The New Face of The Commons
By Tanvi Chheda
Aiming to create “flexible space,” plans for a new fountain, eight street trees and new pavement in the center of The Commons will open up the area, providing more space for festivals, street vendors and fairs.
A new fountain has not been selected yet, but will be smaller and conform to a design more traditional than that which was recently removed, according to Mary Zebell, project manager and consultant for the city.
“The old fountain was quite cumbersome and hardly functional,” she said, “It was just sitting there like a piece of sculpture.”
Concerns about the original fountain grew when children were found playing around it and climbing on it.
“With children playing in the area, it was becoming a liability issue, too,” said Jo Ann Cornish, deputy director of planning and development, explaining that children playing around such a structure could injure themselves.
The approximately 7000 sq. ft. renovated area will have a fairly elaborate pavement design, with different colors and bricks, Zebell said.
“[The fountain] is a serviceable and affordable water feature to The Commons,” she added.
The project grew out of an ad-hoc committee Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 had appointed to make recommendations for improving The Commons.
The April 1999 report entitled “Renewing the Design of the Ithaca Commons: The Report of The Commons Design Review Committee” was released after a year and a half of review.
“Originally, the committee was also looking into taking out The Commons and putting in a street,” Cornish said. “That option was quickly overruled.”
“The Common Council then approved the renovation as part of the Capital Project,” Cornish continued. “We then began to hire a consultant who would help in making design solutions from the recommendations in the report.”
According to Cornish, this project is the first step in a series of renovations and recommendations for The Commons area.
“It’s the first chunk of design,” she said. “A lot of the other recommendations are more maintenance [oriented].”
The project is scheduled to be finished by May 1.
“It’s really important to have this completed by May 1,” Cornish said. “We want it to be ready because as soon as the weather [gets warmer], The Commons gets to be a busy place.”
An accelerated schedule is planned for the completion of construction within deadlines and will ensure that the structure be in place for the Ithaca Festival and Ithaca College graduation.
Estimated costs of the project were initially $76,000, according to Susan Blumenthal ’78, (D-3rd), chair of the city’s planning and economic development committee. The project budget recently rose to $127,000 to include the fountain, preparation of its base, new pavement and tree grates.
The original figure was included in the 2000 City budget, which allocated $350,000 for urban changes and improvements such as new lighting for the Home Dairy Alley, improved landscaping within The Commons area and two comprehensive studies focusing on lighting and traffic circulation.
According to Zebell, the lighting study will help determine how to relocate the lights that were originally on the old fountain.
In order to account for the increased cost of the project, Blumenthal suggested this year’s Capital Project budget be reallocated to the downtown area fountain renovation.
Though this renovation is officially a City project, the Downtown Partnership is also involved in the promotion and revitalization of downtown Ithaca.
“We’re involved with aspects of maintenance and design downtown,” explained Gary Ferguson, executive director.
“We want a [fountain] piece that’s cost-effective but also has a distinctive character,” he said.
Archived article by Tanvi Chheda