Rumors abound about subterranean passages traversing various quads and connecting buildings on The Hill. Regularly, “Uncle Ezra” answers inquiries online about tunnels under the Arts Quad and various other points on campus.
The topic of tunnels and passageways has interested students at Cornell for decades and is a popular local urban legend.
However, according to an e-mail from Henry Doney, associate vice president of facilities services, the legendary tunnels are just that: legendary. If any tunnels do cross the Arts Quad, they were not put there by humans.
There are, however, several tunnels on campus. Despite not receiving much discussion, these tunnels serve several useful functions.
The campus’s most active tunnel is beneath Central Avenue, between Uris Library and Olin and Kroch Libraries.
Library Facilities Coordinator Tom Cotton explained the purpose of this tunnel.
“This tunnel was built along with Olin Library and originally was used to connect it to a loading dock and fill the library with books,” he said.
Pointing to a pair of welded-over metal grooves in the concrete floor, Cotton explained, “There was a motor-driven track that was used to pull carts filled with books towards the elevators in Olin. Once the books were delivered, most of the track was welded closed.”
Standing approximately 15 feet below the ground in the center of the Olin-Uris tunnel, Kimberly LaMorte, an administrative assistant at Olin Library, explained, “Today we use the tunnel as a connecting link between the loading docks at the back of Uris Library to Olin and Kroch. Everything that comes into Olin and Kroch comes through this tunnel.”
“This tunnel is the main artery of supplies for Olin and Kroch,” concurred Library Administrator Don Fenton.
“On Slope Day, when the entrances to Olin and Uris are boarded up, library staff leave the building through this tunnel and go out through the fire exit from Kroch into Stimson Hall,” LaMorte added. “The doors are boarded up with the staff still inside.”
The Ives-School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) complex has two tunnels as well as several sub-basements.
Ted Bronsnick, project manager for the Office of Administrative Operations for ILR, explained the purpose of the better-known of the Ives tunnels, a passage connecting Ives Hall to the ILR extension building.
“This was constructed in 1962,” Bronsnick said, “mainly to provide an indoor passage to the extension building and conference center.”
Commenting on the current Ives construction projects, which include a reutilization of the Ives extension tunnel, Bronsnick added, “Right now this is involved with the construction above. We are going to maintain it as a maintenance tunnel, but we are going to keep it closed because of a low ceiling over a staircase.”
Another tunnel, below the classroom building at Ives, serves maintenance functions, providing passage for water and heating supply and duct work related to Lake Source Cooling as well as providing shelter for mice.
There is only one tunnel at Cornell that is easily accessible to students. This tunnel, deep below Garden Avenue, connects Barton Hall to Teagle Hall. Connected to the buildings via steep gray stairwells, its purpose is to allow athletes to travel between the buildings in athletic attire during cold weather.
Archived article by Chris Mitchell