Volume 17, Number 52 | May 20 - 26, 2005

Downtown Express file photo by Lorenzo Cinigliio

A look at Fiterman Hall in January.

Fiterman Hall’s last days may finally be in sight

By Ronda Kaysen

One of the last vestiges of the World Trade Center disaster may soon meet its fate. City University of New York has finally secured enough money to demolish Fiterman Hall, a Borough of Manhattan Community College structure at 30 West Broadway, and may begin work within the year, although demolition plans remain entirely unclear.

Governor George Pataki announced last week that $15 million of the remaining Lower Manhattan Development Corporation funds will be set aside for the demolition of the 15-story structure, which was badly damaged on Sept. 11, 2001. The combination of state, city, L.M.D.C. funds and a $90 million insurance settlement “will ensure its first-rate rebuilding,” Pataki said in a speech last Thursday.

The governor set an end-of-the-year start date for the $185 million project, although the university is less certain of the timeline.

“It could begin this year. It depends on factors, including things that aren’t determined yet,” said Claudia Hutton, a spokesperson for the Dormitory Authority for the State of New York, which will oversee the process.

The university has secured an architect for the project, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and expects them to begin the design stage in June, although Hutton would not speculate on how long the design process might take. “This is to design an extensive and meticulous cleanup, and I really don’t know how that will go,” she said. “When you can’t be right, be uncertain.”

Fiterman Hall, contaminated with W.T.C. dust, will most likely follow in a path forged by 130 Liberty St. and 4 Albany St., two 9/11-damaged structures on the south side of the W.T.C. site that are currently in the midst of cleanup and demolition processes of their own.

“We certainly will be working with them,” said Mary Mears, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been involved in the cleanup at 4 Albany St. and 130 Liberty St. Mears expects to meet with the university this week or next.

The E.P.A. has requested access to the 1959 building, according to Hutton, although the university has yet to grant it. “We haven’t let anybody in there because it’s dangerous,” said Hutton. “We will, but we’ve got to work out liability things.”

Very little has happened at Fiterman Hall in the last four years, to the ire of community residents who have grown increasingly perplexed as other damaged buildings at the site have either been restored or removed.

“It’ll be five years after Sept. 11 until that toxic eyesore is finally taken care of,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, a Community Board 1 member and community liaison for the E.P.A.’s W.T.C. Expert Technical Review Panel. “Fiterman’s got to go.”

A protracted legal dispute with the university’s insurance company, FM Global, caused the long delay, said Hutton. Until the university reached an agreement with the company, it could not begin to lobby the city and state for additional funding. “We tend to want to have the budget for everything in hand before we start work,” said Hutton. “That’s just the way we work.”

Last year, the university reached a $90 million settlement with the insurers and began pursuing the state and city in earnest to close the remaining funding gap.

In the meantime, B.M.C.C. has been virtually silent, with the college’s president, Antonio Pérez, rarely speaking publicly about it. “This has been a secret process for the past four years,” said Hughes. “We want to know, when are the owners of Fiterman going to give us an update?”

The answer to that question is not yet clear, either. “We have no sense at all of when [a public forum] will be,” said Hutton, adding, “There will be a huge need for public information.”

Richard Kennedy, interim chairperson of C.B. 1, W.T.C. Redevelopment committee chairperson and a B.M.C.C. foundation board member said he did not want to comment on the governor’s announcement because he had not yet spoken with college officials.

Local residents are not the only ones eager to see the structure demolished: B.M.C.C. has been want for classroom space since the disaster claimed their building, which had just enjoyed a $62 million renovation. The new 377,000 sq. ft. structure will house classrooms, computer labs, offices, a library and assembly and meeting rooms. “We’re just excited about having the money to tear it down and rebuild it,” said Angela Sales, director of government relations for B.M.C.C.


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