November 8, 2001

Life Sciences Building Site Still Up in the Air

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In a teleconference today, 10 University trustees from throughout the country will discuss the competing fates of Alumni Fields and the proposed Life Sciences Technology building.

The trustees are members of a task force which was created by the Building and Properties Committee at last month’s Board of Trustees meeting. The task force’s assignment is “to explore the issues and concerns that were voiced at the last Building and Properties Committee meeting in relation to the President’s recommendation to site the [Genomics Initiative building] on Alumni Field,” said Harold Craft ’60, vice president for administration and chief financial officer.

The Life Sciences Technology Building, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “will help focus the Cornell Genomics Initiative, and house many of the technologies necessary for conducting cutting-edge genomics research and teaching,” according to the Cornell Genomics Initiative website. The estimated cost of the facility exceeds $100 million.

The committee delayed a vote last month on whether to construct the new building on the athletic fields, located between Bartels Hall and Tower Road. The fields are used by the men’s and women’s varsity soccer teams, the women’s lacrosse team and the football and sprint football teams.

Today, the task force will conduct its first meeting via phone conference, according to Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin.

“The committee will meet twice via phone conference before its on-campus meeting near the end of November,” Martin said via e-mail. It will then report its recommendations to the Building and Properties Committee before the committee votes again in December.

Prof. Stephen Kresovich, chair of the planning committee that makes recommendations regarding the new building, said his committee’s work is done for now.

“We’ve planned for at least a year and a half,” Kresovich said. “We’re sort of waiting until the Board of Trustees committee generates questions.”

The planning committee recommended Alumni Fields for the new site for two reasons: “connectivity” and accessibility.

“If you want a facility that’s going to support good research and education, you’ve got to have connectivity,” Kresovich said.

Locating the Life Sciences Technology building on Alumni Fields would allow it to connect to the nearby Biotechnology Building, Corson-Mudd Hall, and Plant Science Building, “so that people, instruments and biological materials could move in an optimal way,” Kresovich explained.

Alumni Fields would best accommodate the space need of 250,000 gross square feet, he added. An alternative site — between Kennedy Hall and Plant Science, where the old Roberts Hall was located — could only fit about 130,000 to 150,000 gross square feet, Kresovich said.

“We’ve been told by the architects that the site of old Roberts Hall is clearly inferior,” he said. If constructed on that site, “the building would be as tall as Bradfield [Hall],” Kresovich added.

The other important component of the Alumni Fields location is access, he said. The new building would need a loading dock accessible from Tower Road, but Biotech and Corson-Mudd, which already have a loading dock, could be connected to the new building if it were constructed on Alumni Fields.

The decision on where to locate the new genomics center, however, rests with the Board of Trustees’ Building and Properties Committee.

“We don’t have any say on the site,” Kresovich said. “All we can do is make the recommendations.”

“The Alumni Fields are designated as a protected space,” said Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services. Other designated spaces include the Arts Quad and Libe Slope, she said.

“The Board [of Trustees] is the one that designates it as protected, so they’re the one that can remove that designation,” Murphy said.

The Administration has considered alternative locations for the new building, Martin said, but did not specify where.

If the Life Sciences Technology building is constructed on the Alumni Fields, however, Cornell will need to create new athletic fields to compensate for the Athletic Department’s lost space.

One possible replacement would be space on North Campus, according to Michael Whalen ’69, director of planning information and policy analysis. The administration asked Whalen to investigate past Trustee actions in relation to Alumni Fields.

“A lot of the land that’s been set aside over by Pine Tree [Road] on North can’t have lights at night,” Whalen said. “The residents, quite naturally, don’t want big bright athletic lights lighting up the night.”

The University is attempting to find a solution that would balance the interests of both the Athletic Department and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The University is listening very closely — what we’re seeking is a win-win situation,” Athletic Director Andy Noel told the Sun last month.

“I don’t see this as Life Sciences against Athletics,” Murphy said. She added, however, that “it feels that way right now.”

This is not the first time that Alumni Fields, dedicated in 1915, have been caught between the competing interests of agriculture and athletics. The original area, which according to Craft ranged from the gorge to Tower Road, and from Garden Ave. to the edge of Stocking Hall, has been redrawn several times, Whalen said.

“From the very start, there has been a tension between the use of them [Alumni Fields] for athletics and for academic buildings,” Whalen said.

He explained how the Alumni Association approached the Board of Trustees at the turn of the last century with a proposal: if the alumni could raise money for athletic fields, the Board would set the necessary land aside.

Meanwhile, the University was also working with New York State to create the College of Agriculture, as it was called at the time.

No sooner had the Alumni Association raised the $40,000 and received an allocation of nearly 60 acres for the fields, than the College of Agriculture was established and needed land for buildings. Part of the land allocated for academic buildings overlapped with the land set aside for athletics.

According to Whalen, there was an immediate conflict of interest over the land. The Board of Trustees resolved it by turning over 12 acres of the land to the College of Agriculture, and adding more land on another border of the athletics allocation to compensate.

More recently, Corson-Mudd Hall, Comstock Hall and the Biotechnology Building were constructed on the former Lower Alumni Fields.

“And the Jessup Fields [on North Campus] were created to compensate for that,” Murphy said. The intramural sports program uses that space.

Whalen surmised that the 1980s phase of construction may have been part of the reason why researchers considered building the new facility on Alumni Fields.

“There was a relationship, and there was a precedent,” Whalen said.

Kresovich said the trustees on the Building and Properties Committee have a difficult decision to make, adding that reservations about the athletic department and keeping green spaces on campus are “clearly justified concerns.”

“We realize it’s complicated and we don’t want to negatively affect green space [or] negatively affect athletics,” Kresovich said.

He also stressed the importance of maintaining an open dialogue during the planning stages, to ensure the future success of the facility.

“The more discussion, I think the better off we’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t want to be involved in something where it looks like there are ulterior motives to do things.”

He noted that all of his committee’s documents are public, and called the 15 planning committee members “lightning rods for different people in the community [to talk to].”

Archived article by Heather Schroeder