During the first three years of construction on Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, more than two-thirds of the work was done by minority-, women-, and locally owned firms, exceeding goals for the project.
Fifty-one percent of non-specialty contracting dollars were spent on MWL firms, and 67 percent of trade hours were completed by MWL workers, Joe Ienuso, executive vice president of facilities, told Spectator on Friday.
The release of the numbers came after the Empire State Development Corporation announced last week that it would investigate Columbia’s hiring practices and its compliance with the Community Benefits Agreement, which the University signed in May 2009. The CBA states that the goal for MWL firms would be 35 percent of contracting dollars and 40 percent of trade hours.
The numbers Ienuso released, however, cover only a fraction of the jobs on the site. They exclude projects like construction of the slurry wall and the central energy plant—work, Ienuso said, that requires specialty contractors. The non-specialty statistics, which measure hiring from when construction began in 2009 until the end of the last fiscal year in June 2012, exclude “a big bulk of the work,” he said.
“For these specialty construction services, there are not many, if any, minority or local firms that do that work,” Ienuso said. “So we carved out the specialty construction from those percentage goals” detailed in the CBA, he said.
Ienuso added that Columbia is working to hire as many minority, women, and local firms as possible for the speciality jobs as well.
“We said, look, let’s do the best we can on a subcontractor basis for women, minority, local firms, and we’re doing that,” Ienuso said. “We really believe that we have the opportunity to help drive economics in real ways for underrepresented communities in the construction field in New York.”
The ESDC will continue to monitor Columbia’s compliance with the commitments outlined in the CBA, even though the percentages detailed by Ienuso are accurate, an ESDC spokesperson said Monday. Columbia will work with the ESDC to decide whether or not the current hiring practices are sufficient, and to determine how to count MWL numbers for specialty contractors fairly, Ienuso said.
The West Harlem Local Development Corporation is responsible for monitoring Columbia’s adherence to the targets outlined for the CBA.
“In the Community Benefits Agreement, Columbia University said it would make a good faith effort to exceed those numbers,” WHLDC executive director Kofi A. Boateng said in a statement, adding that his organization will continue to urge the University to improve its hiring practices beyond the goals outlined in the CBA.
City Council candidate Vince Morgan, SIPA ’06, said that Columbia has not done enough to encourage confidence in their hiring practices. Calling the new statistics a “good first step,” Morgan urged the University to release more information on its contractors to make sure it is providing jobs to women-, minority-, and Harlem-owned firms.
“If everything is skewed towards local, well, what is local?” Morgan said. “Is it NYC? Is it Community Board 9? Is it Upper Manhattan? Is it Manhattan?”
Meanwhile, construction at the Manhattanville site is progressing. The steel deck that will be the foundation for the campus’ first two buildings, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center and the Lenfest Center for the Arts, is almost complete, Ienuso said. Both buildings are now on track to be completed by 2016, while the conference center one block to the south probably will not be finished until at least 2017.
The state has also conveyed ownership of the remaining buildings on site to Columbia, including the Tuck-it-Away Storage warehouses and two gas stations, setting the stage for their eventual demolition.
“This is full-bore construction,” Ienuso said. “By spring we’re going to see steel rising above the construction fencing.”