Volume 17 • Issue 35 • Jan. 21 - 27, 2005

Fiterman Hall

B.M.C.C. building plan remains in limbo

By Ronda Kaysen

Little has changed in the three and a half years since Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College was damaged by the collapse of 7 World Trade Center. The building still stands at 30 West Broadway, shrouded and awaiting its fate. Even after B.M.C.C. president Antonio Pérez spoke about plans to demolish it at a W.T.C. committee meeting this month, it is still entirely unclear how, when and under what circumstances the 15-story building will come down.

“They need to come back to us with more concrete plans,” Richard Kennedy, W.T.C. committee chairperson and a B.M.C.C. board member, told Downtown Express. “And something in writing.”

Demolition plans are sketchy. The university retained the architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to draw up plans to demolish the building and design a new building in its place. Pérez said it would take up to a year to devise a demolition plan and four years to rebuild. He did not know how long it would take for Pei Cobb to come up with a design for a new building. The firm has also designed the proposed Goldman Sachs headquarters planned for Battery Park City.

The Jan. 10th meeting marked the first time B.M.C.C. made a formal appearance before C.B. 1 regarding Fiterman Hall. “I’d kept the community waiting long enough and I wanted to give them at least some indication of what I knew at that point in time,” Pérez said afterward. “I didn’t want anybody thinking ‘He’s not telling us everything.’”

Catherine McVay Hughes, a committee member and the community liaison for the Environmental Protection Agency’s W.T.C. Expert Technical Review Panel, expressed disappointment with the long timeline. “Why is the process of taking that building down so slow? It’s just unbelievable that 4 Albany St. will be gone by Memorial Day and there will still be no progress on Fiterman Hall,” she said, referring to the demolition of the Deutsche Bank-owned Albany St. building that stood untouched — damaged and contaminated by the W.T.C. disaster — until last month.

This week, Gov. George Pataki set aside $20 million in his budget — money that must be approved by the State Legislature — for the demolition of Fiterman Hall. Pérez estimates that it will cost the university $180 million to completely rebuild. The university has already secured $126 million.

Although Fiterman Hall is a B.M.C.C. building, CUNY will ultimately take the lead in the building’s demolition, said Pérez, determining when and how the demolition will take place.

Emma Macari, vice chancellor of facilities and planning for CUNY, did not return repeated calls for comment.

The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York is ultimately responsible for tearing down or restoring the building, but officials there have not received word about the building’s fate. “So far as I know, there has been no decision on what’s going to happen to Fiterman Hall,” said Claudia Hutton, a spokesperson for the authority.

Before the Dorm Authority can take any action whatsoever, it needs the approval of the State Legislature, which it has yet to receive. “You don’t undertake capital projects without getting it O.K.ed by the State Legislature,” said Hutton. She was unaware of the $126 million that B.M.C.C. had acquired for the project, but insisted that any money spent on a CUNY building — including the governor’s $20 million allocation and the school’s $126 million — must be approved by the Legislature.

The building, donated to the college, had just completed a $62 million renovation when the events of 9/11 shattered it. “All of this money was spent to rehabilitate it and if 9/11 hadn’t happened, you would have been in there using that space,” said Hutton, who is not convinced the building needs to be demolished at all. “When you have an opportunity to do something very different, I can understand that you might want to do something different,” she said. But renovating the building would be far less expensive than building anew.

Fiterman Hall has stood empty and untouched primarily because of financial wrangling. After three years of haggling with the building’s insurance company, FM Global, CUNY finally received a $90 million settlement in 2004, $27 million of which went to cover the cost of temporary classroom space. “We didn’t have the money in order to start the project and we finally said ‘We can’t wait until we have all the money, we have to start now and build what we can under the circumstances,’” Pérez said.

Pérez did not indicate what involvement the public would have in the demolition process, although he told Downtown Express that he would continue to disseminate any information he had as he received it. “I’m not sure how the public review process is done; this is the first time I’ve gone through this,” he told the committee. “Whatever is required of us, we will comply with the law.”

Madelyn Wils, C.B. 1 chairperson, suggested B.M.C.C. look to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the state and city agency responsible for demolishing the W.T.C.-disaster contaminated Deutsche Bank Building, as an example of an open review process. “It is appropriate that we ask the chancellor and the president what they’re doing and what their plans are” for Fiterman Hall, said Wils at a Jan. 18th full board meeting.

Following in the L.M.D.C.’s footsteps may not prove so difficult, however. “Many of the people that this architect firm presented to us that they’d be using [for Fiterman Hall] are currently the people who are working on the Deutsche Bank,” Pérez said. “So this is why I think our process is going to move a lot faster.”


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