October 23, 2001

Duffield Hall Blasts to Begin This Week

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The Duffield Hall construction project will move into a new phase of development this week when the PRK Blasting Company begins using explosives to extract approximately 3,000 cubic yards of bedrock from the site.

The newest addition to the Engineering Quad, Duffield Hall will be the future home of nanotechnology research and teaching facilities. The building design includes basement and sub-basement levels that are currently being excavated. According to Project Manager Robert P. Stundtner, the construction team has reached an impasse of dense bedrock that must beremoved in order to establish the sub-basement nine feet below the existingsite depth.

Since construction of Duffield Hall commenced last May, the joint venture of McCarthy Contractors and Welliver McGuire has made strong efforts to minimize impact on the surrounding Cornell community, especially the Knight Nanofabrication Laboratory that performs precision research nearby. Nanoscale studies are conducted at the scale of one billionth of a meter, which means that the building team must operate under strict vibration protocol so as not to interfere with sensitive Knight Lab activities.

The Cornell News Service stated that “rock removal by drilling, jack-hammering, ram hoes, and ripping with large excavators,” used to a limited extent in preparation for the blasting, was “deemed too disruptive [for large-scale rock removal] because they require high noise and vibration levels and would extend over a long period of time.”

Alternatively, blasting away the bedrock with explosives “gets it over with quickly and with the least impact on everybody, classrooms and research,” said Stundtner.

Rock blasting will briefly halt pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the Engineering Quad and along Campus Road. The explosions will take place twice daily for up to two weeks, during morning and afternoon classes when people are inside.

“Hopefully because we picked the busiest class times, there won’t be many people around,” said Stundtner. “But we’re going to use the construction workers, the Cornell Police Department, and people from transportation services to help with any traffic management problems.”

According to the contractors, a series of three-inch diameter holes will be charged with dynamite for each blast. Two-ton rubber blasting mats will be placed over the rock to eliminate the danger of projectiles. When the blaster is ready, all other workers will exit the immediate construction area and three long whistles will announce the need to halt all pedestrian and vehicular traffic adjacent to the site. About a minute later, two long whistles will announce the imminent blast. The fuse is a tube that contains a chemical that burns at a rate of 22,000 feet per second.

“It’s a very reliable technology and a very, very safe method of initiating the explosion … The entire sequence should last about five minutes, then traffic will be allowed to continue,” said Stundtner.

The strongest blast is expected to create a noise level of approximately 130dB, which is equivalent to the sound made by a jet engine or a shotgun.

“Maybe the noise will help keep everyone in the Engineering Quad awake during lecture,” suggested Adrienne Dutt ’03, a student in the engineering college.

The contractors have reviewed their plans with representatives from

Cornell Environmental Health and Safety. Dynamite will be stored in a secure facility off-campus and be brought to the site daily by truck, where it will be kept under lock until loaded into a blast hole. In light of recent events, “sensitivity to loud noise is a lot higher today than it was a month ago. People will inevitably hear [the blasts] and not know what is going on … so we’re trying to get the word out as best we can and to as many people as we can,” said Stundtner.

According to Cathy Long, Assistant Dean of the College of Engineering, notices will be posted on the Duffield and Engineering Graduate Student Association list-servs, with details to be published in the College’s two electronic newsletters, the Sundial and the Information Update. Administration in the Johnson Graduate School of Management and the School of Hotel Administration will also be notified.

“Team members will be very responsive in replying to communications and in addressing questions and concerns,” said Long.

As indicated by its website, Duffield Hall will eventually house the

Cornell Nanofabrication and Nanobiotechnology administrative centers,

engaging in cutting-edge research at the molecular level. It will be the

first research facility without resident faculty.

According to Stundtner, different research groups will compete for lab space, fostering a unique environment in which teams from diverse disciplines can interact and share ideas, maintaining Cornell’s position as a leader in the field of nanotechnology studies, while also providing a place for graduate students and undergraduates to work and relax.

Archived article by Adrianne Kroepsch