City blasts CUNY for Fiterman demo delay threat


By Julie Shapiro

Word spread quickly that the City University of New York was planning to leave the damaged Fiterman Hall standing to pressure the city to pay to rebuild it — and at least two government leaders are not happy.

Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called on CUNY to demolish the Borough of Manhattan Community College classroom building across the street from the World Trade Center site as soon as possible.

“There’s plenty of money to take the building down,” Lieber told Downtown Express last week. “Next week it’ll be seven years and it’s a travesty to have that building standing…. There’s no reason that the building is not coming down. It’s ridiculous.”

Lieber called delaying the demolition “stupid” and accused officials of “sitting on their thumbs.”

Silver told Downtown Express the city needs to pay its share to rebuild Fiterman Hall, but he said there is no reason for CUNY to delay demolishing the building in an effort to get funds.

“A vacant lot is better than the blight that is there right now,” Silver said.

Many see the shrouded Fiterman Hall as a constant reminder of 9/11, the day Fiterman was irreparably damaged. CUNY is currently decontaminating the building in order to demolish it. CUNY has plenty of money to get the building down but is seeking an additional nearly $80 million from the city to rebuild it.

After Downtown Express first reported that CUNY Vice Chancellor Iris Weinshall had privately said she wanted to leave Fiterman Hall standing until she got more money from the city, Weinshall confirmed as much to the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo. Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s senior vice chancellor for university relations, subsequently wrote a letter to the Post complaining about Cuozzo’s column — but Hershenson did not deny that CUNY is using Fiterman as a bargaining chip to get money from the city.

In his letter, Hershenson also mentioned that construction costs are rising, so he said the city should put up the money for the rebuilding before the project gets even more expensive. But by the same token, the cost to demolish the building is also rising and will only get more expensive if CUNY delays it.

Weinshall, formerly the city’s Transportation commissioner, used to report to Mayor Bloomberg, as Lieber does now. She declined to answer Downtown Express questions on Fiterman including whether there was any value to removing the damaged structure from the Downtown skyline before there was money in place to build a new building.

Michael Arena, a CUNY spokesperson, would not directly say whether CUNY would demolish the building as soon as decontamination is complete. He released a statement to Downtown Express saying the federal Environmental Protection Agency still has to approve CUNY’s demolition plan.

“Our focus continues to be on moving the Fiterman Hall project forward as safely and quickly as possible,” Arena said in the statement. “We are working closely with city and state officials to expedite this stage of the project and beyond.”

Deputy Mayor Lieber would not commit to the city giving any more money to the project. Asked if starting demolition of the building was a precondition to the city giving any more money, Lieber said no.

“We’ll talk about the money at the appropriate time,” he said.

The city did not give CUNY the money for Fiterman during the executive budget in June. City Councilmember Alan Gerson and other Fiterman advocates then put their hopes on this month’s capital budget, but the city has made no promises.

Gerson said he would keep speaking out until the city put up the cash. He said Weinshall had promised him that demolition would immediately follow decontamination.

“I don’t think we should be posturing or playing political games over Fiterman Hall,” Gerson said.

Cas Holloway, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, called Fiterman “an extremely important project” last June at a board meeting of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

“We expect to be able to work this out expeditiously,” Holloway said of the funding dispute.

At the same meeting, Weinshall noted that the September capital budget would offer another chance to resolve the funding dispute, if the June negotiations failed.

The B.M.C.C. community gathered on Wed., Sept. 10 right outside Fiterman Hall to mark the 15-year anniversary of the Fiterman family donating the building to B.M.C.C. Eight years and one day after the donation, 7 W.T.C.’s collapse nearly destroyed Fiterman Hall.

“Just like Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, the Fitermans had a vision,” said Curtis Brown, student government president at B.M.C.C. “A vision that this building become the center of education…We cannot lose focus on the vision the Fitermans had.”

After delivering a zealous speech — speaking so fast that Brown often tripped over his own words — he asked the students “What do we want?” They responded, “Fiterman Hall!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” “I’m going to ask you one more time and I want the whole country to hear,” yelled Brown towards an even louder response.

Rebecca Hill, a professor at B.M.C.C., spoke on behalf of the faculty union, describing cramped conditions and inadequate classrooms.

Some of the rooms are “so small that if you want to walk from one end of the room to another, you basically have to trip over the students,” she said.

Joseph Baugh, a second-year student from the Lower East Side, agrees, “S700, it’s like one hundred degrees in the room and when you go into the classroom, you have to carry your chair from another classroom.”

The student senator also described the trailer modules B.M.C.C. is currently using to teach classes.

“You can barely hear what the teachers are saying,” he said.

Savitri Prashad, a third-year nursing student said that being in a trailer at night is scary.

“People — strangers — tend to just walk in,” she said. The Queens resident is the student government secretary.

“Let’s give a warning to this city,” said Councilmember Charles Barron. “We might have to come to City Hall. We might have to come to Gracie Mansion. [The mayor] better fix our house or we’ll take his house.”

With reporting by

Josh Rogers and Sisi Wei