January 31, 2001

West Campus Plans Begin to Take Shape

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Although a revamped West Campus is still in the planning stages, programs and site designs are beginning to take shape for the five living-learning houses that will transform the residential experience for upperclass students at Cornell.

This semester, the recently formed West Campus Living Learning Council (WCLLC) Committees will begin detailing programs for the houses.

It will request approval of the site plan in early March from the Board of Trustees’ Buildings and Properties Committee, and the University also hopes to get on the agenda for the February planning meeting of the City Planning and Development Board.

The new buildings have not yet been designed, but preliminary drawings show spaces for buildings and major circulation routes, including emergency vehicle access, according to John Kiefer, university engineer.

“It’s moving ahead at a pretty good clip,” Kiefer said about the plan to revamp West Campus.

The living-learning houses aim to integrate academic and residential life for 1800 upperclass and transfer students, creating a place where they can interact with live-in professors and graduate student resident advisors.

“There will be some juniors and seniors in houses, but predominantly sophomores,” explained Jean Reese, project leader for the Residential Initiative. She added that the Council hopes students will enjoy their experience so much that they maintain a tie with their house throughout their Cornell careers, even after they move out.

“The program focus is on community development within each house, and secondly, how houses relate to each other and the larger community” of fraternities, sororities, program houses and cooperatives, Reese said.

Each of the five living centers will include a dining hall and classrooms. The site plan also includes a 65,000 square foot recreation center, complete with an indoor gym, basketball courts and fitness and aerobic rooms, according to Kiefer.

President Hunter R. Rawlings III kicked off the WCLLC in August, to implement the recommendations two previous committees made in the report “Transforming West Campus.” The President invited 21 students, staff and faculty to participate, according to Dugan.

“We have faculty from each of the different colleges represented on the Council,” Dugan said. There are five undergraduate students, one graduate student, five staff members, ten faculty and five advisory members, including two Student Assembly representatives on the Council.

“We could not do this without the students,” Dugan said.

The Council first convened last October, and in November it divided into committees after the Council outlined specific responsibilities and appointed a staff member and a faculty member co-chair for each committee.

The committees, which include academic programming, house administration, house operations and transitions, and student services, will begin their meetings next month.

It will take “12 months to two years [for committees] to complete their deliberations and recommendations,” according to Reese.

City review, Reese anticipated, will take about a year and construction will begin soon after.

“There really has been a lot of program development work prior to a pitchfork ever hitting the ground,” Reese said. “That’s really the best way to approach the project — get the program really solid, then plan your facilities.”

Reese predicts that community concerns over the project will include traffic, parking, noise and construction impacts, as well as exercising caution while working near the historic Gothic-style residence halls.

The class halls and Noyes Community Center will be demolished and replaced by the living-learning houses.

“We tried as hard as we could to find ways to incorporate the class buildings into the fabric [of the new design],” Kiefer said recently. The buildings, however, do not suit the programming needs of the new plan.

Noyes Community Center will be no longer be needed when each living center has its own dining hall. Efforts to design the space for a gym did not pan out.

The University is looking for ways to recycle the materials from the demolished buildings, and will employ the help of a local consultant.

“We would prefer not to landfill the entire thing,” Kiefer said. “We’re certainly going to try our best [to recycle materials].”

Unlike North campus, where several construction projects are proceeding at the same time, West Campus will consist of five or six major sequential projects, Kiefer said.

First, construction crews will build one living-learning house. Then they will demolish a few class halls at a time to clear space for the other new houses. The interiors of the Gothic-style residence halls will be renovated and the exterior will be repaired.

“That’s the last thing that we’ll do, in [the year] 2007 or 2008,” Kiefer said.

He postulates that the new buildings’ architecture may reflect the Gothic design.

While the living learning houses will meet students’ basic needs, they will also “encourage students to take advantage of other programs and services on campus,” Reese said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the University to improve one of its residential areas.”

Archived article by Heather Schroeder