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GSA workers, citing 9/11 fears, file suit to block move to One World Trade Center

A half-dozen General Services Administration workers in Manhattan

A half-dozen General Services Administration workers in Manhattan are trying to block a move to the Freedom Tower, pictured on Sept. 11, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A half-dozen General Services Administration workers in Manhattan are trying to block a move to the new Freedom Tower, calling it a waste of taxpayer money and claiming they are scared of a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers.

The workers say in a new lawsuit that the planned move from 26 Federal Plaza to the One World Trade Center skyscraper is uneconomical and has triggered deep-seated fears that its irresistible appeal to terrorists will make workers targets.

"I can't predict that, but there have been three attacks, one a bombing and two different planes have hit it," said plaintiff Peter Davis, a small-business specialist at the agency, in an interview. "It seems to me the temptation is extraordinary. I would not wish to work there."

Latanya Harrison, a contracting officer who began working for the GSA in 1996, said the gleaming facade of the 1,776-foot, 104-story tallest building in the Western Hemisphere stands out in lower Manhattan and definitely makes it a bigger lure.

"When they built the building, I didn't understand why they made it so bright," she said. "You can see it from Mars!"

"I don't want to be a statistic," said plaintiff Jonathan Phillips, a contracting officer who has high blood pressure.

The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 16 in federal court in Manhattan, claims the GSA will be leasing six floors of the new tower for 20 years for $351 million, moving more than 400 workers from their current quarters in a government-owned building.

"We're going to vacate a building where we don't pay any rent and lease space at $60 a square foot," said plaintiff Larry Tomscha, president of the workers' American Federation of Government Employees union local. "It's a total outrage."

The suit seeks to block the move, alleging violations of bidding rules and failure to get required congressional approval. GSA declined to comment. The Durst Organization, which has rented space to organizations such as Condé Nast and Moody's, also declined to comment.

The workers, who have to show an injury to have standing to sue, complain in the suit that the new space is less user-friendly than their current quarters, with no dedicated employee cafeteria or gym, and smaller and less private workspaces.

But the suit said Sept. 11, 2001, adds to the concerns of victims like Davis, who suffers from vertigo and worries about evacuating in the event of an attack or other calamity.

"The fact that the proposed offices are on the fifty-fifth floor further would make evacuation more difficult if not impossible due to limitations in his ability to walk down such a significant number of stairs," the suit says.

Another plaintiff, program analyst Priscilla Rosario, lost her godfather in the Sept. 11 attacks, and she was working downtown and had to get therapy because of the trauma, the suit says.

"Plaintiff Rosario is fearful for her safety and has experienced severe trepidation as she contemplates the proposed move to One World Trade Center," it said. "Plaintiff Rosario has sought therapy again due to the proposed move."

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