WITHIN THE FAMILY
Approaching the Final Frontier: Space
By Alex Sachare '71
Since assuming the presidency nearly two years ago, Lee C. Bollinger
repeatedly has cited one challenge as the biggest facing Columbia
in the foreseeable future. "The University is in deep need of space,"
Bollinger told a town hall-style meeting of the University Senate
on January 30. "That is a message that is incontrovertible."
Columbia is much smaller than its peers and much more "land-locked"
by urban development. At the same time, the space demands of teaching
and research are ever growing, ever expanding. That Columbia does
not have enough space today is problem enough; that there are few
available areas in which to expand that meet most (forget about
all) of the University's criteria severely exacerbates the problem.
That is why Manhattanville has entered the University lexicon.
In Columbia-speak, it refers to a 20-acre chunk of land in what
otherwise might be known as West Harlem, bounded roughly by 125th
and 133rd Streets, Broadway and 12th Avenue. It's smaller than it
sounds, as 125th Street runs diagonally and is really more like
129th Street at that point, so we're basically talking about four
Historically, Columbia has addressed its space needs by relocating,
from Trinity Church to 49th Street to Morningside Heights. In each
case, Columbia moved to a new area as it was beginning to be developed
and when land was available.
That is no longer possible, at least in Manhattan, where no site
could accommodate a new Columbia campus. Occasionally, there has
been talk of a suburban campus in the Hudson Valley north of the
city, but this has never been anything more than talk. In recent
years, Columbia has gone in the opposite direction, reaffirming
its status as "Columbia University in the City of New York" and
embracing its connections to the city. And so it has turned closer
to home in looking for places to expand, which brings us back to
"This is a very special opportunity," says Bollinger. "It's contiguous,
and having something that is proximate is almost always better than
a satellite campus."
Columbia can't obtain the space it needs directly adjacent to the
Morningside Heights campus because the area is densely developed.
Manhattanville may be the next best thing.
In this vision, Columbia in a couple of decades or so would have
three thriving campuses in Upper Manhattan - Morningside Heights,
Manhattanville and Washington Heights. Manhattanville is within
one-half mile of the Morningside Heights campus and a short subway
ride from the Medical Center. Students could schedule a 10 a.m.
class in Hamilton Hall and have plenty of time to get to a 1 p.m.
class on the Manhattanville campus, grabbing lunch along the way.
Another virtue of the site that the University has cited is a relative
lack of density. Columbia already owns or leases more than one-third
of the land in Manhattanville, including Prentis Hall and a large
apartment building on the south side of 125th Street. Much of the
rest houses small businesses, including several auto repair shops,
with a bus depot at the northern end. If Columbia has learned anything
from its history, it is that it must incorporate these businesses
into its planning and treat them fairly by designing new facilities
in the immediate area for those willing to relocate, and for those
unwilling to move, either building around them or buying them out
for an equitable price. The last thing Columbia needs is another
Morningside Park gym.
Toward that end, the administration has held a number of meetings
- open houses, town hall-style discussions and informal chats -
with members of the Columbia community, from students to area residents.
Top officials such as Bollinger, Senior Executive V.P. Robert Kasdin,
Executive V.P. Government and Community Affairs Emily Lloyd and
V.P. Facilities Management Mark Burstein have participated. Many
more meetings are scheduled and planned, and the administration
is to be commended for this and encouraged to keep the process as
transparent and the dialogue as open as possible.
What would Manhattanville be used for? At the Senate meeting, Bollinger
ticked off the sciences, a new home for the School of the Arts,
a possible expansion of the School of International and Public Affairs
and housing as four possibilities, but stressed that everything
was up for discussion.
One thing, however, is certain: This will be a long process. Columbia
still has to acquire rights to the majority of the land, obtain
zoning changes, amicably relocate businesses and the few residents
in the area and develop plans that are far more detailed than the
current conceptual drawings. The University also needs to raise
the money to accomplish all this, plus construction.
Speaking before the University Senate, Bollinger joked about being
“in the very happy circumstance of not having nearly enough
money to accomplish all we might want to do immediately ... We really
do not have the funds to meet all of our needs, even if we did have
the space, in the next five or eight years. We do have enough funds
to make a dent, for the first phase. But this will be with us for