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Columbia Spectator Staff

After more than a year of deliberation, University President Lee Bollinger and other administrators unveiled plans for the largest expansion of the University since the establishment of the Morningside Heights campus over 100 years ago.

Planned for construction are several residential towers, laboratories for scientific research, administrative offices, and academic buildings. The Graduate School of the Arts will move to a new site just north of 125th Street. Retail space will be established or preserved throughout the district.

"Our area of Manhattanville is better off for Columbia being here," Bollinger said. "This is our home, this is where we want to be. We want to grow with the communities in this area."

The plans include an open space of over an acre between 131st and 132nd Streets that will keep east-west cross streets through the area open to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The area will also establish a pedestrian thoroughfare running north-south mid-block between Broadway and 12th Avenue.

"Every cross-town street will remain open," said Marilyn Taylor, a partner in the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. "It's a continuity of circulation." She also said she hoped that Columbia could establish a central corridor running east to St. Nicholas park that would "facilitate connection between the community, water, and development in between."

Bollinger spoke to more than 150 people at a special meeting of Community Board 9 on 125th Street. Administrators stressed that their vision represented a long range plan for the area, and that many of the structures are "envelopes"--shells of what will exist in the future. They are projecting total completion in twenty to thirty years, but hope that the southern portion of the campus will be operating within a decade.

The first stage of the campus construction would consist of several projects: the renovation of the already existing Studabaker building to accommodate administrative offices, the construction of the School of the Arts, a laboratory building along Broadway, and renovations of Prentis Hall on the south side of 125th Street. It would also revamp Columbia's faculty housing on St. Clair's Place and 125th Street to reinvigorate the far west portion of that street.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the architecture firm hired by Columbia to design the buildings, emphasized transparency in its overall designs. "The idea of using steel and glass is really more about permeability than about having a slick facade," Joost Moolhuijzen, a partner in RPBW said.

"It's very important to understand what the site already has," Moolhuijzen said. He emphasized the site's location between the elevated subway line and the Riverside Drive viaduct, and how these two "anchors," along with Prentis Hall and the Studabaker Building, provided the architectural "DNA" for development.

"Although the architecture is totally different, we're still looking for a scale," Moolhuijzen said. To do this, he said, all the proposed buildings will be set back from the lot line ten feet.

"The context here is about urban design strengthening urban identity," he said.

To carry out their plans, Columbia is seeking a zoning change from M-1 Manufacturing to a generalized R-8 mixed-use zoning with allowances for manufacturing. These changes will give the campus a roughly twenty story skyline. These changes must be approved by several different levels of government in what is known as the Universal Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

According to administrators, the University plans to enter the process this fall and complete it by the summer of 2005. To carry out the plan, Columbia must also acquire all the property in the area. The University already controls 42 percent of the land in the area, and Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin says that they are in "active negotiation" with others in the vicinity.

The presentation also included a major section on the economic benefits of an expansion, specifically the jobs that will be created. "At this point, only twelve percent of the people who work in this area work in the production and distribution of goods," said Emily Lloyd, vice president for government and community relations.

Warren Whitlock, Columbia's construction coordinator, offered the University's projected economic impact. He said that 1300 jobs will be created after phase one of the construction is completed in ten years, and when the entire project is completed, 8900 net new jobs will be created.

These figures do not count jobs that may be moved to the Manhattanville campus from other sites. The construction of the new campus itself will also generate employment.

Mark Burstein, vice president of facilities management, measured this figure in "person-years": one person working for one year on the project. Because construction jobs can be highly specific and certain people may only be employed for a few weeks, Burstein said he felt that this measure was the best way to illustrate the net employment.

He said that phase one of the expansion would include 5600 person-years of employment. The entire thirty year project will require 28,000 person-years. "If construction were level, it would employ 960 people for 30 years," Burstein explained.

Whitlock and Burstein also stressed that these jobs would go to people who need them, pointing to targets that the University has in place to ensure participation of minorities, woman, and local people.

On construction projects, the University requires that minority-owned firms constitute 25 percent of the general work force and that women and locally-owned companies make up an additional five percent each. The owners of any subcontractors follow a similar model, but only 15 percent of these companies must be minority-owned.

The administrators were satisfied with the meeting, and look forward to the process to come.

"I think it went well," Bollinger said. "I think people need time in order to realize that this is a genuine discussion we're asking for. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe it was of benefit to the community."

Bollinger saw this expansion as "an opportunity we don't want to let pass by. If we cannot really have the opportunity to develop the entire site, then we won't do it at all. It's really that important I think."

Columbia has held several "town hall" discussion to seek community dialogue concerning the plans, but last night's presentation was seen as an official unveiling ceremony.

Some at the meeting wondered whether Columbia's expansion would be good for the community, raising concerns about affordable housing, jobs, and promises broken by Columbia in the past. Some also criticized the format of the presentation.

"Do you not discern the profound disconnect between your presentation and what's said here?" Nellie Bailey, the President of the Harlem Tenants Council, asked during a question and answer period.

"You turned us down on a request to have an open forum with the community," she said. "Culture is nice, but it's better to have a roof over your head and a full belly."

Bollinger responded by saying, "It's very easy to turn Columbia into an object that is responsible for everything that is wrong and unjust. I believe that Columbia does a lot to address those wrongs."