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New School's Flood-Damaged University Center to Open Thursday

 Construction is continuing into the 11th hour before the New School's grand unveiling of its University Center on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
New School University Center Construction
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WEST VILLAGE — The New School was just days from officially opening its brand-new University Center building last week when a water main burst and inundated the building with floodwater.

The bottom two floors of the center at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, which have a jazz café and laundry facilities for students, suffered such extensive damage that school officials don't know when they will be accessible.

But construction workers were able to put the finishing touches on the rest of the building — and it will open on schedule Thursday morning, officials said.

"We evaluated the situation, we took it seriously and realized we can move forward," college spokesman Sam Biederman said. "It strengthened our resolve to open the building on time."

The University Center will house students on 10 of its 18 floors, and have academic facilities on the remaining eight. The floors are separated by sprawling staircases visible from the outside, in a nod to the Pompidou museum in Paris, where The New School has a Parsons The New School for Design campus.

Scattered throughout the building are lounges administrators hope will encourage students to collaborate. On a campus that spans a neighborhood, it can be difficult for students to meet their peers outside of class, officials said.

"For a university that doesn't have quadrangles, this is what we have instead," Biederman said.

Skidmore Owings & Merrill architect Roger Duffy, who designed the University Center, strategically placed reading and study spaces in elevated sections of the building with maximum exposure to natural light. Expansive design studios have exposed utilities running along the ceiling, to give the sense of a laboratory, encouraging students to experiment.

The font used on signs throughout the building was custom-made by French-Swiss designer Ruedi Baur, who specializes in way-finding signage, school provost Tim Marshall said. The shadowing of the text is oriented based on where in the building a person is standing — tilted to the right if you're on the left side of the building, tilted downward if you're above ground and upward if you're below.

The building has been lauded for its achievements in sustainability. According to Michael Joy, campus planning director, it is the first building in the city to use an internal filtration system for plumbing: when a toilet is flushed, the water goes to a facility in the basement, where waste is extracted and the water is purified and returned back to the plumbing system to refill toilets.

In the summer, the building will freeze giant blocks of ice each night, when the Con Edison system is less taxed, and will the use the ice to cool the building during the day. And because the windows in the library don't open, there are sensors that gauge the air quality and, when necessary, pump in fresh air from the rooftop.

The building houses the new Tischman auditorium, a vast space capable of seating as many as 800 people. Events will be held there starting in the fall.

Nearby residents previously complained that the construction lights in the University Center's exposed staircases were flooding the streets with light so bright it disturbed their sleep.

The school said the construction lights were required by the Department of Buildings, and promised to install dimmer lights once the construction was complete.

New School spokeswoman Jane Crotty said the school has ordered custom-designed lights, specifically fabricated for the staircase, to help reduce the glare through the windows. The school will receive the lights in April and install them in May, Crotty said.