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Columbia Spectator Staff

The University presented its proposal for a new science facility on the Morningside Heights campus to a room that has not always welcomed Columbia's development plans at Thursday's Community Board 9 general meeting.

The building, to be located on the northwest corner of the campus, was among a host of items discussed at the meeting, which included an update on negotiations between Columbia and community members concerning the University's proposed Manhattanville expansion.

Marcelo Velez, assistant vice president of facilities, gave a presentation on the proposed interdepartmental science facility to go atop Dodge Fitness Center on the corner of 120th Street and Broadway.

The administration has eyed the building site for decades, but the project got a jump start in Fall 2005 when the University announced that Rafael Moneo, a well-known architect of civic structures, would design the building. Preliminary construction will begin later this year and is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2010.

"This building would provide laboratory space that promotes research that cuts across many different disciplines," Velez said. Velez told CB9 that, while preliminary designs aren't expected until March, the University will likely apply for a zoning variance, which would allow the building to stand flush with Columbia's property line rather than ten feet back as currently mandated by law. He estimated that the facility would house 150,000 square feet of labs, classrooms, and offices when complete.

Though several audience members praised the plan, a few voiced concerns about the impact of the new building on infrastructure and the architectural character of the Broadway and 120th Street intersection. Velez said that construction would have no foreseeable effect on transportation and that Moneo "is very sensitive to historical context."

CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc expressed uneasiness about the planned uses of the building. "One of the things that will be very much in the minds of this community is exactly what kind of research is going to take place in there," he said.

In an interview after the presentation, Velez said that construction of the building would likely cause Dodge to be closed for several months.

"We've been in close contact with the athletic department," Velez said. "It looks as though there will be a period [of closure]. We're trying, to the extent possible, to overlay that with the summer months."

The new facility is slated to include an entrance onto 120th Street and connections to Chandler and Pupin, Velez said, and may offer the chance to renovate portions of Dodge. "We have been looking at what opportunities exist as part of this plan to improve Dodge."

Reyes-Montblanc gave an update on talks between Columbia and CB9 concerning Manhattanville.

"Their technical people and ours will meet to review the 197-a and 197-c. That is progress," Reyes-Montblanc said. He added that the board is still creating a local development corporation that will negotiate with Columbia over community benefits agreements.

"It was more complicated than we anticipated," said Reyes-Montblanc, ensuring the attendees that those negotiating will be representative of the community-at-large.

"We don't want something to be set up and explode in our faces," Reyes-Montblanc said.

Columbia development was not the only issue on the agenda.

Representatives of Village Academies, which runs charter schools in Harlem, said they will be setting up a permanent charter school which will be located on 144th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard for the upcoming school year. They are asking for applicants currently in the fourth grade. Admission for 60 students will be decided based on a lottery system.