On March 23, a Topping Out Ceremony on the construction site of the new Fiterman Hall marked closure of the structural steel phase of the building project. The event started with a ritual signing of the final beam, and ended as the beam was ceremonially hoisted into place.
The Fiterman project team includes The City University of New York (CUNY), Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Jaros Baum & Bolles (JBB), Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers and Hunter Roberts Construction Group.
The event was held on the third floor of the partially constructed, new Fiterman Hall. White tarp blocked the rain and orange netting guided guests in complimentary hard hats to over a dozen round tables where they listened to speakers and enjoyed a lavish hot buffet.
Honoring the construction team
Jay Hershenson, Senior Vice Chancellor of University Relations and Secretary of the CUNY Board of Trustees, opened the ceremony.
The purpose of the Topping Out event, he said, “is to honor the construction workers and in particular, the structural steel and related workers that have worked so hard to put this building together.”
He also thanked elected city, state and federal officials “who have stood by BMCC from the very beginning,” giving particular praise to New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his staff, as well as to Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellerman, among others.
A brand new Fiterman Hall
CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Allan Dobrin, who was introduced by Hershenson as “the key manager, the key architect, the key visionary responsible for CUNY’s operations,” said that while he speaks at a number of Topping Out ceremonies, “This one is different.”
He remembered being across the street from Fiterman Hall on September 10, 2001 with his family, pointing to the nearby World Trade Center towers and telling his children, “When I was your age, those buildings didn’t exist,” adding, “and the next morning they didn’t.”
Dobrin thanked New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, DASNY President Paul Williams, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and others including Jay Hershenson, “who resisted a lot of pressure that there be other solutions for Fiterman Hall—other than the right solution, which was that a new Fiterman Hall would be here, on this spot—a brand new building.”
He also thanked BMCC President Antonio Pérez "for understanding the symbolism of having this building here. He never wavered, never caved, and understood that we couldn’t take a compromised, polluted building and put our students back in that building.”
Building a future
“I’m happy today, to be here witnessing the placing of the last steel beam of Fiterman Hall,” said BMCC President Antonio Pérez, who thanked “the steadfastness” of CUNY chancellors and vice chancellors who made the Fiterman project a reality. “It wasn’t easy at times,” he said. “It was a process that took diligence and commitment.”
He warmly thanked the Fiterman family, represented at the event by Steve Fiterman, whose parents, Shirley and the late Miles Fiterman, donated the original building in 1993 that was named in their honor.
Pérez also thanked BMCC Foundation Board members Elizabeth Butson, Raymond O’Keefe, Jr. and Sheldon Cohen—as well as Robert Douglass, President of the Alliance for Downtown New York—and shared a connection with one person in the audience, CBS reporter Lou Young.
“The day after 9-11,” said Pérez, “I was trying to find a mechanism to communicate with our students; so I looked out the window, and there lined up were all these news trucks.”
He offered CBS reporter Lou Young “a birds-eye view”—from BMCC—of the search-and-recovery efforts at the nearby World Trade Center site, and asked that in exchange, the newscaster communicate to BMCC students, “We will be open. BMCC will be here for you.”
Impacting generations to come
“Just look around you,” Pérez said, referring to the Fiterman building, in progress.
“Look at the beams themselves, and you can appreciate the solid and inspiring infrastructure. Every beam in this building reflects the strength, the commitment, of the men and women who put this building together. It’s been a harsh winter, but they did not stop. And we will be here, with a brand new building, for the Fall semester, 2012.”
He noted that the Fiterman project will impact “23,000-plus students of BMCC, from 155 countries,” and will provide a 400,000-square-foot, 14-story building of not just classrooms, but a stunning first-floor atrium, art gallery, computer labs, library and assembly rooms.
“The hard-working, talented men and women here are not just building a building,” said Pérez, “they’re building a stronger future for New York City, and many generations of BMCC students to come.”
Steve Fiterman echoed the same sentiment. “Looking forward,” he said, “it is the future that you’re building, more than brick and mortar.”
The Fiterman project “is helping to heal a wound that has been felt throughout the nation,” said DASNY President Paul Williams. “This work has continued not only through tough weather, but through an economy that has been particularly difficult for the hard-working men and women who built this city.”
He thanked the DASNY staff and others, saying “This building is hope manifest, and it is building the future; erecting dreams with steel and cement and glass. This building is about the students who have a chance to study here, to use what they learn to make this a better city, a better state, and hopefully, a better nation.”
James McKenna, Chief Financial Officer of Hunter Roberts Construction Group spoke of the many entities that came together to bring the Fiterman project to this point. “A project like this could not happen,” he said, “without the successful team that we’ve had here.”
Chairman of the Alliance of Downtown New York, Robert Douglass, was the final speaker. “The Topping Out today represents another dramatic example of the rebirth of Lower Manhattan since the tragic attacks on 2001," he said. "The Downtown Alliance was pleased to play a very significant role in helping to mobilize the City in the efforts that made it possible to finally dismantle the building and start this marvelous construction job. The new facility…will be a magnificent addition to what was here before.”