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/ March 5, 2014
University Space Priorities Working Group Recommends NYU Move Forward With Construction On Coles Site

Rendering of current site conditions of north and south superblocks.

The University Space Priorities Working Group (USPWG) issued its final report yesterday, providing the university and John Sexton recommendations on how to proceed with construction on the two superblocks below Washington Square. As no new construction can begin on the north block – that housing the Washington Square Village – until 2022, the report focused on the south block and suggested the university move forward with construction on the site of Coles Sports Center.

According to their conclusions, the university is in fact pressed for space. The 26-member group, consisting of faculty and a few students, recommended new construction accommodate student needs. Suggested construction includes 80 classrooms, a large theatre for Tisch, four black box theatres, an athletic center, dormitories for 500 freshman, and housing 100 faculty members and their families.

This new construction would amount to 817,000 to 899,000 square feet in total.

Building on the superblock was also deemed financially viable. Based on the “NYU Capital Spending and Financing Plan 2013-2022,” the creation of a 670,000 square foot building on the Coles site would cost $727,000,000. While the USPWG endorsed a larger structure, representatives of the group assured the cost would not surpass a billion dollars.

“The University need not – and should not – adjust future tuition fees or faculty, administrative, or staff salary assumptions to cover capital costs,” read the executive summary of the final report. Building on this site means the university won’t need to purchase additional land.

“Rather than starting with the university’s proposal to the city and trying to determine whether or not it was accurate in its assessment, we decided very early on at our first meeting to work from scratch,” said Ted Madger, chair of USPWG and associate professor in Steinhardt, during his opening remarks. The aim was “to go back to the data – as raw as we could get it – and try to make a full and complete and comprehensive assessment about space and the university’s need for space.”

“The Working Group’s report is an excellent document,” said President John Sexton in a statement. “While it does clearly affirm the need for added space in the Core and the soundness of our budgeting and financial parameters, the report also makes thoughtful, persuasive recommendations based on the high priority they rightly placed on academic space and providing our students with the best possible environment in which to excel academically that differ from the University proposals in important ways.”

The decision on how to proceed with construction is now left to the university. Yet the USPWG’s final report does not necessarily give the green light to constructing the Zipper Building, the nickname for a proposed massive structure consisting of many towers. As of now, no architectural renderings of possible construction are available.

Planned construction on these sites stirred controversy on campus over the past few years. Most notably, Faculty Against Sexton Plan (FASP), a group consisting of some 400 members, opposed building on the superblocks. Recently, the university and FASP butted heads over the implications of a New York State Supreme Court decision issued this January. The ruling deemed three strips of land located on the superblocks “implied parkland,” meaning approval from the state legislature would be needed in order to build there.

However, the dog park adjacent to Coles did not fall under this category. The university therefore concluded that construction on the Coles site could proceed. On the other hand, FASP and their supporters believe the university cannot move forward with this project, as the city’s former approval concerned all planned construction on both superblocks.

Both sides of the argument filed appeals on the court decision, yet publicly both celebrated the ruling as a win. In January, FASP held a press conference regarding the issue. Community and political support, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, attended the event and commended the FASP for their work. Many times throughout the meeting, speakers extended an olive branch to NYU.

Yet representatives of the USPWG and FASP failed to work together throughout the process. The FASP sent members of the USPWG, along with John Sexton, questions regarding NYU’s need for space. According to Mark Crispin Miller, a NYU professor and active member of FASP, these inquiries when unanswered. FASP later denied a request from the USPWG to set up a meeting.

“Moreover, it seemed likely that our coming in to chat would then be spun as our ‘participation’ in a topdown process whose outcome was foreordained,” said Miller. “Just as our refusal to come in is now being spun as non-cooperation.” Miller also expressed doubt in the USPWG’s predictions regarding financing and academic space.

“We feel it’s important to re-emphasize the fact that the Working Group does not represent the faculty,” continued Miller, “as its members weren’t elected, but hand-picked by the administration, and its chairman named by the administration, with the purpose of providing a belated show of ‘consultation’ with the faculty.” Incidentally, the four representatives who spoke on behalf of USPWG yesterday were NYU faculty members who all live within the superblocks.

The USPWG did however suggest creating a university-wide Superblock Stewardship Advisory Committee, composed of faculty members living in Washington Square Village and the Silver Towers — the two superblock residences. This proposed committee would work to ensure that construction would be bearable and the concerns of those living in these facilities would be heard.