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City sues designer of Hunters Point Library over non-compliance of federal ADA guidelines

The city filed a lawsuit against Steven Holl Architects over non-compliance of federal ADA rules in the design of the Hunters Point Library in Long Island City. (QNS/File)

May 19, 2023 By Bill Parry

The city is suing the designer of the $41.5 million Hunters Point Library in Long Island City for failing to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

When the library opened alongside Gantry Plaza State Park in September 2019, officials from Queens Public Library soon realized that sections of the building were not accessible — most notably areas around the central staircase — to visitors with disabilities.

Now, the city is suing Steve Holl Architects for $10 million in damages, according to the lawsuit filed May 17 in Manhattan Supreme Court, which states that as a result of the defendant’s breach of contract and professional malpractice in providing design services, significant elements of the library’s design are inaccessible to persons with disabilities and require remediation or reconstruction. The suit alleges that the 2010 contract signed by the city’s Department of Design and Construction and Steven Holl Architects stipulated that the facility would be ADA-compliant.

The central staircase and the tiered shelves are inaccessible to visitors in wheelchairs, according to the lawsuit. (File/Queens Post)

The city is seeking damages to “recover the costs of remediation, including design, engineering and construction, for which defendants are responsible due to their failure to design in compliance with applicable laws and regulations that mandate access for persons with disabilities, in breach of the contract with the city and in violation of their professional obligations.”

Not only is the central staircase not accessible, so too is the second-floor children’s area, a public rooftop terrace, and even the library’s bathrooms are deemed too narrow for “for wheelchair maneuverability,” the suit claims.

Schneps Media reached out to Steven Holl Architects and is awaiting a response but in a statement to Crain’s New York, a spokeswoman said, “Since the city has made the unfortunate decision to commence a lawsuit, we will not be commenting further at this time and intend to vigorously defend against these claims.”

When asked for a comment on the lawsuit, a spokesman for Queens Public Library deferred to the city’s Law Department, which filed the suit. A spokesman said they would not be commenting beyond what is in the complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Originally scheduled to open in 2009, the construction of the Hunters Point Library was plagued by cost overruns, construction delays, an overly grandiose design by celebrity architect Steven Holl and other problems for more than a decade. At one point, the project was paused due to a dockyard strike in Italy, so the specially designed glass panels for the building’s sculpted exterior could not be shipped to Queens on time.

Mark Christie, president of Friends of Queens Library at Hunters Point, started campaigning for the new library branch in 1998 with community leader Terri Adams, who passed away two years before its opening. Christie blamed Mayor Michael Bloomberg for hiring his friend Steven Holl at the onset of the project.

“We live in a city with some of the smartest people in the world but not everyone was using their head when it came to this project,” Christie told Schneps Media. “First, Mayor Bloomberg chose this guy [Holl] and then they bypassed the Request for Proposals after they chose to not work with the community and this is what happened. They said they did it to fast-track the project and instead, it was slower than running molasses up a pole.”

Long Island City community leader Mark Christie tried to warn officials about the design of the Hunters Points Library. He was ignored for years. (Courtesy of Hunters Point Parks Conservancy)

Christie said he warned multiple city agencies — including the Department of Design and Construction and the Department of Building — elected officials, the Bloomberg administration and even former Queens Public Library President and CEO Thomas Galante, that the design did not comply with federal ADA statutes and regulations long before the shovels hit the ground in 2015.

“They all told me that I was whining, but I knew what I was talking about,” Christie said. “I was told to get a grip. Get over it. That’s what I was told.”

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The lack of ADA compliance in the building’s design is a serious failing, and I hope it has, or will be, addressed. However, I don’t think the design of the library is “grandiose.” I think it’s a beautiful building.


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