February 14, 2008

Underneath the Surface: C.U.’s Tunnels Join Campus Buildings

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As the weather gets colder and snow continues to pile up, the idea of an alternate route underneath the surface of the Cornell campus is very appealing. Coincidently, there are a few tunnels buried beneath the University’s grounds. Most of them, however, are inaccessible to the public.
“It all depends on your definition of a tunnel. There are things underground that you could crawl through, that have utilities and various other things running through them,” said Frank Popowitch of the Campus Planning Office. “But as far as the amount [sic] of tunnels available to the public on a campus of this size, there really aren’t that many.”
On central campus, a tunnel runs between Uris and Olin Libraries, which is used by the library staff for shuttling books. The passageway is restricted to the staff primarily for security reasons.
“Both Olin and Uris have security at their main entrances, so this way it’s easier to keep track of who’s going in and out and any books going in and out,” said Corey Earle ’07, collections assistant at Kroch Library.
This tunnel is open to the public only one day a year, on Slope Day, to allow patrons into the libraries when the main entrances are closed.
“I think it’s mostly a security thing. They have all of Ho Plaza blocked off in that area during Slope Day. It’s meant to keep away the ‘revelers’ from getting into the libraries,” Earle said.
Kroch Library could be considered a kind of tunnel itself. Located completely underground in an area between Stimson Hall, Olin Library and Goldwin Smith.
“There’s a vault with I think 32 miles of shelving [in Kroch Library],” said Earle. “So, from the vault there’s an emergency exit out of that which goes to the basement of Goldwin Smith.”
Another tunnel at Cornell can be found between Barton Hall and Teagle Hall. Likely, the original purpose of this tunnel was to make Teagle Hall’s lower levels accessible for the transport of heavy equipment.
“More than likely the tunnel was put in during 1953 when Teagle Hall was constructed,” said Al Gantert, director of physical education. “It’s very clear to me that it is an access point to allow heavy equipment to be lowered to a basement level of Teagle and to move this equipment in under the swimming pools. It’s an access area for to swimming pools, circulating pumps, extensive plumbing and water purification gear.”
Since its renovation in May 2005, the tunnel connecting Ives Hall and the ILR Conference Center has been closed for public access, although it still exists.
There is a little known tunnel known called “Ezra’s Tunnel” in Fall Creek Gorge that is barely visible from Triphammer Bridge. The tunnel, blasted from solid rock in 1831, brought water safely and efficiently from storage to water mill wheels. The tunnel again proved useful in 1949 when Cornell scientists used the interior to shelter electronic equipment for studying cosmic ray particles.
“Obviously it’s still there, you can still get to it. But it’s not exactly an advertised place to go to,” said Popowitch about the present status of Ezra’s Tunnel.
More tunnels exist underneath Tower Road between the Ag and Biology quads.
“We built two tunnels as part of the Weill Hall project, formerly known as the Life Sciences Technology Building,” said Bob Stundtner, director of Project Management. “There’s a tunnel connecting Weill Hall to an existing tunnel between Corson Mudd and Biotechnology. And then there’s another tunnel between Life Sciences and Plant Sciences, so it goes under the road over to Plant Sciences.”
These completed tunnels are mainly intended for transporting research materials between Corson Mudd, Biotechnology and the future Weill Hall. The accessibility of these tunnels remains undecided.
“I’m not sure exactly whether they’ll be open to people who aren’t involved in the research or not, I don’t believe that question’s been settled,” said Stundtner.
As far as utilities tunnels are concerned, the ones that exist do not seem like the kind of place anyone would want to visit.
“There is a utility tunnel between mechanical rooms in Anabel Taylor and Myron Taylor Halls,” said Stundtner. “But it’s not open to the public and it’s not something you would want to walk down. In fact I banged myself on a pipe in there pretty hard one day. [It’s] very claustrophobic, hot and noisy — not a pleasant place.”