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Students envision next World Trade Center

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They certainly didn’t look like architects, spread across the classroom in their tiny desks and blue school uniforms, occasionally letting teenage giggles slip out as they described their adult visions for 16 acres of Manhattan real estate.

But the 33 students in Robert Thoering’s eighth-grade class at the Our Lady of Hope School in Middle Village acted not only as architects but also as city planners, politicians and negotiators when they grappled with a project that has already stirred its share of controversy through the city and beyond.

Their mission — to come up with a realistic design for what should be built on the site of the World Trade Center — resulted in a collection of models ranging from turquoise octagonal towers to near replicas of the original, all of which were displayed with other projects about “making the world a better place” at the school’s annual theme fair.

“As far as I was concerned, each group is a group of architects,” Thoering said after he let the class spend an hour excitedly discussing their designs with a reporter. “You are trying to come up with the best design plan for the site, so when you present it to the committee — the class is the committee in lieu of the actual politicians — you’re going to explain to the committee why we should buy into your design plan and hire your company to do it.”

Although perhaps a bit daunting, the task proved inspiring for Thoering’s two eighth-grade classes, which researched the World Trade Center with gusto and made teams of about four students to create their plans.

“We get to build over 16 acres of Manhattan,” said Stephanie Iannetelli, a student in one of Thoering’s classes. “You could just do whatever you want to do.”

But the process was hardly that simple, which most of the students realized as they struggled to weigh arguments put forth by families of Sept. 11 victims for expansive memorials against the interests of developers looking to rebuild.

“We wanted to respect the victims’ families,” Annie Impellizeri said of her group’s design.

But different people have different ideas of what constitutes respect, and one of her classmates chimed right in with an objection of his own.

“They had a mall!” said a smug Jonathan Conaghan, mocking his classmate’s design from only two seats away.

But like any eighth-grader with a penchant for shopping and a need to justify it, Impellizeri backed her argument in rigorous market analysis.

“The stocks are going down,” she said. “If you put a mall there, then maybe the stocks will go up and the economy will...”

She paused, searching for the right word, until a classmate shouted — “Boom!” — which Impellizeri promptly appended to the end of her sentence.

Besides producing writeups and poster-board diagrams, the students constructed physical models of their designs for the World Trade Center site, erecting towers out of foam board and crafting trees in memorial parks from twisted pipe cleaners or ripped bits of tissue paper.

Some looked like they came straight out of a photograph of the original towers.

“We kept the same basic design to symbolize that we’re back and we’re not going anywhere,” said Joey Dicolandrea.

But Anthony Snadecky, who worked in a different group, disagreed.

“We didn’t want to make it look like the old Twin Towers, because that might bring back bad memories and make people upset,” Snadecky said.

Another group even added more height to make the towers “the tallest buildings in the world.”

From Matt Burns’ perspective, city planners should take a look at the eighth-graders’ designs for one very important reason: “Later on in life, we’re going to be working there,” he said. “They should take a kid’s opinion on it.”

The designs may not be built for real, but they certainly impressed City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who got to see their contributions to the debate over use of the site when he visited the school earlier this month.

When he asked one student whether she had concerns that her version of the towers, which soared as high as their predecessors, might attract another terrorist attack, she simply pointed out that the Pentagon at five stories tall was as much a target as the World Trade Center had been.

Blown away by the wisdom of an eighth-grader, all the councilman could say to Thoering was: “They have all the answers.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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