Annual Report: Senate Committee on Campus Planning and Physical Development

September 23, 2011

General Activities.
The Senate Committee met on a regular monthly schedule and had several general ways in which it acted.  In one we received from time to time details of the planning by the Trustees’ Committee on Physical Assets and reviewed and discussed them.  In general our committee found nothing to object to and approved the plans.  Then the Chairman of our Committee, Ronald Breslow, attended the meeting of the Trustees’ Committee and was welcomed to comment.  He indicated that our Committee had reviewed and voted to approve the plans, and in one case he pointed out to the Trustees’ Committee that there was a problem that needs to be addressed.  There are extensive plans for new construction at the Medical Center, but no plans to do anything about the subway station for the number 1 train at 168th Street.  At the minimum this station needs a cleanup and some paint and some signage indicating that Columbia Medical Center and the Presbyterian Hospital are at that station.  Joe Ienuso, Executive Vice President for Facilities, indicated that extensive changes would require that handicapped access be installed, a very expensive proposition for which funding is not now available.  This matter has been put over for consideration in the next term of the Senate Committee.

The September meeting of the Senate committee was opened by its Chair, Ronald Prywes, who announced that he would be leaving the committee and leaving his chairmanship.  The Committee voted to thank him for his service and elected as the new chair Ronald Breslow, University Professor and Professor of Chemistry. Prof. Breslow then took over the chairmanship of the meeting.  He indicated that GSAS Dean Henry Pinkham was in favor of the proposal for a graduate student center and that it was on the Senate plenary agenda for September 24.  The proposal received strong endorsement from the committee.  David Greenberg, Vice President for Finance and Administration, and Patrick Burke, Executive Director, CUMC Facilities Management, then reviewed the documents from the Trustees.  Five projects are being considered for funding.  In one of them a new core laboratory is to be renovated at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  In the second one there is a renovation of the laboratory for the new chairman of the Department of Microbiology.  A new medical and graduate education building is to be constructed at the Medical Center.  A new auditorium and new entrance to the Black Building at the Medical Center will be constructed.  And some changes are to be made on Haven Avenue between 168th and 169th streets.  The detailed financials for all these projects are in the committee’s minutes but not included in this report.  The Committee then turned to its topics for the year.  Prof. Breslow reported that he intended to have at least the bulk of the year devoted to discussing and investigating the new Northwest Corner Building.

In October the Committee had Prof. Ann McDermott of the chemistry department as our guest. Prof. McDermott played an important role in the planning for the Northwest Corner Building.  One topic of concern was the mechanism of governing the building, since it did not belong to specific departments but was intended to be an interdisciplinary building with no special departmental assignments of particular space.  The committee heard that there had been a faculty planning committee for some of the occupancy but that it was no longer meeting.  The committee discussed possible plans for the governance of the building, a question still under active consideration by the Provost.
The committee also discussed problems with the 168th Street subway station. The station is visited on a regular basis by students, faculty, employees, and patients for the hospital.  With general agreement that Columbia needed a consultant to estimate what it would cost to renovate the station to make it an acceptable symbol of Columbia and the Presbyterian Hospital, it was suggested that a consultant should be hired to help with this estimation, and that the cost should be borne by both Columbia and the Presbyterian Hospital. At the minimum, the committee agreed that Columbia should push hard to get MTA to put the acceptable renovation of this station on an early spot in their calendar, considering the good job that MTA is doing with some of the other stations on the number 1 line.

In November Prof. Rafael Yuste of the Columbia Biological Sciences and Neuroscience Departments and Ken Shepard, Professor of Electrical Engineering, were the guests of the Committee.  They are both current occupants of the Northwest Corner Building.  There was some general criticism of the planning process for the building, and also of its governance.  It was stated that occupants for the building were selected after the building had already been designed so there was no significant scientific input into the design.  There are a number of specific flaws in the building, such as the installation of faucets without sinks in ventilation hoods and very low lighting in some of the laboratories.  The guests indicated that it would be good if the building were some kind of Center, with a governing committee, but that in any case there needed to be some form of governance with faculty input as there is in all the other science laboratories in the University.

In December the Committee heard from Prof. Colin Nuckolls, the Chair of the Department of Chemistry.  Prof. Nuckolls pointed out a number of design flaws in the Northwest Corner Building, including the lack of safety showers and their inaccessibility to the handicapped, and also low-grade floor tile put in some of the chemistry laboratories where the solvents commonly used have been shown to damage these tiles.  They are not of the high quality that was installed in all the renovations in the Chemistry Building.  Prof. Nuckolls indicated that the offices with the low ceilings that were incorporated in the building were really not large enough and that there was not enough office space for students. He also said the security situation is not resolved and this was a concern expressed by some other later guests.  In the effort to make the building accessible to people outside the University there is a danger that the laboratories and for that matter the rest of the building could be in trouble, especially at night.  There have been reports of strangers wandering through the aisles of some of the laboratory floors.  Prof. Nuckolls did not think there should be an Institute formed around the building since the departments themselves need to make interdisciplinary appointments. 
We also reviewed the documents for the Trustees’ reading regarding capital expenditures.  One item was the design and construction document phase for the Baker Field site with some smaller items for continued construction and renovation at the Medical Center.  There was also a plan for a Medical Student Center and Medical Student Lounge at the Medical Campus, but one senator pointed out that there was no provision for the inclusion of the Ph.D. students who are also at that campus.  It was agreed that this message would be passed on the people designing and planning the new student center.  Each individual item of the Trustees’ proposals was voted on and approved.

