By Megan Finnegan Bungeroth
Now that the winner of the high-powered competition among top universities to institute a new state-of-the-art tech campus has been named, New Yorkers can begin to gauge the implications of hosting the future Cornell/Technion campus on Roosevelt Island.
The city had offered several potential sites, all to be given for free to the winning institution along with $100 million in supporting infrastructure improvements. The search was for a university or partnership of schools that could best design and implement a new school to churn out technically focused graduates and boost the city’s economy as well as its credentials as a destination for tech companies and talent in the same way Silicon Valley has.
After months of vying between big-name schools like Stanford, Columbia, NYU and Carnegie Mellon, the Cornell University/Technion-Israel Institute of Technology won the bid to build on Roosevelt Island on the site of the current Goldwater Hospital, which is scheduled to be vacated within the next several years. Cornell plans to break ground on the new facility by 2017.
“We are deeply committed to becoming a part of the fabric of the Roosevelt Island community,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president of university communications at Cornell. “This project is about connecting our campus to the city around it—and that starts with our neighbors here on Roosevelt Island.”
Residents are eager to make sure that the sense of partnership continues as the project develops.
“We’re putting together a community benefit association with not just RIRA [Roosevelt Island Residents Association] but all of the island’s organizations,” said Matthew Katz, RIRA president. “Senior associations, disability associations, merchants, religious groups, the Roosevelt Island historical society. We would like to have an amalgam of interests so that we don’t forget anything.”
Katz said that while he can’t speak for every resident of the island, he has heard only support for the Cornell/Technion proposal. He said that most residents were crossing their fingers in the hopes that the country’s newest tech sector would be close to home.
While some universities in the city have battled their surrounding communities when seeking to expand—NYU Downtown, Columbia in Morningside Heights—Katz said Roosevelt Island residents knew that if a new school wasn’t constructed, something else, perhaps more housing that would overload the Island’s infrastructure, would have gone up when Goldwater Hospital closed. The island boasts a small population of 13,000.
Residents are hoping that Cornell’s presence will attract more local merchants and investment from the city.
“We’ve got the opportunity to use the finances and clout of Cornell and the city to try to enhance the transportation capabilities for the Island,” Katz said. “We’ve had little success with the MTA and even in the work I’ve done with the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. [There will be] ferry service up to 34th Street; we’d like to be included in that. It’s not rapid transit, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
RIRA is also hoping that one of the subway lines that run under the island, either the N/R or the V/M, will be built out to bring another transit option—currently, only the F train stops on the Island.
Cornell is planning to partner with Roosevelt Island schools to enhance their science curricula and bring technology to after-school programming, said Bruce. The campus is planned as a “net zero-energy” facility, meaning that it will supposedly harness as much geothermal renewable energy as it consumes.
It also promises to participate in community programming and bring thousands of new residents, both permanent faculty and staff and temporary students, to Roosevelt Island in addition to the $100 million in investments pledged by the city.
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