February 7, 2008

Planning of Milstein Hall Moves Forward In Spite of Obstacles

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Construction of Milstein Hall may finally begin later this year after a string of design proposals, licensing disagreements and costly delays. Six years since the project’s inception, construction of the newest addition to the College of Architecture, Art and Planning has left many students confused.
The building is currently in the construction document phase, which should be completed by the end of May. Local planning firm Trowbridge and Wolf is in the process of creating a draft environmental impact statement, following an outline of issues to be evaluated before construction begins. The City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board is overseeing this environmental review process.
Chair of the Planning Board John Schroeder ’74, production manager at The Sun, said the statement will address issues such as traffic, parking, drainage, the impact on land and air quality and on historic resources.[img_assist|nid=27455|title=|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Upon completion of the environmental impact statement, the Planning Board will evaluate the adequacy of the document and open it for public review. Members of the community will then be able to comment on the statement. Substantive issues presented by community members will be addressed in the final environmental impact statement. A site plan review will then be conducted.
“I don’t see any reason for obstacles,” said Andrew Magre ’90, architect and project coordinator. “[The] project is running full steam ahead.”
The $40 million project, which will unite Rand and Sibley Halls, will house studio, gallery and exhibition space, in addition to a 352-seat auditorium.
The plan, however, has encountered many complications. The University has held over 100 meetings throughout the design planning process, delayed by the various levels of city bureaucracy through which project plans had to pass.
On Sept. 4, at a meeting with the Board of Public Works, a 20-year disagreement between the city and the University resurfaced regarding the ownership of University Avenue. The plans for Milstein Hall included building on both sides of the road, raising concerns that the University was building in the city’s right of way.
At the meeting, Ray Schlather, member of the Board of Public Works, proposed a licensing agreement that would allow Cornell to take responsibility for maintaining the road, allowing the University to make the minor modifications to the road necessary for the construction of Milstein Hall.
Shirley Egan, associate University counsel, affirmed that while the city holds the University Avenue right of way, the University owns the underlying land.
Subsequently, the building’s design was revised to avoid placing columns in the city’s right of way. On Sept. 12, the University announced a new plan for the construction of Milstein Hall that incorporated a cantilever, a structural system providing support for the building from one side of the road.
The use of the cantilever was a breakthrough, according to Schroeder, because the building’s columns no longer stood on the city’s right of way.
While the Board of Public Works acknowledged that their involvement in the construction process is over, Schlather emphasized that the Board is “no way agreeing we are giving away rights.”
According to Schlather, air rights remain an issue that need to be clarified. The city owns air rights, Schlather said, and the University might be at risk of violating these rights.
In addition to complications the project encountered regarding negotiations with the city, this summer the University an­nounced that Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning would resign at the close of the fall 2007 semester. Mostafavi oversaw the planning of Milstein Hall after he became dean in 2004.
“I think he was a big push, he motivated the project a lot,” said Jennifer Traina-Dorge ’08, a fifth year architecture student. “He left quickly and I don’t know who has the muscle behind it now. I am definitely concerned about it.”
However, Traina-Dorge recognized that “in construction there are always delays,” and despite complications to the building’s plan, “everyone is really looking forward to [Milstein Hall’s] completion.”