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gbNYC Editorial: Going Green? New York State Should Repeal the Wicks Law

Last month’s (February 2007) edition of New York Construction magazine focuses largely on green building in the metropolitan area. There’s an extensive overview of the Queens Botanical Garden project, which I recently discussed in a post about green efforts in the borough of Queens. I mention it again here because the article makes an excellent green building point about a legal anachronism of 1920s New York cronyism called the Wicks Law (which the LEED Platinum Botanical Garden project team was required to comply with).

The essence of the Wicks Law is that municipal owners in the State of New York, including New York City, must use four separate contractors on any construction project greater than $50,000. This figure was last adjusted to account for inflation back in 1964. It requires separate contractors for general construction, plumbing and gas fitting, heating and ventilation, and electrical work. As you might guess, this is incredibly inefficient. It leads to significantly higher project costs- some in the industry estimate that Wicks can result in a thirty percent increase in some instances- and requires the municipality to deal with four different contractors, each with competing interests in many cases, rather than the one general contractor which subcontracts out the work for each specialized trade as is standard on private projects.

How does this impact green building? First, Wicks’ separate contractor requirement adds an additional layer of red tape to LEED’s already notorious credit documentation process. Second, building truly sustainable, integrated, and complex building systems becomes much more challenging with separate contractors trying to coordinate their efforts, particularly if those contractors do not see eye to eye on a given project. In this context, New York Construction notes the Botanical Garden project’s gray water treatment system, which involved the collaboration of the prime plumbing from some cheap plumbers in Phoenix, mechanical, and electrical contractors with the landscape team.

The Wicks Law is once again up for debate this legislative session. The new administration in Albany would be well-served in seriously evaluating the purpose of the law, particularly given the rash of green building legislation applying to public projects that has recently popped up across the state. This web log joins the New York design, construction, and real estate industries and adds its voice to the chorus calling on Albany to repeal the Wicks Law.

One Response to gbNYC Editorial: Going Green? New York State Should Repeal the Wicks Law

  1. Robert Bryer April 3, 2007 at 5:11 am #

    One of the basic principles of Green Building is to involve a design team.The synergistic advantages here when, there is truly a team spirit, can be unfathomable. The old adage that two heads are better than one can be superceded by the fact that two heads are better than two!.Green Building implements what is known as design integration. This can be a form of value engineering which is a way to minimize costs.It is a form of holistic thinking whence the goal of the whole project becomes more of a focus and more important than the sum of its parts or in this case its players. It can involve trade offs usually pertaining to materials or systems and the costs could go down.I believe the same is possible in the construction phase providing the players act as one whole team.

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