Admitting mistakes, CUNY promises a better demolition

By Skye H. McFarlane

The Borough of Manhattan Community College’s second report to the public on the fate of it’s damaged former dorm got better marks than the first, but community members weren’t yet ready to pass the college with flying colors.

At Tuesday night’s public forum on the plans to decontaminate and dismantle Fiterman Hall — the 30 W. Broadway building that was gashed and contaminated by the collapse of 7 World Trade Center on 9/11 — community activists praised an improved public process, but expressed continuing concerns about the project’s emergency response plan, as well as the school’s level of outreach among its own students and staff.

“Our efforts last time left something to be desired,” admitted Max Pizer, a City University of New York representative, when speaking of B.M.C.C.’s first public forum on Oct. 30, 2006. Community activists had scolded B.M.C.C. for giving the public little advance notice of that meeting.

On Tuesday, several community members praised B.M.C.C. for listening to the public’s suggestions, both regarding the meeting process and the project plan itself. Since October, the college has created a Web site and an e-mail list dedicated to providing information on Fiterman Hall. B.M.C.C. has also formed a community advisory panel, made up of local politicians and representatives from community groups, to help the project directors meet the neighborhood’s needs. The panel will begin meeting in February.

The project is currently awaiting the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators on its plans to remove toxins like asbestos and lead from Fiterman Hall before deconstructing it piece by piece to make way for a new classroom building. The project team, which includes architects Pei Cobb and Freed, PAL Environmental and Airtek Environmental, hopes to have new scaffolding up by this spring and complete deconstruction by April 2008. The college’s goal is to have the new building constructed by summer 2010.

Dave Newman of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health said that in terms of listening to the community, the Fiterman Hall process was “light years ahead” of the fraught deconstruction at the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St. — a sentiment echoed by others in attendance.

“You guys have done a much better job with the public than L.M.D.C. [Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which owns the Deutsche Bank building] did and I commend you for that,” said Community Board 1 member Marc Ameruso.

“Marc, can you repeat that please? So everyone can hear you,” said Scott Anderson, B.M.C.C.’s vice president of administration, drawing laughter from the audience. In October, Anderson had taken personal responsibility for the college’s communication shortcomings and vowed to establish an “open and transparent process.”

On Tuesday, Anderson again pledged to improve communications after several speakers pointed out that while the public had received notice of the meeting through multiple e-mails and four newspaper ads, B.M.C.C.’s students and workers had gotten just a single e-mail. Speakers said that because the two-year college gains many new students each semester, college officials must work extra hard to inform students about Fiterman Hall and the emergency procedures that they must follow if a worst-case-scenario — a fire or a mass release of toxins — should ever occur at the site.

Anderson agreed, saying, “Can we do better on this? We’re going to have to do better on this…We really have to tell the story [of what happened to the building on 9/11] to people who don’t know the past.”

Student body president Krystal Garner also questioned how students would be informed in the case of an emergency, since the current plan for community notification includes no mention of B.M.C.C. students or staff. Other speakers said that the response plan needed a clearer, more specific chain of command. Community members also called for more student and labor representation on the community advisory panel; a definitive, layman’s terms list of which toxins may remain in the building; and the training of all site workers to deal safely with contaminants under the U.S. Department of Labor’s HazWOpER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) standard.

The B.M.C.C. representatives said that they would take all the suggestions under advisement before the next public forum, which will take place in about six weeks.