Eleven years after Borough of Manhattan Community College’s (BMCC) Fiterman Hall was damaged beyond repair in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the college opened its replacement on August 27, 2012. The new building, also called Fiterman Hall, brings badly needed classroom and office space to one of CUNY’s most overcrowded colleges.
Fiterman was irreparably damaged on 9/11 when debris tore open the building, filling it with asbestos and other toxic contaminants such as lead and dioxin. CUNY’s insurer, FM Global, at first maintained that Fiterman could be repaired – a far less expensive proposition than replacing it. CUNY and the PSC insisted that the wreck could not be salvaged, pointing to extensive structural damage as well as the contamination. In 2004, FM Global agreed to a $90 million settlement. Then came a protracted battle to secure sufficient State and City funding for demolition and construction to proceed. Total cost of the new building, now nearing completion, is put at $325 million.
Built originally for 8,000 students, BMCC’s enrollment had grown to 16,000 by 2001 and stands at 24,000 today. The gap caused by the loss of Fiterman was partly filled by use of rented space and temporary trailer classrooms, but overcrowding remained severe.
The new Fiterman Hall has 390,000 sq ft of usable floor space, compared to 375,000 sq ft for its predecessor. Located just north of the World Trade Center site, the 14-story red brick building has been praised for its open, airy feel. It is, however, still a work in progress.
On September 5, 2012, a PSC health and safety team conducted a walk-through of the new structure. Participants included Chapter Chair Joyce Moorman, Joan Greenbaum of the PSC Environmental Health & Safety Watchdogs and Dave Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH), accompanied by several BMCC officials.
Interior construction is still underway in many areas, and Newman described the sections currently in use as “rough around the edges.” Management of ongoing construction appeared to be effectively quarantining active construction zones from areas now in use for work and study. But the PSC team noted a number of problems and potential issues with ergonomics, ventilation and access control. Moorman said the union will raise these at the labor-management meeting scheduled in October.
The PSC had been asking for access to conduct a walk-through since March, but had been repeatedly rebuffed. “It would have been better for all concerned if this walk-through could have taken place six months ago, allowing more time for proactive corrective action,” Newman said.