WORKERS, DEC TUSSLE OVER OFFICE

DINA CAPPIELLO Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: D3

Date: Sunday, September 2, 2001

It ain't easy being green. Nearly four months after the state Department of Environmental Conservation began moving into its new headquarters at 625 Broadway -- a $65 million office building expected to be a model for green buildings nationwide -- some workers are challenging its green-ness.


The complaints have employees embroiled in a dispute with DEC administration and state agencies in charge of the building's construction and inspections.


``We are in a battle,'' said Bill Wurster, an environmental chemist who is the assistant council leader for the Public Employees Federation in Albany. ``We haven't been able to get a clear opinion.''


According to Wurster and several other union officials, several people have had allergies to chemicals in the air, the sprinklers are dripping oil and employees report to work each day to find a dusty film covering coffee mugs and office papers.


Even the recycling system, according to some employees, has kinks. But the complaints don't seem to be widespread. Since May, the Office of General Services has received less than 20 complaints about the building, a fraction of the 1,800 people who work there, according to Randall Sawyer, a spokesman.


``These are problems for a few people,'' Sawyer said.


The complaints are only the latest since DEC announced its controversial decision to move downtown. Earlier in the summer, a group of 30 biologists who worked at the Wildlife Resources Center in Delmar maintained that the move would sever them from equipment and access to the wilderness needed for their research.


Among the newest problems are grumblings about parking, traffic, and pedestrian walkways, according to the union.


The state, which has inspected the building on two occasions, maintains there is nothing wrong. Air samples came back at safe levels. The drinking water from fountains was clear. The sprinkler system wasn't leaking the day inspectors walked through.


And the troubles with recycling, where a few workers reportedly mixed in paper with the trash? Well, they are being worked out.


``We will listen to the concerns and check into them,'' said DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes, who said no one took leave because of air contaminants. ``But we really have no proof there are any problems.''


Constantakes attributes the complaints to adjusting to a new environment. After all, the 14-story modern building in downtown Albany is a big change from the suburban Wolf Road box the DEC called home since 1970.