By Julie Shapiro
The city agreed this week to pay its share to rebuild Fiterman Hall, a City University of New York building damaged on 9/11, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express Wednesday.
After a six-month battle with the state and CUNY, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to announce Thursday morning that the city will pay an additional $72 million for Fiterman Hall, providing the exact match of state funds the project needs to move forward.
"I'm pretty persuasive," joked Silver, who pushed Bloomberg to put up the money.
The black-shrouded Fiterman Hall, a Borough of Manhattan Community College building, has become a symbol of bureaucracy as it casts a shadow on the World Trade Center site more than seven years after 9/11.
"It's been a blight on our community since Sept.11," Silver said. "We need to have the building rebuilt to show the world that we are recovering from Sept.11."
Workers are currently decontaminating the building and expect to finish in February. The building would then be demolished, perhaps as soon as August 2009. Now that all of the funding is in place, construction on the new building will begin immediately following demolition and will be complete in 2012, Silver said.
"We're unbelievably overjoyed by this," said Barry Rosen, director of communications for B.M.C.C., though he confessed he was baffled by the timing.
"During this economic atmosphere, how could they do it?" he said. "Where's the mayor coming up with $70 million? All those other years when everything was so great, no one wanted to give us the money, but now, in the middle of a sinking ship…" Rosen trailed off, then resolved not to look too hard into the "why."
"I'm happy," he said. "It's almost a miracle."
The new 14-story Fiterman Hall will house 54 classrooms, along with computer labs, lounges and faculty offices for the rapidly growing B.M.C.C., Rosen said. The extra space will make a big difference for B.M.C.C., as the school has seen enrollment soar since 9/11. B.M.C.C. has had to resort to holding classes in trailers and cramming professors into shared offices at its main building on Chambers St.
"Especially in this time of economic crisis, people are going back to school to acquire skills, and community colleges are the places people are going," Silver said. "We need the space."
The total cost to clean and demolish the old Fiterman Hall and build the new building is $325 million. Until now, the city had only agreed to pay $20 million, while the state had put in more than $90 million. The project also received $60 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (money the city tried to claim as part of its own contribution), $62.7 million in insurance funds, $15 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and $5 million from the 9/11 Fund.
Tired of waiting for the city to come around with the money, CUNY Vice Chancellor Iris Weinshall threatened several months ago to leave Fiterman Hall standing after decontaminating it, even though CUNY had enough money to proceed with the demolition. The idea was to use the building as a large reminder that the city owed CUNY money. That was unpopular with the community, and since the building is not yet ready to be demolished, Weinshall was never in a position to make good on the threat.
Over the past year, the project's completion date has moved further away. Last February, before the dispute over money arose, a contractor on the project said the new building could be complete in 2010. Last June, Weinshall said the goal was to get the building open in 2011, and unless the city provided funding immediately, that would not happen. Now the project's completion has slipped another year to 2012.