Columbia University President Lee Bollinger hosted a dedication ceremony at the Ivy League school's controversial Manhattanville campus in West Harlem on Monday, as staff began moving equipment into the first two nearly-completed buildings. The 17-acre, $6.3 billion Manhattanville campus is Columbia's largest expansion project since the Morningside Heights campus was dedicated in 1897.

One of the buildings nearing completion, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, is also Columbia's largest at 450,000 square feet. The nine story building stands at the intersection of West 125th Street and Broadway, looking over the elevated 1 train tracks. It will be fully operational in April 2017, according to the school, along with the adjacent Lenfest Center for the Arts.

Bollinger described the new campus in a statement as "open, accessible"—a cluster of buildings that "encourages the University and community to engage with and strengthen one another." In addition to a neuroscience institute, the science center will offer blood pressure and cholesterol screenings on the first floor, as well as brain science classes for local public schools. There will also be ground floor stores and restaurants.

"To make this a truly contemporary campus, the University and community merge," stated architect Renzo Piano. "Traffic and people will move through seamlessly, without barriers."

The Manhattanville campus will eventually encompass a formerly-industrial area between West 125th and 133rd Streets that Empire State Development, New York State's economic development corporation, seized by eminent domain back in December 2008. A New York appellate court overturned the use of eminent domain in 2009, arguing that Empire State Development was opening the floodgates for a project that would primarily benefit Columbia, "a private elite education institution," rather than the surrounding West Harlem community. The court also found that Columbia had helped create the blight conditions that must precede eminent domain seizure, by buying up the majority of the 17-acre area—with the exception of one gas station and one storage facility—and neglecting it.

The Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, reversed the lower court's decision in 2010, allowing Columbia to proceed with its plans. Community activist groups, including the Coalition to Preserve Community, continued to protest Columbia's expansion in the years following the 2010 ruling, predicting "forced displacement at the hands of the university suffered by residents of the Harlem community."

As part of the Manhattanville project, Columbia reached agreements in the mid-aughts with Empire State and the West Harlem Development Corporation to invest about $160 million back into the community ($20 million to the Harlem Community Development Corporation and $4 million in housing court aid for local residents, among other allotments). According to Columbia, about $44 million of that total has been invested to date.

The entire 17-building campus [PDF] is slated for completion by 2030. In the meantime, property values in Hamilton Heights, just north of Manhattanville, continue to rise. The neighborhood got a gentrification talisman in the form of a New York Times real estate profile this winter.

"I think it's a lot of Columbia pushing its campus north and spreading out this kind of name recognition," Jeff Green, a residential realtor with Bohemia Realty Group, told City Limits last winter. "Your typical student is no longer able to afford the rents that are being charged in the immediate area around the Columbia 116th Street Campus."