By SHAYLA LOVE
Amid ongoing renovations at Tracey Towers, a series of new mailbox banks can now be found in the building lobbies, and it’s causing plenty of stir and controversy for tenants. That’s because the mailboxes are blocking the view of the lobbies, infringing on what used to be empty space, according to Jean Hill, president of the Tenants Association.
As it stands, the existing mailboxes – which residents are still using for now – are affixed to the lobby walls. This design was initially thought to remain during renovations, but was ultimately nixed, according to Hill.
“The first plan was to rebuild the mailboxes in the original space, but it was eventually decided that they had to reconstruct the whole thing,” she said. “I knew the tenants wouldn’t be happy about it because they were complaining in my ear. It was such a startling change.”
At a meeting with Melvin Tuner, the onsite manager for the Norwood high-rises, Hill was told the mailbox change was mandated by the United States Postal Service (USPS), but wasn’t given specifics. The Norwood News did find that the mailbox change complied with USPS regulations, specifically STD 4-C, imposed in 2006 for all new buildings with more than four units. In 2004, the USPS rewrote the regulations for commercial and residential mailboxes.
USPS Justifies the Switch
Since American mail use had changed drastically since the last rules were written in 1975, USPS determined it
needed to get with the times. In the decade that followed, flat size mail deliveries steadily increased by 47 percent while package mail has increased by 42 percent, said mailbox producer Bommer Industries.
STD 4-C also calls for 20 percent larger mailboxes, improved lock mechanisms and parcel lockers intended for oversized packages delivered by a letter carrier. By enforcing the regulation, the USPS said it will streamline services, part of a larger effort to save millions of dollars for the cash-strapped agency. USPS, however, maintains it will “improve access to the mailboxes by carriers and avoid the return of bulky, voluminous mail to the Post Office.”
But the USPS has been lenient in terms of enforcement with regard to the mandate, having exempted older buildings from having to replace their mailboxes. It’s only if a building undergoes a “substantial” renovation that the law goes into effect.
It’s not the aesthetics of the Tracey Towers mailboxes that Hill doesn’t like, but what it’s done to compromise visibility and safety. She said that the placement impedes the security guards’ ability to monitor the entire room.
The guards sit at stations at either end of the lobby, with the mailbox banks in-between them. “The guards can’t see each other,” she said. “Or, if you’re standing in between the mailboxes, and somebody gets you – who would notice?” She said she is asking to have cameras installed parallel to the structures, to eliminate any blind spots.
Hill said that some tenants are also concerned about a quick exit in case of an emergency. She’s inviting the Fire Department to the next Tenants Association meeting to perform practice drills and quell concerns. “There is more than one exit to the lobby,” she said. “But people who haven’t lived in high rises can get nervous about what to do.”
Donald Miller, vice president of Public Relations at RY Management, said that the safety and comfort of the residents and guests of Tracey Towers is RY Management’s number one priority, though he disputes the claim the change could inspire a security breach. The mailbox and lobby designs meet all NYC Department of Buildings and USPS regulations.
The installation is part of a large renovation project Hill considered “necessary” for Tracey Towers after noticing the roof “literally falling down on our heads.”
The changes activated the USPS mandate, causing the architect to include a design for updated mailboxes in their renovation plans. “The new box, which is required, is twice as large as the current box,” said Miller.
The current location of the mailboxes is too small to house the increase. The solution was to place the new larger boxes along a section of the lobby floor.
With 689 units, Tracey Towers is a bustling place. The lobby is a constant stream of tenants. Some walk idly past the new boxes; others stop to examine them.
Zayala McCallister, 16, has lived in Tracey Towers all her life. She said that the mailboxes were out of the way. “They’re still better on the sides, because a lot of children play in the lobby and it’s crowded,” she said.
Ruby Bell, a tenant in the building since 1989, said the updated, modern feel was nice, but “in the way.” “They block the view,” Bell said. “Most people are upset about it.”
Sally Caldwell, longtime resident and community leader in Tracey Towers, doesn’t have a problem with them. “I love it,” she said. “When people aren’t used to that type of change, it’s very hard. That’s the process with some people. When all is said and done, I think it’s going to be fantastic.”
Bell said that the residents of Tracey Towers are not against improving their building. “We’re not against changes. People are concerned about safety,” Bell said. “Safety first, beauty next.”
Despite concerns, the mailboxes are up and here to stay. The switch to the new mailboxes will take place when renovations are completed. “They had to be updated,” Hill said. “We just have to live with it.”