Monday, October 20, 2008

CU Works Toward Phase One of Expansion

CU Works Toward Phase One of Expansion
By Christine Choi

As Columbia pushes to complete the first phase of its Manhattanville expansion by 2015, University and community officials have set tentative dates for two projects.

The West Harlem Local Development Corporation hopes to submit a proposal for a community benefits agreement to Columbia by November. Meanwhile, the University plans to break ground for the first phase of development by next spring.

Joe Ienuso, Columbia’s executive vice president for facilities, said that while no definitive timetable had been set, “spring 2009 is certainly the hope.” The University will first have to clear legal hurdles, including the completion of the public review process.

Construction work will begin with the demolition of buildings that currently occupy two patches of land bounded by 130th and 125th streets to the north and south and by 12th Avenue and Broadway to the east and west.

The University plans to construct four new buildings in that space, including, as Ienuso described, “a small triangular building” within the property bordered by 125th and 129th streets, and “the science center, the new SIPA building, and a lantern-shaped building between them” on the larger property between 129th and 130th streets.

The design commission for all four buildings was awarded to Renzo Piano Building Workshop, a Paris-based firm also responsible for the New York Times’ headquarters.

In consultation with the University, the workshop has been designing through a “very dynamic process, very much informed by the occupants of the building, how a building will be put to use,” Ienuso said.

Ienuso said all the buildings were “in very different stages of the design process,” and that none of the designs had been completed.

Two contractors, Bovis Lend Lease and McKissack & McKissack—the oldest African-American contract management firm in the country—have been hired for the first phase of construction.
As part of the large underground “bathtub” portion of the new campus, construction will involve the pouring of a single foundation for the three buildings between 129th and 130th streets, as opposed to three separate foundations. The below-grade layer would be extended throughout the new campus for laboratory space, a central energy plant, and a bus depot intended to shift traffic to the lower level.

“From an urban planning perspective, we’re taking advantage of fixing the below-grade level so we can have the prime condition of the streets above,” Ienuso said of the “bathtub.”

That aspect of the University’s plan has come under sharp criticism from community members who allege it would put the area at risk of flooding. Local-business owner Nick Sprayregen, who is one of the two remaining holdouts in the expansion zone that have refused to strike a relocation deal with Columbia, filed a lawsuit against the University earlier this year over the alleged environmental dangers of the “bathtub.” His suit was dismissed in September.
Ienuso defended the “bathtub” proposal, stating that the University was adhering to environmental standards.

As the architectural plans evolve, the Local Development Corporation is working to complete a proposal for a community benefits agreement.

“We have not officially submitted our proposal, but we’ve put a deadline on ourselves for by the end of this month,” LDC officer Maritta Dunn said. “We’re meeting with the University on a regular basis to try to finish this up.”

The community benefits agreement would allocate $150 million from the University to the neighborhood for a variety of purposes, including affordable housing in the expansion zone.
Dunn said the LDC has been meeting every week for the last two years to discuss the community benefits agreement.

Dunn expressed hope that the LDC proposal would be approved quickly. The delay in its release “has been a roadblock to them [the University], so we would hope and I don’t expect them to take very long in responding,” she said.

Along with the community benefits agreement proposal, the LDC, which operates on a volunteer basis, has requested advance cash funding for a permanent staff.

No comments: