February 14, 2001

Duffield Hall Set for Spring Construction

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After more than five years of planning, initial concerns about toxic material use and the size of Duffield Hall, a proposed research facility, have finally been assuaged.

Duffield Hall is scheduled to begin construction on the engineering quad at the end of May.

With the help of designers, a plan for Duffield Hall was developed that will allow for the construction of the building without hurting the ambiance of the quad.

“We’ve been very happy to see how responsive the Duffield Hall [planning] group has been to questions that have been raised,” said Prof. Kenneth Birman, computer science. “They’ve done an outstanding job responding to concerns and a much better job as a result.”

Because Duffield Hall will be a facility used for researching and using potentially toxic materials, environmental consultants from the firm ENSR conducted wind tunnel tests and computer models to determine how much toxic material an individual might be exposed to under various circumstances. These scenarios included testing to determine if people passing by the building or working in an adjacent building with an open window would be harmed by the chemicals used in Duffield Hall.

This data was compared to the Human Health Risk Assessment, the criteria for exposure to certain chemicals. For carcinogens, the health assessment calculated that there is a one in one million chance of cancer death for someone exposed to the chemical continuously for 70 years.

“We looked at what it will take to make the building safe to accommodate all research groups, and essentially the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] … says we can accommodate the research,” said Project Manager Robert Stundtner. “This demonstrated that the risks from exposure were very, very, very small.”

The City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board completed the site development plan review process for the project in December, thus allowing construction plans to proceed.

The construction documents for the Duffield Hall project are currently in the planning stages and will be sent to contractors for bidding.

The new building will cost an estimated $58 million. This price tag is almost completely accounted for by donors who are primarily alumni, according to Prof. Clifford Pollock, electrical and computer engineering.

Once the building is constructed, its research facilities will be funded by outside sources, including the National Science Foundation, and potentially the National Institute of Health, Defense Advance Research Project Agency and industrial support, according to Pollock.

The idea of Duffield Hall came from faculty and alumni in response to a question from President Rawlings concerning which areas of research should be a priority for Cornell in the future. One of the answers was nanotechnology, an area in which Cornell has been a leader for decades, according to Stundtner.

Duffield Hall will provide a new home for the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, the nation’s oldest federally sponsored nanotechnology center. It is currently located in Knight Laboratory along with a variety of other locations.

Duffield Hall will also be used by the Cornell Center for Materials Research and the Nanobiotechnology Center (NBTC).

Prof. Carl Batt, food science and co-director of the NBTC said there will be a portion of the “clean” room dedicated to biological work. This is not typically allowed in clean rooms, because proteins and nucleic acids can interfere with silicone based fabrication. There will also be a number of labs dedicated for faculty engaged in Nanobiotechnology research who are now working in different labs.

“The whole idea is to have shared facilities so there would be an opportunity for people to move in and out depending on how their research applies to the mission at that time,” said Batt.

Pollock said he sees Duffield Hall as serving a wide range of purposes over time. It will be operated by a long-term lease, so if a faculty member has a project that needs research, he or she can get research space in Duffield for five to ten years. “It’s a very special [facility], and we don’t want a department or group tying it up,” he added.

Archived article by Anastasia Handy