Friday, February 22, 2008

City College Expansion Plans Incite Heated Debate at CB9

City College Expansion Plans Incite Heated Debate at CB9
By Daniel Amzallag

Sparks flew over City College of New York’s proposed expansion and a resolution concerning the relocation of Hamilton Grange to St. Nicholas Park at a Community Board 9 general meeting Thursday night.

City College, a campus of the public City University of New York located at 137th Street, has proposed to expand its campus in the wake of city approval of Columbia’s Manhattanville plans.
While representatives and architects for the college presented their expansion plans to the community board and promised to hear its concerns, they later announced that plans could no longer be changed. This ignited outrage among board members.

“Some time ago there was some time for community input, but unfortunately not now,” City College Director of Urban and Government Affairs Karen Witherspoon said at the meeting, responding to a question from CB9 Chair Pat Jones regarding “mechanisms for community input.”

“We do not mean to exclude the community, we don’t mean to take the community’s space, but we’re very lacking in science, so painful sacrifices must be made. As much as I understand these concerns, we are desperate for this space,” Witherspoon added.

Board members and attendees expressed frustration with what many characterized as “after-the-fact consultation.” City College should have followed City Charter regulations and consulted with CB9 years ago when change was still possible, said board member and former chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc. “Don’t be surprised that a lot of people here are kind of upset that something is being constructed that we have very little information about and is being done in a very nonchalant way,” he said.

The expansion, which will contain new health and science facilities, will yield benefits for the community in its “health-oriented” research, said a City College administrator who attended the meeting. He called the college’s plan “a public goal, not a private one,” and maintained that the campus would remain open to the community.

But, said board member Savona Bailey-McClain, the community should be compensated with short-term benefits and ways to mitigate potential impacts of the college’s expansion. Others took issue with aspects of the expansion plan itself, such as the demolishment of centuries-old trees and a running track that used to be open for community use.

Close to the end of the meeting, Ron Melichar, president of the Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, switched the focus to discuss the Hamilton Grange plan. Melichar spoke of a “four-week window” during which changes to the plan to move the historic home of Alexander Hamilton from its current location on W. 143rd Street into St. Nicholas Park can be made.

A resolution regarding the Grange relocation, and concerns that its facade will face a different direction, had been tabled by CB9’s executive committee for voting at Thursday’s meeting due to what Jones said was “a lack of clarity.”

Local resident Michael Henry Adams expressed anger with the situation, accusing CB9 officers of being “sell-outs” and “doing this deliberately to destroy a great landmark.” Adams entered into a loud conflagration with other board members, and at one point had to be physically restrained.

“What was raised here was not raised at the executive meeting,” Jones said with regard to the committee’s decision. The next opportunity to vote on the resolution will take place after the end of the four-week window.
NB - Columbia University has shown more respect for CB9M than City College that under New York City Charter is REQUIRED to consult the Community Board. This lack of respect goes back many years and many Board Chairs. Fortunately Karen Whiterspoon has assidously, since assuming the position formerly held by Tony Rogers, been working to correct that situation.
Perhaps this is the dawn of a new relationship with CUNY and CCNY in particular.
Regarding the relocation of Hamilton Grange, it is worth remembering that there exists an agreement reached after long and extrenous negotiations which would result in the construction of National Parks Rangers living quarters and a community/visitors center at the current location once vacated.
The preservationists in our midst have focused on the orientation f the entrance to a house that has been relocated several times and reconfigured each time. In my opinion, this is a total waste of time, effort and ink. The Fact is that National Parks will do as they will do and that the Community opinion is not their concer.
What should be of conern to the Community is the Fact that the agreement reached with National Parks, the City, the Community and faciliated by Congressman Rangel is not being abrogated unilaterally by National Parks and the Community once more is being defrauded.
It makes me sick to the stomach to see the lack of focus and concern about the breach of the basic agreement and the nonchalant attitdue about such breach by the preservationist who seem totally fixated on the orientation of the entrance to the Grange and wondering wheter the ghost of Alexander Hamilton might find its way into the Grange.
Alec Hamilton himself would be as concerned as I am about the breach of an agreement with the Community and not all about the entrance way to his home as he was smart enough to have contributed so much to New York City. - JRM

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