Woman Suffers 2nd-Degree Burns After Steam Pipe Bursts, Taking Out Elevators in 25-Story Condo Building

UPDATE (10/21): This story has been updated to reflect new information provided by the City of New Brunswick. 

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A woman was hospitalized after suffering second-degree burns in her condominium on the sixth floor of the city's second-tallest skyscraper after a steam pipe ruptured causing flooding.

Firefighters from the New Brunswick Fire Department (NBFD) were summoned to the "One Spring Street" tower at 1:54am on October 17, after steam set off the building's fire alarms.

Shortly thereafter, an ambulance was dispatched to treat two patients with "thermal burns."

According to city officials, the woman's feet were burned as she escaped from the hot water that was accumulating in her condominium unit after the pipe burst.

Boraie Development, the company behind the building, did not respond to questions from New Brunswick Today.

The building's elevators have been rendered unusable ever since, meaning some residents now have to walk 20 or more flights of stairs.

Due to the outage, someone in a wheelchair was stranded on the sixth floor, according to emergency radio transmissions.

At 25 stories tall, One Spring Street was the city's tallest building from 2006 until 2012.  Its developer has twice threatened to sue New Brunswick Today for our reporting.

Boraie Development's website calls the building "’the first major residential project in New Brunswick’s history" and says that it has "revolutionized the New Brunswick real estate marketplace."

Residents told New Brunswick Today it's far from the first pipe to burst in the luxury condominium building, which first opened just nine years ago.

Residents said there were "major issues" and that "it has become a hazard to live here."

According to sources, several of the building's 121 units have been damaged in recent years, after pipes failed without warning.  Often, the incidents cause problems for more than one unit, leaving multiple condos damaged as water cascades into units on lower floors.

Dorothea Berkhout, a Rutgers administrator who serves as the President of the building's five-member condo board, did not respond to inquiries about the incident, and hung up when she was reached by this reporter.

"I'm not well and I don't want you to bother me," Berkhout said, before hanging up the phone.

She had previously confirmed that the building's concrete balconies were undergoing repairs, even though the building is only nine years old.

"Some balconies are being repaired and all are being re-waterproofed," Berkhout told New Brunswick Today.  "All appropriate permits were obtained."

For much of this year, no one has been allowed on their balconies while the remediation work began.

Scaffolding was erected in September as the balcony project moved to the Paterson Street side of the building.

"Sometimes anything could happen," said City Council President Kevin Egan, when asked if it was normal for the building to need concrete remediation this early into its life.

"You think that something would last twenty years, they tell you it's going to last 20 years, and you know, it lasts five years."

"I don't know what type of concrete was used, but I'm sure that these people that own it are going to take the steps to fix it," said Egan.

But critics say it's not only the building's balconies that pose a danger to the public.  Several sources told NBToday that the building's construction included the use of a substandard concrete contractor.

One former city resident who watched the building go up said she witnessed a chunk of concrete fall out of the side of the building and onto Paterson Street years earlier.

"My law office was directly across from that building when it was under construction," said retired attorney Kathleen Feeney.  "I saw a chunk of concrete fall from about the fourth floor onto the sidewalk, out of the corner.  It could have killed someone."

"Thank God the faulty concrete in that building is finally being addressed," Feeney said, adding that the piece of concrete she saw fall was "sharp-edged" and roughly the size of a golf ball.

"Omar has a problem there," Feeney said, referring to Omar Boraie, the patriarch of the family behind the development firm.

As we reported, the Boraie family owns at least 72 residential rental units at 22 different addresses in New Brunswick, not counting One Spring Street, or the company's new 15-story building at 135 Somerset Street. 

Boraie Development has also built a movie theatre in Newark, and is currently behind schedule on its plans for luxury residential buildings there and in Atlantic City.

A spokesperson for Mayor James Cahill said there were no official inspections currently taking place in the Spring Street highrise.

"There are no inspections currently happening at that building, but a a permit was issued for a sidewalk shed to protect the ground below," said Jennifer Bradshaw, Cahill's spokesperson.  "If you would like information on what's being done there, I suggest contacting Boraie."

Bradshaw did not respond to multiple inquiries about the pipe rupture or the elevator outage.

Built by Tishman Construction, "Spring Street Plaza" only became a reality after Boraie Development had promised to provide both public parking and affordable housing on-site.

In exchange, the New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA) provided much of the land, the city government gave Boraie a 30-year tax break, and the state government provided a $15 million loan.

But the developer never delivered on either promise.

In 2014, the developer quickly became the subject of controversy after NBC New York revealed that the administration of Governor Chris Christie had funneled $4.8 million in federal disaster relief funds to help with the construction of "The Aspire," another luxury highrise a few blocks away from Spring Street. 

New Brunswick Today later revealed that the developer had never made good on its promise to provide affordable housing in One Spring Street, despite public claims to the contrary by the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA).

 

Charlie is a community organizer, a Rutgers journalism graduate, and a 2018 independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.

He can be reached at (732) 993-9697 or [email protected]