LOWER MANHATTAN — Students poured into the newly rebuilt Fiterman Hall Monday morning, nearly 11 years after the collapse of 7 World Trade Center heavily damaged the former Borough of Manhattan Community College building on the same site.
The modern, 14-story brick building at Greenwich and Barclay streets rose after the lengthy demolition of the old Fiterman Hall finished several years ago. In addition to providing much-needed classrooms, offices and computer labs for the overcrowded BMCC, the new school building also features sweeping spiral staircases and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the World Trade Center.
"It gives you some inspiration to push you forward in your studies," said Allon Morgan, 22, a Brooklyn resident who is studying liberal arts. "It makes you feel like you're part of an elite school."
Students and professors alike said they appreciated the breathing room in Fiterman Hall, compared to BMCC's cramped headquarters on Chambers Street, where professors share offices, and students attend classes in trailers. The school's enrollment swelled from 17,000 before 9/11 to more than 24,000 today — and only now are the facilities catching up with the growth.
Before Fiterman Hall opened, Katherine Conway, a professor of business management, worked from a windowless closet that had been converted to an office. Now she has a large window, more filing cabinets, and the chance to teach in one of the 80 new high-tech classrooms.
"The environment does matter for faculty, staff and students," Conway said. "People want to feel that what they do is important and worthwhile."
The business, accounting and computer information systems departments have already moved into Fiterman Hall, and the ethnic studies, music and art departments will move in the spring, when the new practice studios are finished, BMCC said.
A ground-floor art gallery and cafe, which will both be open to the public, are still under construction as well.
On Monday morning, as students hurried to find their new classrooms or relaxed in lounges overlooking the 9/11 Memorial, many praised architect Pei Cobb Freed's modern design.
"The architecture is different from the main building — there's a lot of light," said Alyn Defay, 21, from Queens. "It's really joyful."
Even the new students, who had never taken classes in the crowded Chambers Street building, said they were glad to make a fresh start in a new place.
"We're the first ones to step in here," said Khalidah Kibria, 17, from The Bronx. "It feels good."