NEW YORK - Officials broke ground Tuesday on a replacement for a college building that sat empty for years after a World Trade Center tower collapsed into it on Sept. 11, leaving it damaged beyond repair.
Fiterman Hall, a City University of New York classroom building, was finally torn down for good just before Thanksgiving, a year after its demolition and cleanup of toxic waste began.
It was one of two buildings badly damaged in the terrorist attacks, and the structures stood out like eyesores while insurers and owners battled over who would pay to dismantle and replace them.
The second tower, the former Deutsche Bank building, still stands across from ground zero covered in black netting; its dismantling has been plagued by the discovery of human remains, construction accidents and a fire in 2007 that killed two firefighters.
City University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said university officials studied the deconstruction of the Deutsche Bank building as they prepared to take their smaller toxic tower down.
"They started the process before us," Goldstein said. "And the experiences around environmental issues were helpful as we proceeded."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the new $325 million Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College - a part of the city university system - would "heal one of the wounds lower Manhattan suffered on 9/11 and help us continue to make this a more livable, family friendly community."
The old Fiterman Hall was contaminated beyond repair by debris from the collapse of 7 World Trade Center and sat empty until it was dismantled over the last few months.
The new 14-story building will go up at the same site north of ground zero, with 96 classrooms plus office space, an art gallery and meeting rooms.
"A powerful signal has been sent throughout the world confirming that our society deeply values higher education opportunity here in downtown Manhattan," Goldstein said.
Bloomberg, Goldstein and other officials shoveled dirt for the cameras on the bare foundation where the new building is scheduled to open in 2012.
The speeches afterward were disrupted when City Councilman Charles Barron and city university Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld got into a shouting match. Barron, chair of the council's higher education committee, complained of "disrespect" because he was not originally seated on the stage with other dignitaries, and Wiesenfeld called Barron "a disgrace."
The rebuilding of Fiterman was delayed by arguments over funding among insurers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city and the state agency in charge of college buildings.
"It was very complex to put together the financing because of so many different players," Goldstein said.
The 40-story former bank tower was contaminated with toxins from the collapsed World Trade Center, and work on taking it down was delayed by environmental concerns, insurance disputes, the 2007 fire and the discovery of hundreds of remains of 9/11 victims.
The cleanup of that building is finished and dismantling resumed this fall. Officials hope to finish taking it down sometime next year.