September 27, 2000

New Beginnings

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After a four-year incubation period of planning and fundraising, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s design for new facilities will hatch this winter with construction of an 80,000 square foot building in Ithaca’s Sapsucker Woods.

This expansion will enable 91 ornithologists, many currently working in trailers, to combine their resources in the fields of bioacoustics, evolutionary biology, education and conservation.

“The building of the new lab represents the success of the partnerships we formed with many individuals and departments in the Cornell community,” said Scott Sutcliff, associate director of lab. “The lab builds on this strength, educating students and the public about birds and the conservation of the natural world.”

Private contributors donated 95 percent of the $28 million that will fund the construction and the technological improvements.

The architecture will complement the surrounding wetlands, using natural building materials that match the environment. To provide additional habitat for the area’s fauna and flora, the project will also artificially extend the wetlands onto the farmland north of Sapsucker Woods.

Ongoing research at the lab will be facilitated by the updating of present resources to new standards of technology, according to Sutcliff. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the University provided the funding for the conversion of Library of Natural Sounds’ recordings to a digital format.

The project will be on-line by next summer and completed in two to three years with the installation of a new server located on campus.

The library will convert all 150,000 of its animal noise recordings to a digital format, enabling anyone to access the world’s largest collection of avian and mammal vocalizations through the Internet.

“Our goal is to make the entire collection available to anybody in any format they want. Once we get set up we will be able to stream sounds, slides, anatomical drawings and videos directly into the classroom,” said LNS Director Jack Bradbury.

The library receives more than 5,000 recordings every year, often in analog format which is cumbersome to store and less precise than the DVDs that will now be used. The project will compact the current information into 2,500 discs, 600 of which will be held in a jukebox for visitors to sample the panoply of natural noises including whales, bats, birds, fish and insects, according to Bradbury.

A state-of-the-art teaching laboratory will be directly across the hall from the archives. The vast array of vertebrate specimens currently housed off Warren Road will be moved into the new lab for scientists and visitors to study.

Easy access to the museum will facilitate interdisciplinary study and collaboration on behalf of the myriad of different ongoing research projects at Sapsucker Woods, according to Winkler.

The expansion of the lab will enable scientists to discuss their research and will provide a new space for visitors to view exhibits while enjoying the natural aesthetic beauty of the Sapsucker Pond. From the floor-to-ceiling, multi-paned wall of windows, 80 feet long and 24 feet high, visitors and scientist will be able to watch the lives and behavior of the great blue herons, the kingfishers and mallards that live in the surrounding wilderness.

When the building is finished, the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates will also join the ornithology lab there, relocating its entire collection of 1.5 million specimens for hands-on teaching and research.

“The creation of a new home for the museum and bringing together of the lab and the museum under one roof is the most important development in vertebrate biology and Cornell in many years,” said Prof. David W. Winkler, ecology and evolutionary biology, and faculty curator of the museum.

Archived article by Dan Webb