Volume 18 • Issue 35 | January 13 - 19, 2006

Work to demolish damaged Fiterman Hall may actually begin


By Ronda Kaysen

City University of New York has taken steps to demolish a contaminated building damaged in the World Trade Center disaster and will present its plans to the Environmental Protection Agency as early as this week.

Fiterman Hall, a 15-story Borough of Manhattan Community College building, has stood shrouded in black, with large gaping holes torn into its southern façade, since 9/11. Until last year, the school, a CUNY institution, had been unable to secure enough money to demolish the structure and build anew.

The community has long expressed outrage that such a contaminated eye sore has remained in their midst with no end in sight.

In May, the university cobbled together the last of $185 million it needed for the project and announced its intentions to move forward with the cleanup. Since then, the university has been working with environmental experts to hash out a cleanup and demolition plan that will meet regulatory standards.

University officials will present their plan to E.P.A. this month—possibly as early as this week, a CUNY environmental consultant said—and begin cleaning the building in May. CUNY expects to finish cleaning the building by September and demolish it by February 2007, making way for a new $125 million Pei Cobb Freed & Partners-designed structure.

“Isn’t that nice? After all this time we’re getting ready to send the plans to the E.P.A.,” said Claudia Hutton, a spokesperson for the New York State Dormitory Authority, the agency overseeing the demolition and rebuilding of Fiterman Hall.

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
The Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fiterman Hall, across the street from 7 W.T.C., was badly damaged Sept. 11, 2001 and work to prepare it for demolition could begin as early as this May.
Fiterman Hall stands on the corner of West Broadway and Barclay St., gashed and shrouded behind the new 7 World Trade Center. Its façade was damaged when the original 7 W.T.C. collapsed, blasting Trade Center debris into the building’s interior.

The building is likely contaminated with a similar cocktail of toxins that plague other Trade Center-damaged buildings: lead, mold, asbestos and dioxin. Because the building was in the final stages of a $50 million renovation project at the time of the attack, it was cleared of its own asbestos before the disaster.

For four and a half years, little has happened at the building. In the initial weeks after the attack, the gaping holes were filled in from the inside, protecting the outside environment from seeping toxins, and black netting was erected. Since then, it has become one of a handful of 9/11-damaged buildings that remain standing Downtown, a glaring reminder to residents and workers of the slow pace of the redevelopment. In 2004, CUNY settled a lawsuit with its insurers for about $90 million, but it took the university until May 2005 to secure the remaining funds necessary from the state, city and Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

“Fiterman Hall has been the bane of my existence,” said developer Larry Silverstein, sitting on the 25th floor of 7 World Trade Center last week. The Trade Center developer has designed and rebuilt a 52-story tower overlooking Fiterman and the Trade Center site that will open before the first wall of Fiterman is wiped clean.

Silverstein has been slow to lease 7 W.T.C., renting only one and a half floors of the 1.7 million sq. ft. building since leasing began.

“The government has not dealt with Fiterman Hall,” Silverstein said, gesticulating, his soft-spoken voice rising in timbre. “In the time it took to build this building they have not been able to get that building down. Something’s wrong. There isn’t anybody who I bring to this building who doesn’t look across the street and say ‘What’s that?’ That’s really governmental failure.”

The cleanup of Fiterman will begin around the same time Silverstein dedicates a new park opening next to 7 W.T.C. “That’s pretty sad,” he said of the delay.

For nearby residents, Fiterman’s stalled demolition is a reminder of a redevelopment process that has been marred by delays and setbacks. “You’re constantly reminded of 9/11 by looking at this awful building,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee and a Financial District resident. “It’s unfortunate that Fiterman was not able to address the demolition of this building until a design for a new building was determined…. It’s too bad it’s taken this long.”

Hutton insists CUNY did what it could to move the process along — it could not begin work on a building until all the money was secured. “It’s a great disappointment to everyone how long this has taken, but we had to do the right thing and get an insurance settlement,” she said, adding. “We’ve never had a building that got hit by piece of a falling jet.”

Submitting plans to E.P.A. is no guarantee that a demolition process will happen anytime soon. The agency has to approve the plans, which could take many rounds of reviews. “We expect that the approval process will take a few reviews, it generally does,” Benn Lewis, a vice president for Airtek Environmental, an environmental consultant for Fiterman, told Downtown Express.

Similar buildings have endured a painstaking E.P.A. approval process as they attempted to secure approval. E.P.A. rejected a demolition plan for 130 Liberty St., a contaminated building on the opposite side of the Trade Center site, last February. L.M.D.C., which owns the building, didn’t receive a go ahead from the agency until September. When the corporation purchased the building in August 2004, it had intended to begin demolition within the year. And developer Haysha Deitsch, owner of 133-135 Greenwich St., two buildings near the site, had his demolition permits revoked last spring after the city Department of Environmental Protection deemed his cleanup plan inadequate. Deitsch received E.P.A. approval in November.

CUNY will select a contractor in March. Whoever is chosen must also submit a plan to E.P.A. for approval. The cleanup will begin after that plan is approved.

Fiterman will likely come down in a similar fashion to 4 Albany St., a privately owned building that was cleaned and demolished early last year. Scaffolding will be erected around the building, and then it will be cleaned from top to bottom. Once it is fully cleaned, Fiterman will be dismantled floor by floor, making way for a new building. “We’re going to clean it, and once it’s cleaned and tested and cleared, then we’ll take it down,” said Lewis.

Ronda@downtownexpress.com


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