November 6, 2007

Is C-Town Missing A Student Center?

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Heads up on the latest resident that may be moving into Collegetown: a new community center. Daniel Budish ’09 and Jeannine Altavilla ’09 are working to complete this large-scale project, and its planning process is currently in the initial stages. After coming up with the idea last fall, Budish and Altavilla are hoping that this center will be the means to an interconnected neighborhood that would engage all residents of Ithaca.
“We are really trying to make this a comprehensive community center in every sense of the word. We are trying to not only include members of the community, the residents of Collegetown, faculty, staff and the city of Ithaca, but also we are really trying to create programs that force students to interact with residents of the community, [to] kind of break some of the tension from our presence in that area. We are trying to create a progressive center,” Budish said.
According to Budish, the community center could bring student organizations of Cornell closer to the Ithaca community. For example, the members of Cornell’s horticulture club would teach children from the Ithaca area how to create and maintain a garden in an “urban garden area” which Bush and Altavilla hope the center to have. Other prospective ideas for the community center include a multipurpose room for theater group rehearsal, a recreation room with pool and air hockey, conference rooms, a computer lab, an open lounge, a Big Red Bucks-based dining facility, a Cornell Store extension, rooms for administrative offices and even a visitors’ center for both the City of Ithaca and Cornell.
Based on the suitability analysis Budish and Altavilla conducted, the best site for the community center is the old Kinney drugstore on College Avenue.
“It’s a freestanding building that could be torn down. We wanted something a little farther away from the main Cornell campus than Sheldon Court because the areas, first of all, with the most residents are farther out, and those areas have less amenities available to them. The closer you get to campus, the closer you are to places like Willard Straight. We wanted this to complement Willard Straight and its amenities,” Budish said.
As the creation of such a community center would shrink the physical gap between Cornell and its off-campus students, its presence would address an issue that has repeatedly received attention from the Cornell community. For example, on last year’s Student Assembly election ballot, the creation of a Collegetown community center appeared as a referendum question. Its popularity was apparent in a 1,680 to 425 vote in favor of the center.
“There’s definitely a need to figure out how to reach in a better way those people who live off-campus or in Collegetown. Anything that builds community and fills a need is wonderful. My understanding is that there are a number of students who feel disconnected once they move off campus. They feel like they don’t always know what’s going on, so I believe there’s a need there,” said Denice Cassaro, assistant director for community center programs. These sentiments also are apparent among the students themselves who live off-campus.
“I think that the Collegetown community needs something to bind it together, just like North and West campuses. There is a feeling that we are disconnected in Collegetown. Cornell doesn’t seem to pay much attention to those who live off-campus. I think that the community center will provide us with feeling that Cornell still cares and still wants to keep us bound together,” said Ahmed Salem ’08, S.A. representative at-large who lives in Cascadilla Hall.
As for the logistics of this project, Budish and Altavilla, with the help of Prof. George Frantz, city and regional planning, estimate the total cost to be approximately $5.5 million. However, Budish repeatedly noted that he and Altavilla are discussing their idea with the University administration, and anything could change the fate of the center.
“Right now, we are still in the initial meeting phase where it could go either way. We’re hoping that this would be done. The best possible scenario would be two or three years. With something like this, it could be 10 years. We’re going to push as hard as we can. There are a ton of people who have a stake in this. We really wanted to get some initial University opinion to see if we needed to make any huge adjustments to our proposal, if anything was very implausible, so that then we could change our proposal so it’d be more likely to go through,” Budish said. Additionally, the community center could form without any University help.
“We’re not looking for it necessarily to be done by Cornell. We hope that this might become a joint venture between the University and the City,” he said.
Such a joint venture would hopefully bring together the Ithaca community, bringing the “college” to the “town.”