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Columbia Gets $15M from City to Help Fund Tech Campus

By Jill Colvin | July 30, 2012 10:41am | Updated on July 30, 2012 2:07pm

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — The city has awarded Columbia University $15 million to help fund a new tech school , officials announced Monday.

The new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, slated to open in the Northwest Corner building at 120th and Broadway and other spaces on the Morningside Heights and Washington Heights campuses, marks the latest award in the city's applied science school competition.

The money is expected to help the university hire 75 new faculty members over the next decade and a half, and bring research and teaching space to the school by 2016.

"It is the newest element in the applied sciences initiative that is by far the largest and the most far-reaching economic development effort city government has undertaken in modern memory," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced the deal with university officials at the school's yet-to-be-named Northwest Corner building at 120th and Broadway Monday morning.

"We expect the return on the city's investment in the institute to be substantial," he said.

The $15 million will include a package of discounts on energy and debt forgiveness. The school is expected to contribute at least $80 million in private funds.

A second phase of the project could add space in the Audubon building at the University's Medical Center in Washington Heights, which would include a 10,000 square-foot bio-research incubator, officials said.

The plan is a significantly scaled-down version of the university’s original submission to the tech school competition, which had envisioned the institute occupying three buildings, with 1.1 million square feet of laboratories, classrooms and facilities as part of the school's Manhattanville expansion. The plan would have would roughly doubled the size of Columbia's engineering faculty.

The current version boosts it by about 50 percent.

Still, officials said they hoped the plan would help boost the school's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and spark a high-tech boom in northern Manhattan, comparable to burgeoning centers in Brooklyn and Midtown.

“Morningside Heights and, yes Manhattanville, are now poised to join neighborhoods that we think of like Flatiron, DUMBO, Chelsea and Long Island City as really emerging tech centers," said Deputy Mayor Robert Steel.

The new institute will focus on five subject areas, with a new media center focused on digital and social media; a smart cities center that will focus on topics including green infrastructure; a health analytics center; a cyber-security center focused on data security; and a financial analytics center that will apply engineering principals to financial markets.

Future faculty members said they hoped their research would help fuel new technologies, including finding finding ways to search out hate speech online and develop thermostats that automatically adjust to people's schedules, helping to save energy.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger joked that all that's needed now is a namesake for the building — and encouraged the billionaire mayor to consider a $100 million donation. (Bloomberg suggested Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer put up the funds, instead.)

"Put me down for $15, $20 bucks," volunteered Rep. Charlie Rangel, who hailed the announcement as one big expletive-deleted deal."

The campus was one of seven entrants in the city's high-profile $100 million competition to build a new state-of-the art engineering and applied science graduate school on free city land.

Cornell won the grand prize, and is currently planning an expansive, two million square-foot, $2 billion campus on Roosevelt Island that will eventually house 2,500 students and nearly 300 faculty members, complete with classroom, dormitories and research laboratories on the site of the current Goldwater Hospital, which is slated to close in 2014.

The city also announced that it would give New York University $15 million to convert 370 Jay St., an old MTA building, into a new, high-tech campus in Downtown Brooklyn.

Columbia is currently in the midst of a $6.4 billion expansion project, at a 17-acre construction site in Manhattanville which stretches from 125th to 133rd streets, between the Henry Hudson Parkway and Broadway.

The Manhattanville site has had a history of problems as crews convert it into the future site of the university's controversial Manhattanville Campus. In March, a 69-year-old construction worker was killed when a building collapsed, trapping him inside.

In February 2010, a 51-year-old worker was killed when he suffered a heart attack and fell down an elevator shaft at 3229 Broadway. The DOB issued safety violations then against contractor Breeze National Inc., the same company involved in the March accident.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said the tech facility would be located on the Manhattanville campus.