April 3, 2014 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
The attacks that felled the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, also destroyed BMCC’s Fiterman Hall—and with it, fully a third of the college’s instructional space. But the college rebounded quickly. After a three-week shutdown, classes resumed in eight doublewide trailers set up along the West Side Highway.
The trailers, which housed 16 classrooms, were used until June 2012, when they were rendered unnecessary by the imminent opening of the new Fiterman Hall. But it has taken the college till now to secure the necessary state and city permits and clearances to begin removing the mothballed structures.
“Getting all the ducks in a row has been a complicated undertaking, to put it mildly,” says Scott Anderson, VP-Administration at BMCC. Like just about everyone in the BMCC and Tribeca communities, he is happy to see the trailers go. “In both a symbolic and practical sense, people feel really good about finally being rid of them,” he says.
As Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1, told the Downtown Express, the structures, which had stood idle for nearly two years, eventually came to be viewed as a blight in the neighborhood.
Coming out of retirement
To be sure, the trailers filled a critical need for classroom space for over 12 years. Moreover, in the fall of 2012, five months after the trailers were mothballed, they were lent to FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—for use in post-Sandy disaster relief efforts. The trailers were also made available to DC37, the municipal employee union, when its downtown headquarters were flooded by the storm.
“It’s remarkable that the trailers helped our community get back on its feet after not one, but two major disasters,” says Thomas Ching, BMCC’s Director of Buildings and Grounds. And while the trailers themselves are being disposed of, the furniture they held has been donated to other CUNY institutions. “Even as the trailers go, their legacy lives on in terms of sustainability.”
In dismantling the trailers, the contracting firm of Slater Associates took pains to keep pedestrian walkways clear of debris and otherwise ensured that safety was not compromised.
“Since these are doublewide trailers, the work initially involved separating the two halves, which are joined by a heavy steel beam,” explains Jerry Bivona of Slater Associates. “In the interests of safety, we did the first stage of the dismantling by hand, and then came in with machines to take down the rest.” The pieces were then trucked up the West Side Highway to a processing facility.
Repairs and restoration
While the pavement on which the trailers sat will require repairs, it appears in reasonably good shape and restoration is expected to go smoothly. “We’ll make sure that the sidewalks are restored, the trees are protected and all cobblestones lie flat,” says Bivona. “Ideally, when the work is completed, you shouldn’t be able to tell that the trailers were ever there.”
For BMCC and the Tribeca community, the removal of the trailers is both a seminal event in local history and a cause for rejoicing.
“It means that we’re moving forward and building something positive,” says Ching. “Of course, that very resilience and determination has defined BMCC since the day it opened.”