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Manhattan Borough Community College Building Damaged On Sept 11 Emerges As A Reconstructed Jewel

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hours after the twin towers vanished from New York City's skyline on Sept. 11, 2001, nearby Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College remained standing.

But covered in debris and a heaping pile of mangled steel _ with its windows blown out _ the building was damaged beyond repair.

Nearly 11 years later, a newly reconstructed $325 million Fiterman Hall is set to open Monday. BMCC students, many of whom were forced to attend class in trailers along the West Side Highway since 9/11, will return to Fiterman for the first time since much of lower Manhattan was devastated.

``It was a very demoralized area here around the World Trade Center,'' said G. Scott Anderson, BMCC's vice president of administration and planning. ``But this resurrection of Fiterman signifies that there is a rebirth, a renewal down here.''

Out of the rubble of Sept. 11, a revitalized World Trade Center site is emerging. In June, the final steel beam was lifted atop one of the complex's skyscrapers, and construction is nearing completion on the project's crown jewel, the 104-story One World Trade Center tower. Both are expected to open next year.

Seven World Trade Center _ rebuilt after its fiery collapse left Fiterman Hall uninhabitable _ opened in 2006.

For Fiterman, however, its long road to recovery was not without its obstacles.

The rebuilding process was delayed by arguments over funding among insurers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city and the state agency in charge of college buildings. There were also concerns over toxins in the building, which had been officially condemned.

Ultimately BMCC, part of the City University of New York system, received the money it needed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in 2008 that the city would even give $53 million more than it had originally promised, bringing its total contribution to $139 million.

By 2009, the old Fiterman Hall was demolished, and construction began.

Today, the sleek 400,000-square-foot building houses 80 classrooms, an art gallery and a music ensemble room. It's modern and bright, thanks in part to giant window panels that flood Fiterman's halls with sunlight.

The design is part of an effort to illuminate the building's interior, bringing a sense of light to an area once darkened by thick plumes of acrid smoke.

Because of Fiterman's proximity to the World Trade Center, students and faculty on 9/11 could see people plunge to their deaths from the windows of the burning towers. BMCC's president, Antonio Perez, still remembers the smell of burning diesel and the wave of tumbling debris that swept through the streets and blanketed everything in dust.

Fiterman Hall was immediately evacuated after the first plane hit, but eight BMCC students and alumni died that day in the towers, including a firefighter, an emergency medical technician and six others who worked in the World Trade Center.

``That day will always be in our memory, but we're determined to look ahead to the future,'' Perez said.

That future includes a burgeoning student population. The college now boasts a record 24,000 students enrolled _ up from 17,000 in 2001 _ giving it the largest undergraduate student body of any school in New York City, Perez said.

Even in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the attacks hardly kept students from returning to school.

``We had students sneak through the blockades and barricades, showing up on campus wanting to know when they could return to class,'' Perez said.

Every year, the college holds a small memorial service to commemorate 9/11 and the victims from BMCC and beyond who perished that day. But Perez says the school's community isn't one for dwelling on history.

``After the attacks, we moved forward. And we never looked back,'' he said. ``We were able to come back, rebound and provide something positive for our students.''

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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