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NYU eyes massive expansion and worries preservationists

New York University is planning a massive expansion that would increase its square footage by 40 percent over the next two decades, worrying preservationists.

The proposal calls for 3 million square feet of offices, dormitories and classrooms near NYU's existing Greenwich Village campus, a new engineering school in Brooklyn and a satellite campus on Governors Island.

The projects will require approval from city agencies and have already been met with opposition from preservationists concerned about overwhelming the historic downtown Manhattan area.

"The idea of trying to shoehorn another 3 million square feet of space into this already oversaturated neighborhood is deeply troubling," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Preservationists fear NYU's expansion, the largest in its history, and other development projects threaten to erase any traces of Greenwich Village's past as the home of artistic and political ferment.

Berman said yesterday he was concerned about NYU's plans to build a fourth tower at the Silver Towers complex on Bleecker Street, a city landmark designed by famed architect I.M. Pei.

But Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said NYU and other city universities including Columbia and Fordham must expand in the coming years.

"These universities attract people from all over the world," Stringer said. "They are the future of our innovation economy. But they can't overrun communities."

The expansion plan, which will be formally introduced next month, calls for adding 6 million square feet of space to NYU's existing 15 million.

University spokesman John Beckman said the proposal is not a master plan for specific buildings but "a strategy for how and where NYU should grow between now and 2031." The university would build a new engineering school at the Metrotech complex in Downtown Brooklyn and would move its nursing school to the East Side of Manhattan, near the medical school.

On Governors Island, NYU envisions an institute that would unite several academic disciplines around a subject such as the science of modern cities. That plan would have to compete with other proposals before the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., a city-state partnership.

The 3 million square feet of additional space in NYU's core area of Greenwich Village amounts to slightly more than the total floor area of the Empire State Building.

Beckman said it's too soon to attach a price tag to the plan, which he said would be the focus of "a sustained fundraising effort." NYU expects its total student body to grow to 46,500 students, up from the current 42,000, by 2031.

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