B.M.C.C. gears up for new Fiterman Hall grand opening

By Aline Reynolds Downtown Express

After more than a decade, a brand new building named after the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s famed Fiterman Hall, which was irreparably damaged on 9/11, is reopening to students and teachers in August.

The building’s opening marks the culmination of close to three years of construction work on the $325 million building, which is approximately 15,000 square feet more spacious than the original.

The former building was demolished in 2009 following years of financial and construction-related impasses.

The new Fiterman Hall will house 80 classrooms equipped with technologically advanced equipment along with individual offices for staff and soundproof music rooms.

With an enrollment of approximately 24,500 students — roughly 8,500 more than it had in 2001 — B.M.C.C. claims the title of the largest undergraduate institution in New York City, according to college president Antonio Perez. The president, along with administration and planning vice president Scott Anderson and a representative of Hunter Roberts Construction, the building’s contractor, recently gave the Downtown Express a private tour of the new building.

Though the brick-and-glass building, situated on Greenwich Street between Barclay Street and Park Place, boasts 10 more classrooms than its predecessor and increases B.M.C.C.’s classroom capacity by a third, B.M.C.C. is still considerably short of adequate space for its students. Currently, the school offers classes at the college’s main building at199 Chambers St. and at a building at 70 Murray St., in addition to locations in Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Even after Fiterman Hall opens next month, the school will still be half-a-million square feet short of the amount of space recommended for higher education institutions, according to Perez.

The building stands 17 stories high, two stories taller, than the old Fiterman Hall — three of which will be devoted to mechanical equipment, according to Anderson. Floors 11 through 14 aren’t slated to open until the second semester of the 2012-13 school year, Anderson noted.

“[The former] building was built in the ’50s,” he explained. “When you build now, you really have to subscribe to all of the regulations of the city and the state… that includes how you cast a shadow, even.”

Due to the new building’s floor-area ratio, Anderson added, “we couldn’t build higher than our footprint on the ground [allowed].”

The new Fiterman Hall will surpass its predecessor with respect to public amenities by offering passers-by and invitees access to a café, a fine arts gallery and a rooftop conference center. Its ground floor will offer students storage space for close to 70 bikes, according to Anderson.

As soon as B.M.C.C. gets its temporary certificate of occupancy — presumably in time for the start of the fall semester next month — professors will be able to begin unpacking their boxes and settling into their new offices.

Mahatapa Palit, who teaches business management at the college, feels bittersweet about the move, which will involve teaching two classes in the new building starting in August and switching from a shared office to an individual office.

While she said she’ll miss having her office mate as a companion, Palit is eager to work in a new, state-of-the-art building.

“It’s convenient to have an office where you can have the students coming in without bothering another professor who may be working,” she said.

Palit hopes that Fiterman Hall’s reopening will lead to the formation of new alliances between B.M.C.C. and area businesses and organizations that are located in the immediate vicinity.

“It’s going with the overall vision of what B.M.C.C. wants to be in the future… which is sort of a more global institution with connections,” she said.

Howard Meltzer, a music professor who chairs the college’s Department of Music and Art, is looking forward to carrying out his program in piano labs that can fit full-sized keyboards.

The school’s current music room at its main building, at199 Chambers St., is “strangely shaped,” according to Meltzer, and can only accommodate 15 or so students at a time.

“I sometimes wonder what the original purpose of our piano lab was,” he said. “It really looks like an oversized closet.”

Meltzer, along with colleague Sarah Haviland, a visual arts professor, won’t begin teaching in Fiterman Hall until the spring semester.

“I’m very excited about moving to the new building and having a new sculpture studio to teach in,” said Haviland. The new studio, she said, is supposed to have skylights and an interior staircase connecting rooms on two different floors.

The double-height studio, which will be located in the building’s upper half, will be large enough to conduct two classes simultaneously, according to Haviland.

“We’re going to be close to the top of the building… so we’re going to have lots of natural light,” she said. “To have that feeling of space up high is going to be terrific!”

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