Building the City’s Future

December 15, 2008 | The University

The University is building a new East Harlem home for the forthcoming graduate School of Public Health and Hunter College’s venerable School of Social Work. Also, the city and state have at long last cleared the way to demolish and rebuild Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fiterman Hall, which was irreparably damaged in 9/11 attack.

The School of Public Health, slated to open with masters and doctoral programs in 2010-2011, will be the nation’s only such program focusing on urban issues. “I can think of no better way to communicate the seriousness of our commitment to involving the local community than locating the school in the Harlem community,” said the founding dean, Dr. Kenneth Olden. “I want our faculty to be engaged in solving real-world problems that are important to the people of this city.” The school has University status with Hunter College.

Olden, a cancer researcher, favored community health initiatives when he headed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program from 1991 to 2005. He was the first African-American to direct one of the 13 institutes then at the National Institutes of Health and previously taught at Harvard. As he begins recruiting a faculty, Olden is weighing three global trends: the worldwide migration to cities; the aging of populations throughout the developed world; and the transformation of once-lethal diseases into chronic ones, ranging from diabetes to some cancers.

“Our vision is to bring together a school in this international city to address these problems. Whatever we learn here and whatever technologies we develop to address the challenges posed by these three interactive forces can be applied around the world,” Olden said.

Hunter’s School of Social Work will occupy most of the new eight-story building on Third Avenue between 118th and 119th Streets, which will have almost 30 percent more space than its current, 40-year-old home. The existing space at 129 E. 79th St. is leased from Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman and the nonprofit New York Community Trust. They sold the property for $65 million to a developer, the Brodsky Organization; $40 million of the proceeds — CUNY’s largest gift to date — will help pay for the new building. (The state appropriated $95 million for the rest.) The remaining $25 million from the sale will create a perpetual fund for social work grants. In appreciation, Hunter is renaming its School of Social Work after the Silbermans. Occupancy for both schools is slated for 2011.

Meanwhile, Fiterman Hall — structurally damaged when the adjacent World Trade Center 7 collapsed after terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — will be replaced by the spring of 2012. The project was delayed by issues from insurance to winning government approvals, but in November $325 million in funding, including $139 million from the city, was announced by Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Paul T. Williams Jr., executive director of the Dormitory of Authority of the State of New York, representing Gov. David A. Paterson.

“This site is an essential part of the revitalization of Lower Manhattan and of our vision of making Lower Manhattan a vibrant 24/7 community,” Bloomberg said.

The 14-story tower — bounded by Greenwich Street, Barclay Street and Park Place — will have slightly more floor space than the 15-story building it replaces.

The agreement comes as enrollment at the University’s six community colleges is at record levels; enrollment at BMCC alone recently exceeded 20,000. To meet the demand, the University is examining the idea of creating a seventh community college. A special task force formed in 2008 and charged by the Chancellor to “re-imagine community college education from the ground up” has released a concept paper that draws upon the existing schools’ most innovative practices while suggesting policy changes to free educators to do their best work. The panel’s complete report is available at www.cuny.edu/news.