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General Assembly OKs U.N. Renovation

December 24, 2006

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The General Assembly finally gave a green light to start a $1.9 billion renovation of the U.N.’s landmark headquarters in New York after years of delays, a move welcomed Saturday by outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The 39-story glass-and-steel building, overlooking the East River, was considered modern when it was constructed 54 years ago but it has not seen a major overhaul since and now violates safety and fire codes.

Stressing its ``serious concern at the hazards, risks and deficiencies of the current conditions of the building,″ the assembly late Friday night approved the budget committee’s plan to refurbish the building.

The headquarters, designed by a team of 11 international architects led by American Wallace K. Harrison, has its gems _ the glittering green marble of the General Assembly hall, the shining horseshoe table of the Security Council chamber, a stained glass window designed by French artist Marc Chagall.

But the complex has no sprinkler system, is packed with asbestos and loses about 25 percent of the heat pumped into it in the winter.

The so-called Capital Master Plan will allow preparatory work to begin immediately on the phased renovation, which is to be completed by 2014 at a total revised budget of $1.88 billion. The assembly approved a $42 million appropriation for 2007 for the design and pre-construction phases, including finding space for U.N. staff who must move during the refurbishment.

Member states will have the option of paying for the renovation in yearly installments or one lump sum, but the resolution also asks incoming Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who takes over on Jan. 1, to explore private donor funding.

The United States will pay 22 percent of the cost _ the largest share _ which Congress must approve.

The building is expected to be renovated several floors at a time, from top to bottom, but U.N. officials say the first visible action will be a groundbreaking ceremony in June or July for a new conference facility.

The official in charge of the renovation effort, Louis Frederick Reuter IV, resigned in June saying he was frustrated by bureaucratic and political wrangling that have resulted in years of delay and massive cost overruns.

Much of Reuter’s job involved trying to cut through U.N. bureaucracy and persuade member states to move ahead. After the repeatedly being waylaid, the Capital Master Plan cleared the U.N. budget committee this week _ and the General Assembly was the last hurdle.

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