October 19, 2001

Trustees Consider Remedies for MVR, HumEc Programs

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Martha Van Rensselaer Hall was built in 1968 to house and unify the College of Human Ecology, but lately it has become a source of disunity, chaos and construction rubble.

Since the north wing was condemned last July, more than 40 percent of the college’s personnel has had to relocate office and classroom space, creating a scene of inconvenience and discontent.

The building’s fate was a hot topic at yesterday’s Committee on Land Grant and Statutory College Affairs meeting, where roughly 40 trustees, administrators, faculty and staff members gathered at 1 p.m. in the Yale-Princeton Room of the Statler Hotel.

Escalating concerns about MVR are being addressed this weekend as the full Board of Trustees convenes on campus.

Patsy M. Brannon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology, said the College’s building crisis necessitates a quick recovery, because more than 575 people have relocated their offices since the summer catastrophe.

“The moving has created a lot of stress and injured our sense of community and our morale,” Brannon said.

“Our College came to the Sept. 11 tragedies in a different mindset. It has made it harder to cope and get work done,” she added.

The problems with MVR began last winter while renovations were underway on the west wing and construction engineers noticed severe cracks in the structural slabs.

The University announced on July 10 that MVR’s north wing was completely uninhabitable and all occupants needed to move into temporary offices.

Faculty and staff members had three days to evacuate after the announcement.

Many people were away for the summer and returned to campus surprised to find their offices had been moved for them, according to Stephen P. Johnson, assistant vice president for government affairs. One professor emeritus even lost her computer in the move, Johnson said.

The situation remains precarious as many faculty and staff members carve out workplaces in the Old Mann building (formerly Mann Library), where they have Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin’s permission to remain for the next 18 months.

The relocation has caused the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to postpone plans to renovate the building until summer 2003 — a one-year delay from the original schedule.

Stephen B. Ashley ’62, a member of the Board of Trustees, worried about further delays. The Old Mann building was never intended for the purpose to which it is now being put, he said.

“While it’s fortunate to have that space [for temporary College offices and classrooms], I think it will be detrimental for the University not to continue on schedule with the renovation of Mann Library,” Ashley said. “It is significant in keeping our college scholarship intact.”

The State University Construction Fund, which is appropriated by the New York State legislature, has yet to agree on a budget for fixing MVR or a time-frame for its recovery, according to Gregg F. Travis, statutory facilities director.

But Travis said he expected the state will soon announce plans to demolish the precarious north wing and construct something new in its place.

He estimated any renovation project to the north wing would cost at least $30 million. If the restoration price exceeds 50 percent of the building’s original cost, then it is likely the state will opt to start from scratch, he added.

Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, emphasized that everyone will have to be patient, because downturns in the economy due to the Sept. 11 tragedies have restructured the state’s budget priorities. This situation has made it harder for the University to secure funds, he said.

Craig Yunker ’72, a first-year trustee, remembered his freshman year at Cornell when the University began constructing MVR.

“[Brannon’s] description was alarming to me,” he said. “I hadn’t had any notion of how detrimental the effect is on students.”

Everyone is frustrated, and no one knows quite how to proceed, said Francille M. Firebaugh, vice provost for land grant affairs.

“It’s a real struggle to think of win-win situations,” Firebaugh said.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts