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NEW YORK CITY-NYU officials say last Friday’s groundbreaking ceremonies for a controversial new $95 million NYU School of Law building represents the first major construction project begun since the World Trade Center attacks.

The nine-story structure, to be built on the site of a house once lived in by Edgar Allan Poe, is scheduled for delivery in 2004. It will be used for classrooms, offices, faculty residences and the NYU Law School Clinics and Global Law Center. When completed, it will be the first academic building to open at the school since 1954.

Located at 85 W. 3rd St., the 170,000-sf building caused a major ruckus when it was proposed two years ago. Preservationists say Poe lived in the red-brick row house from 1845 to 1846 and that during that time he worked on what many regard as his greatest works, “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” The law school disputes the claim.

A coalition of Greenwich Village groups led by the Historic Districts Council took the school to court, eventually settling for a smaller structure than the originally planned 13-story building, with elements of the Poe house incorporated into the design. The school hired preservationist consultants Higgins & Quasebarth to create a design that retains the façade of the Poe house and incorporates various artifacts from it in an interior commemorative space honoring Poe.

According to school spokesman Bruce Cory, the law school has made a serious attempt to appease preservation groups while maintaining its position that Poe did not live in the 85 W. Third St. building, but rather in a building that stood on the site before the current structure was built. “There was a house there that Edgar Allan Poe occupied for six months during 1845 and 1846 but that house disappeared a long time ago. But because Poe did reside on the block there was concern about preserving his memory, so the law school worked with the community to come up with a plan,” Cory says. “We retained a firm of preservationists and they’ve worked with the architects and engineers on the project to try to retain and preserve such elements from the house that would honor Poe’s memory.”

The final design by Architectural firm Kohn Pederson Fox Associates PC depicts a building 128 feet in height, low enough to preserve the unobstructed sky view seen behind the bell tower of Judson Hall, a historic building owned by NYU that houses the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center. At Thompson Street, the height will be reduced to 38 feet with a 20-foot setback in order to harmonize with the street wall.

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