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Courtesy of Barbara Alper / Columbia University

Construction workers look on as the last construction beam of the Jerome L Green Science Center is hoisted into place. The building topped out on Friday, but there's still a lot of work to do before it opens in 2016.

More than two and a half years after construction began on the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, the first building of Columbia's Manhattanville expansion, construction workers lifted the center's last planks into place on Friday.

The building's topping out—a construction term that means reaching its final height—marked a major milestone for University President Lee Bollinger's controversial expansion project, which has already transformed the neighborhood around it.

Jerome Greene, which is scheduled to open in fall 2016, still has a long way to go. It is a looming nine-story mass of construction beams now, but by the time students take their first classes there, the Renzo Piano-designed building will have a glassy, modern façade.

It will also have company: The Lenfest Center for the Arts and the Forum building, a conference center, are slated to open at the same time as Jerome Greene. Two Business School buildings, for which the University is currently fundraising, will follow.

While construction will continue at Manhattanville for years, the topping out ceremony—which was marked by workers signing their names on the final I-beam on Friday morning—was symbolic for Bollinger. At the University Senate plenary meeting on Friday, he called it historic.

“We've designed a campus that's right for the century with all the sensibilities we have about universities, and communities, and cities,” Bollinger said. “This is a really great, great thing for us. So the little symbols that come along the way, like the reaching of the full height of the first building in Manhattanville, are worth celebrating.”

The topping out came as Columbia's Board of Trustees named Bollinger the Seth Low Professor of the University, in honor of Low, Columbia's 11th president. The title will allow him to teach classes in any school of the University even after he steps down as president. 

Bollinger said he liked the association with Low, who moved the campus from Midtown Manhattan to Morningside Heights in the late 19th century.

While the new Manhattanville campus isn't quite as dramatic for Columbia as that move was, Manhattanville will be Bollinger's legacy in the same way that Morningside Heights was Low's.

Mild-mannered as usual, Bollinger told Spectator, “That is a potential parallel that I feel is very nice.”

Samantha Cooney contributed reporting.  |  @caseytolan

Manhattanville Lee Bollinger topping out Jerome L. Greene Science Center
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