November 3, 2005

New Buildings Spring Up Around Campus

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There is that huge hole by the Biotechnology Building. The dirt field next to McFaddin Hall on West Campus. The yellow caution tape and orange barricades surrounding Bailey Hall. Even mildly observant students on their way to classes cannot help but notice the cranes, bulldozers and construction trucks popping up all over campus.

According to the University’s May 2005 Financial Plan, Cornell will spend an estimated $732,627,000 on building projects for programs, research and undergraduate education over the next five years, with another $608,491,000 planned for renewal and infrastructure-related projects.

Curious to find out more, The Sun sat down with John Kiefer, director of planning, design and construction. Kiefer, the project manager for all of the campus’s proposed buildings and additions, demystified what Cornell is doing with all the cranes and trucks and tape.

As it turns out, the University currently has six capital projects in the construction phase.

The most ambitious one is the Life Sciences and Technology Building, a cutting-edge laboratory for genomics research scheduled for completion in 2007.

On West Campus, five new residence halls offering their own dining are emerging as part of the West Campus Residential Initiative, which aims to foster a sense of community among students.

Two of these dormitories, Alice Cook House and Carl Becker House, are already completed; a third one, Hans Bethe House, is under construction next to McFaddin Hall.

A community and recreation center in Noyes Community Center is scheduled to open in the winter of 2007 and will feature a large fitness room, a convenience store and a basketball court in the basement.

Mann Library is undergoing a full renovation of its circa 1953 building, which is slated for completion in the summer of 2007. The new addition will have an expanded lobby and a user service center on the ground floor as well as the Bailey Hortorium on two of its upper floors.

Next fall, students walking into Bailey Hall near the Ag Quad can expect the amphitheater to have air conditioning, improved acoustics and larger seats, although fewer of them. An open plaza with a pond and rock structures to replace the parking lots between Bailey and Malott is also in the works.

There are also many building projects on the design table.

In spring 2007, construction will start on a new physical sciences building between Baker Hall and Rockefeller. The building, which is intended for the physics and chemistry departments of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, will feature research and teaching laboratories.

A new architectural building, Milstein Hall, on the north side of Sibley and a new east campus facility for holding mice and other research animals will begin construction in 2007.

A new building for the north wing of Martha Van Rensselaer is scheduled for completion in Jan. 2010. Major demolition of the existing building will begin next week and will be completed by the end of this year.

Lynah Rink will have more seats as well as new locker rooms for the men and women hockey players. Those renovations will begin this spring.

The Johnson Museum will start to expand this summer, mostly underground on its north side. And just recently, an addition to Schoellkopf Hall at the north end of the football field opened to the public.

Amidst the buzz of construction, several important questions emerge. Where do the ideas for the buildings come from? Who decides on what actually gets built? And what is the actual process for transforming a project idea to 250,000 feet of imposing steel and glass?

The ideas for capital projects stem from several sources, according to Thomas Cole, director of capital budgeting and space planning. A particular department needing a new facility or renovation work can put in a request for a project, or ideas can come from the “top-down,” Cole explained.

For example, Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III’s new Life Sciences Initiative and residential initiatives helped spur the construction of the Life Sciences and Technology Building and the North and West Campus residence halls.

Once project ideas are on the table, a seven-member committee consisting of the president, provost and various vice presidents and vice provosts prioritizes these proposals. This Capital Funding and Priorities Committee meets once a month and reviews any project with a budget over $500,000, Cole said.

If a project is approved, the University then will seek funding. Depending on the purpose of the new space, money can come from alumni donations, New York State, general University or college resources, or campus enterprises such as campus life, utilities and transportation.

After getting the green light from Day Hall, Kiefer’s division takes over.

From the minute a project makes its way into the PDC division to its minute of final completion on site, Kiefer and his staff are overseeing the process, managing the project’s daily in’s and out’s and making sure everything proceeds smoothly.

At the onset, University Architect Peter Carp and a selection committee consisting of the facility’s intended users and other stakeholders elect an architectural firm to design the new space. The firm works with the selection committee to develop a program, which lays out in words an overview of the proposed space – what the space intends to accomplish, what work it will support, what people will use it and other relevant information.

The architectural firm then submits designs to Carp and the selection committee, who review and revise the drafts. In viewing the drafts, the committee must ensure the building fits in with its neighbors and also is designed to last at least 100 years, according to Carp.

Cornell’s hilly topography and landscape have a big impact on how a building is designed, Carp told The Sun.

“We don’t want to take a building that would look best sitting on a flat piece of ground and then drop it on campus,” he said.

The campus also has open spaces that are “sacred,” like Libe Slope and the Arts Quad. Carp said that nothing would ever be built on those two spaces.

To some students, Cornell’s sometimes eclectic collection of buildings may contrast with the more homogenous architecture of other Ivy League institutions such as Yale and Harvard.

“If you think of a campus like Yale, you would see a lot of gothic buildings. If you were at Harvard, you would see a lot of brick buildings with white wooden windows.” Carp said.

Cornell, however, has a diversity of buildings that reflect their time, he said. Buildings on campus that appear gothic were probably built in the 1930s and 1940s, while Uris Hall with its rusty steel frame was built in the 1960s, when cor-ten steel building material was in vogue.

“A walking tour of our campus would be a little walk through the history of different styles of architecture. It tells the story a little bit of when our campus grew. I think that is one of the things that sets our campus apart,” Karp said.

Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Senior Editor