Volume 20 Issue 13 | August 10 - 16, 2007

Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert

The steps portion of the survivors’ stairway will be preserved and incorporated into the World Trade Center memorial, officials just announced. The state has dropped the idea of storing the stairway in Battery Park City’s Site 2B, which leaders expect will clear the way for a school to be built on the site.

School seems likely as stairway storage plan is not 2B

By Skye H. McFarlane

To be or not 2B — that question has finally been answered with regards to the Vesey St. staircase.

Although the details have yet to be decided, it appears that a slimmed-down version of the staircase will be preserved permanently and incorporated into the World Trade Center memorial. More importantly, at least to local education advocates, the stairs will not be spending any time on Site 2B, between First and Second Pl. in Battery Park City.

“The wishes of the community board and the residents seem to have been heard by the people with the power to make these decisions,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, the chair of C.B. 1’s World Trade Center Committee. “We’re very, very happy that the stairs will not be going to 2B and we look forward to the official declaration that there will be a school on 2B.”

For more than a year and a half, Downtowners have been pushing to have the Department of Education build a school on site 2B to alleviate the overcrowding in the local public schools. The plot of land, which sits in the southernmost part of Battery Park City, must house a community amenity. It was originally slated to hold a women’s history museum, but negotiations to have it designated as a school site appeared to be going well last spring — until the Vesey St. staircase threw a wrench into the plans.

Revived under Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced that it would be rethinking plans to dismantle the Vesey St. “survivors’” staircase. The 175-ton stairway led some workers to safety on 9/11. It survived the collapse of the Twin Towers, although it was badly damaged during the subsequent recovery effort. Preservationists and some 9/11 survivors have fought to keep the stairs intact as a symbol of hope, while community members eager for redevelopment have balked at the size of the staircase and the hefty cost (at least $1 million per trip) of moving it in one piece.

Although C.B. 1 was somewhat divided on what should be done with the staircase, the board was unanimous in its opposition to the L.M.D.C.’s suggestion that the staircase might be stored temporarily on 2B while the Development Corp. decided what to do with it. The L.M.D.C. said in early April that building a school should be the “top priority” for Site 2B and that the staircase, if stored there, would not interfere with that goal. Community members disagreed, saying that the “temporary” storage would likely last long enough to disrupt, or at least delay, the school plans.

Board chairperson Julie Menin and other board members cajoled the development corporation, suggesting alternate storage sites as wide ranging as Governors Island, empty plots in Greenwich South, Battery Park and the pedestrian promenade on Route 9a. The board members were joined in their push by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been heavily involved in working for a school on the site.

“We have successfully protected Site 2B,” Silver said in a statement released to Downtown Express on Tuesday.  “With such limited space Downtown, Site 2B provides a great opportunity to provide our children with much-needed classroom space.  Building a new school here must be our top priority in order to meet the growing demand set by dramatic growth in our local residential population.”

Silver’s spokesperson, Jim Quent, said that while they have not yet gotten confirmation from the D.O.E. that Site 2B will become a school, they hope to be able to bring the community good news soon.

Errol Cockfield, a spokesperson for the L.M.D.C. and Spitzer’s Empire State Development Corp., told Downtown Express in April that “as far as Site 2B is concerned, the top priority ought to be the construction of a school.”

As for what will be become of the staircase, L.M.D.C. Chairperson Avi Schick told the New York Times last Thursday that he was proposing to preserve the seven-foot-wide stairwell, while dispensing with most of the hulking structure around it. The stairs would be kept together by a truss and later inserted into the staircase leading from the W.T.C. visitors’ center down to the memorial.

“We plan to incorporate the stairs into the memorial,” Cockfield confirmed Wednesday. “We believe that this will convey the importance of the stairs as remnant of 9/11.”

While Cockfield said that the substance of the Times’ report was accurate, he stressed that the details of the plan have yet to be finalized. Among those details is whether the slimmer stairs will be moved off the W.T.C. site, and if so, to where.

Quentin Brathwaite of the Port Authority told C.B. 1 on July 9 that the staircase would need to be moved from its current location by “August or September” in order to keep construction moving on schedule. The stairs currently sit in the footprint of what will become Tower 2. Cockfield said that the development corporation is working closely with the Port on the staircase issue and that “any storage option [the L.M.D.C. chooses] will not interfere with the overall rebuilding plans.”

Hughes, of C.B. 1, said she hoped that the L.M.D.C. would come to her committee’s September meeting to explain their staircase plans in more detail. At first listen, however, the new plan sounded like a workable compromise.

“It’s just great that they’re not putting it on 2B,” Hughes said.

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