On September 11, 2001, Borough of Manhattan Community College earned the unfortunate distinction of being the only community college in the nation to suffer the loss of a building—Fiterman Hall—due to a terrorist attack.
When World Trade 7 collapsed on 9/11, it fell against adjacent Fiterman Hall, located at 30 West Broadway between Barclay and Park Place, leaving a huge gash in the building’s southern and eastern facades. The site was coated in white ash, the building irreparably damaged, and the fast-growing college’s instructional space cut by one third.
Ironically, that month in 2001, The City University of New York (CUNY) and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) had just reached the end of a total rehabilitation of the building, including extensive asbestos abatement.
“We were more than 90% complete, in a gut renovation of Fiterman Hall, when tragedy struck,” said Paul Williams, DASNY’s Executive Director, who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Fiterman Hall: The latest milestone in Lower Manhattan’s comeback from 9/11
What followed was years of planning for a safe and efficient decontamination, deconstruction and rebuilding of Fiterman Hall, made possible with funding from New York State and City budgets, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the September 11th Fund, a property insurance settlement, and a community effort led in large part by New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“This is a long-awaited day in the reconstruction of my Lower Manhattan community,” said Speaker Silver. “And it is an especially gratifying day for me, as the careful deconstruction and reconstruction of Fiterman Hall has been at the forefront of my efforts to bring my hometown community back from the devastation of September 11.”
The severely damaged Fiterman Hall was razed to the ground this fall, 2009, with reconstruction slated to begin this month.
“Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction will be the latest milestone in Lower Manhattan’s remarkable comeback, and its transformation into a vibrant, 24/7, family-friendly community,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This new world-class academic building is an investment not only in Borough of Manhattan Community College, but in the students and faculty who will occupy the building and the people that live and work in Lower Manhattan.”
Steve Fiterman, speaking on behalf of his parents, who donated the original building to CUNY for BMCC in 1993 said, “I am deeply honored to participate in this historic groundbreaking on behalf of my mother, Shirley Fiterman, who couldn’t join us today. But I want to convey how happy she is—and how happy my father Miles would have been—that Fiterman Hall will once again stand tall on the BMCC campus.”
The groundbreaking starts with a walk from BMCC’s main campus, to the site of Fiterman Hall
BMCC students, faculty and staff met with BMCC President Antonio Peréz and others in the college’s main campus lobby at 199 Chambers, and walked together a few blocks to the Fiterman site, carrying a banner announcing the event.
“In the weeks and months following September 11,” said President Pérez, “BMCC drew strength from the unbreakable determination of its students and staff—and from an incredible outpouring of compassion and support from our friends and neighbors, here in New York and across the nation. The result: BMCC has come back stronger, bigger and better, with an enrollment today of over 21,000 degree students from some 155 countries and a richer and more diverse curriculum than ever before.”
New York City Council member Alan Gerson, who was part of the walk and the process that brought BMCC to this day said, “Regaining Fiterman was a test of our will as a college and as a community. When you stick together and work as a team, you get the job done. We’re going to finally break ground on the new Fiterman Hall. It’s a beautiful day.”
BMCC Student Government Association President Lin Yi invited other students to join the walk. “9/11 robbed us of our beloved Fiterman,” he said. “The trailers on West Street [which were installed to help offset the loss of classroom space] were a constant reminder of 9/11. They can be removed at last. Everyone benefits. The new space expands the college and the college expands minds.”
New York City Council member Charles Barron, another key supporter of BMCC, spoke to students gathered for the event, reminding them of their part in the historic rebuilding.
“When the story is told about 9/11,” said Barron, “they should never leave out BMCC. It is you who are the real spirit of the success of the rebuilding of Fiterman Hall. It’s so good to win one—let’s make sure the opportunities for students to continue their education are maintained.”
A tent, a shovel and a new beginning
Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Goldstein, President Pérez and other political and community leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a wide arc, to ceremoniously toss a shovelful of dirt into the block-wide, construction-ready pit that is the site of the past and future Fiterman Hall.
Fiterman’s rebuilding grew from an unprecedented federal, State and City partnership—between CUNY, DASNY, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Labor, the NYC Department of Transportation, and other agencies. People involved in the effort to raze and rebuild Fiterman Hall gathered for a program in tented space next to the site, after the groundbreaking.
“The tragic destruction of Fiterman Hall in 9-11,” said BMCC President Antonio Pérez, “brought together community leaders, political leaders, government agencies at the local, state and federal level, and many other entities to show our students that we believe in their future, and that the future of our City depends on our investment in their education today.”
BMCC: An integral part of the Lower Manhattan community
In many ways, that partnership was shaped by the World Trade Center Redevelopment Community of Community Board 1, and at bi-weekly Community Outreach Meetings of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC).
In addition, CUNY set up a Community Advisory panel that included Community Board 1 representatives, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members, residents, environmental advocates, BMCC faculty, and members from the LMCCC and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
“The entire downtown community would like to thank everyone that worked to make the abatement and demolition of the World-Trade-Center-damaged Fiterman Hall a safe and uneventful one—it is a textbook example of the public process working,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, Vice-Chair of Community Board 1 and Chair of the WTC Redevelopment Committee.
Rebuilding, and keeping pace with a growing BMCC
Losing access to Fiterman Hall, which was donated to CUNY on behalf of BMCC by Miles and Shirley Fiterman in 1993, reduced BMCC’s classroom space by one third—an increasingly dire reality as changes in the economy have caused community college populations to swell with individuals looking to redirect their careers.
Recently, Chancellor Goldstein reported that enrollment in CUNY’s community colleges has increased 31 percent since 1999. BMCC’s enrollment has increased more than 13 percent since last year, with 21,000 degree-seeking and 10,000 continuing education students currently attending classes, setting the groundwork for their long-term academic goals, upgrading their employment skills and redirecting their careers—as they strive to overcome the challenges of today’s economic environment.
“A powerful signal has been sent throughout the world confirming that our society deeply values higher education opportunity here in downtown Manhattan,” said CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. “Public education is the engine that drives our workforce and economic development, our innovation, and our competitiveness.”
The new 14-floor, environmentally friendly Fiterman Hall, projected for completion in 2012 and designed by the architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, will provide 96 classrooms, office space, community gathering areas, a conference center, art gallery and café.