Posted by: tommybrennan | March 9, 2011

Woodhull Killed Me. (Part 2)

As you remember from last time, our hero (me) had accepted the chance to bid the Woodhull project, and had visited the site.  The site was located in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.  I found out later that the neighborhood has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous in NYC.  Oh well.

I started the project by drawing the structural plans in CAD from the original blueprints.  These were the structural steel, exterior walls, and windows.  I was able to capture some skeleton information for the building from these.  I gathered the necessary tools for the job (lasers, laptops, computer carts, tape measures), and researched lodging options.  We would be staying at a hotel in Queens.   The Pan American.  Not a ritzy hotel by any stretch of the imagination, but cheap and comfortable, and not too far from Woodhull.

I began to estimate costs for this project.   I used my own background and the expertise of some architect friends to get an idea as to how much building I could measure and draw in a day.  I was going to use  a two man team for this project.  One guy measured, the other guy drew.  I estimated that we could measure about 40,000 sq. ft. per day and have the space drawn in about 6 weeks.  This was longer than I had hoped for, but it was still very doable.   The job was to start in early May of 2002.   A fellow employee, Jim Kenney, was assigned to go with me for the first trip.  Jim and I were destined to become measuring buddies.  We were also destined to get on each other’s nerves because we were staying in the same hotel room.  For what would turn out to be a lot longer than the originally planned six weeks.

We drove out on a Sunday afternoon.  We drove for about five hours, and then we hit the vast expanse of concrete and steel that is New York City.   Jim was navigating using Mapquest directions.  We missed many turns and had to do a lot of turning around before we finally got to the hotel.   Neither of us was used to NYC driving.  We got settled and tried to get a good night’s sleep.  This is tough when you are used to rural North Country nights where, the sky is absolutely black and there is no noise.   We were in the city that never sleeps, and it was ridiculously loud on Queens Boulevard, and it seemed like the sun never went down it was so bright.

The next day, we drove through a crazy morning commute that took way longer than we had planned and arrived at Woodhull.  We had to park about a quarter mile away, and haul our gear into the hospital,  through the dangerous neighborhood I described earlier.  We had to haul our computer cart over a lot of broken pavement, and finding parking was difficult, as you would expect in NYC.  Once we got into the building, we found our contact.  As usual, he was in the basement.  Facility Managers always are, it seems.  He led us to Human Resources, where we had our IDs made.  The expiration date was set for August 30.  There was no way it would take that long.   Was I ever in for a surprise.

We went back down to the basement.  We looked around for a good starting point.  We found a door that led to a loading dock, and we got set up.  Jim looked at me.  “Well, how do we start?”    I fumbled around looking for a logical starting point.   There didn’t seem to be one.  This building contained a million square feet.  To give that figure some perspective, a small ranch home in Warren Michigan might contain about 1,000 square feet.   This would be 1,000 of those.   Every door precisely placed.   Every wall correctly documented.   Every window located.  Every toilet fixture drawn.    Every room number and room name typed in.   This was very different than anything I had measured before.  Its scope and sheer magnitude was simply overwhelming.  The halls were over 725 feet long from one side of the building to the other.   Our top-of –the-line, very pricey laser measuring devices were only rated to capture measurements up to 650 feet.   After about 4 hours, we had covered about 1,000 square feet, and I wasn’t sure that we had drawn it correctly.  The walls were not square, and it was virtually impossible to determine a consistent reference point.  We were supposed to be knocking out 40,000 square feet in day.   At this rate, we would be lucky to draw 2,000 square feet in a day.  I began to think that we had made a really big mistake taking on this job.  My estimate was going to be woefully inadequate in terms of time needed, and the money we had asked for.  This was starting to look really seriously bad.  I was holding the bag of a dog of a project, and I had to make it happen.  I was way out of my league, and we didn’t have the funds, expertise, or resources to make this project happen the way it needed to happen.  What would Shlomo think?  I’m an idiot, that’s what.  I began to feel like George Bailey when he finds out the $8,000 are missing, and the bank examiner is coming in this afternoon.  We were going to lose money in a spectacular fashion, not to mention I would barely see my family for a long time.

This is where the self-doubt and self loathing got their start.  I prayed silently, and tried not to look too panicked to Jim.  I’m pretty sure I failed.


This is the second of the Woodhull Chronicles.



  1. Hi Tom – I just stumbled across your blog while researching the history of Woodhull hospital – can’t wait for the next installment of this! I do hope it’s not too painful to recount.

    • Hi Sam. Thanks for reading. I am hoping to write the third installment this week.

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