In January 2011 the Committee had Virginia Cornish, Professor of Chemistry, as our guest.  She was scheduled to move her laboratories into the Northwest Corner Building, and by now she has done so.  At the time she expressed great enthusiasm for the way her laboratory and that of Prof. Brent Stockwell on the same floor had been designed so that they could share common instrumentation.  She is still enthusiastic about the building now that she has moved in, and her only problem with her office is a little lack in storage space, which can probably be solved on that floor.  After hearing about a number of planning flaws, the committee was delighted to hear from an occupant who is truly enthusiastic about being in the new building.  Prof. Cornish emphasized the need for a planning and governance function representing faculty input, not just input from the administration.  Prof. Breslow said that there has been a planning committee assembled by Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks, and that Prof. Breslow would contact the chairman of that planning committee to see what overlap there is.  He has done so in the meantime, and it has been agreed that we will coordinate our activities so as to reinforce what is needed and avoid conflict with areas of concern.  

In February the guest of the Committee was Thomas Jessell, Professor of Motor Neuron Disorders in Neuroscience and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics.  Prof. Jessell has been the major academic person designing the new Mind, Brain, and Behavior Building. The building will be at Broadway and West 129th Street, and will comprise 400,000 square feet, with 70 labs in the building and an educational outreach component.  There will be retail and exhibition space on the ground floor and an internal boulevard.  There will also be space for visiting scholars and postdocs.  It will include classrooms and a lecture hall.  It will hold as many faculty as are at The Rockefeller University or the Salk Institute. 
Steel for the building has been ordered, generally a signal that the building will in fact be constructed.  The committee saw some of the detailed plans for the building itself.  Prof. Jessell was warned about some of the planning flaws that had been noted in the Northwest Corner Building, and agreed to see that nothing of the sort occurred in his building. 

 In March Professor and Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh met with the committee.  He described in detail the extensive consultation that had been carried out with academic representatives of the science faculties.  There were four disciplines considered to be likely occupants of the building: nanotechnology, biophysics of single molecules, cellular imaging, and chemical biology.  The interior of the building was designed by the architecture firm Davis Brody with a designer who has built many laboratories.  A consultant was also hired who was an expert in building laboratories, and is now involved in the design of the laboratories for the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Building.  We heard extensively about the documented meetings that had been held in the course of designing the interior of the building. 
Apparently some of the flaws that nonetheless managed to sneak through are being addressed, in particular the matter of sinks and perhaps of safety showers.  The showers were designed in consultation with the Fire Department, but in chemistry labs the function of the safety showers is not to put out fires, it is to rinse people who have spilled dangerous chemicals on themselves and for whom the safety shower is the difference between serious injury and a simple wetting.  This is not generally required for laboratories that do not handle the kinds of dangerous chemicals that are used in some chemistry labs, but the problems in the synthetic chemistry areas probably need to be addressed. 
The committee also discussed whether we should take any position on the ROTC question, which the Senate would be taking up shortly.  There was some general discussion but no formal position was adopted.  Chairman Breslow said that for next year the Committee would continue to examine plans for Manhattanville and look at plans for the Medical Center as well.  The deplorable condition of the West 168th Street subway station was also raised again by one of the senators. 

In our April meeting our guest was Joseph Ienuso, Executive Vice President for Columbia University Facilities.  Mr. Ienuso is also a member of this Senate Committee, but is often represented by David Greenberg at some of the other meetings.  Mr. Ienuso reviewed for the Committee the current status of planning for the Manhattanville campus.  The Committee heard many details of the plans and of the progress to date, and was generally enthusiastic about the presentation.  We intend to continue to monitor the progress, and investigate any issues that arise.

This concluded our activities for the academic year.  Some of the issues that have not been resolved during this year will be part of our program for the next academic year.

Campus Planning and Physical Development Committee

Ronald Breslow, CHAIR              Ten., A&S/NS
Jerald Boak                                  Admin. staff, Morningside/Lamont
Dustin Bowler                             Stu., CDM
Julio Fernandez (non-senator)  Ten., A&S/NS
Guy Garty                                     Off. Res.   
Andreas Hielscher                      Ten., SEAS
Joseph Ienuso  (non-senator)    Admin.     
Dermot Johnson (non-senator) Alum.                   
David King                                   Nonten., GSAPP
Frank Lichtenberg                      Ten., BUS
Virginia Papaioannou                 Ten., P&S
Esteban Reichberg                      Stu., ARCH
Lucius Riccio                                Nonten., SIPA
Tao Tan                                        Stu., BUS
Geoffrey Wiener (non-senator) Admin.     
Breck Witte                                  Lib. staff