who have sat back while the staircase was pushed to the background as development plans were hashed out to best reflect our continued survival, no portion of the staircase should have to be replicated.

"The ruins provide real evidence for future generations to look at and to ponder. They are something that is already there that is real, that is authentic, that survived. They speak for themselves. You just look at them and you get it," said Peg Breen, president of the New York New York Landmarks Conservancy.
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Title Annotation:Port Authority
Author:Wolffe, Danielle
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 27, 2006
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