April 1, 2008

Big Red Barn Reopens

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The Big Red Barn resumed its role as one of Cornell’s campus icons yesterday when the building reopened its doors for business. As a dining hall and center of graduate student life, the Barn closed in December, due to severe structural damage caused by a caving roof.
The construction that took place over the last three months entailed reinforcing the roof to keep it from falling in by putting in new trusses and beams, according to Kris Corda, director of the BRB. With the new infrastructure in place, Corda is confident that the problems have been fixed and the building will remain open permanently.
The first day back in business was an exciting, albeit busy time for Corda, who spent the day preparing for a private reception as well as reopening the café. But she said that traffic through BRB wasn’t as busy yesterday as it had been last semester.
“There weren’t a lot of people,” she said. “Construction [materials] were still up. I think people saw them and thought we were still under construction.”
While most of campus may not have known about the barn’s first day back in business, the graduate student community was excited to get its home for student life back.
“I’m very happy that the barn is reopening,” said Yu Yu grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. “During the closing of the barn, [GPSA] events were scattered all over campus.”
While the Barn was under construction, the GPSA, Cornell administration and BRB staff created “BRB @ Trillium,” a space within the Trillium mezzanine open only to graduate students from 4 to 11 p.m. Many of the GPSA’s major events were held there, according to Yu, while some events were moved to places like Sage Hall.
In December, Sunny Power, dean of the Graduate School, said at a GPSA meeting that she was not sure whether the Barn would reopen by the spring, due to the extensive work necessary to fix the roof. However, recognizing the importance of the Barn to graduate students, those involved with the project worked as quickly as possible to finish the renovation.
Yu said that while the BRB will serve the graduate community well for the next three to five years, the building is beginning to get too small to serve the needs of all graduate students.
“In the long run there needs to be discussion on whether to move to a larger building,” said Yu. “Right now it is comparatively small for functions and it doesn’t have a big enough space for a lot of events.”
The GPSA passed the Graduate Community Initiative just over a year ago in order to urge the administration to pay more attention to graduate student life. Among the issues ad-dressed in the GCI was the need to create a “well-equipped central space on campus or a strong residential presence,” in order to remedy graduate students’ concerns that they were “disenfranchised from the wider Cornell community.”
Yu said that the administration has begun looking at and suggesting places to expand to once the BRB becomes obsolete. A new graduate community center is also part of the recently adopted Cornell Master Plan.
President David Skorton as well has pledged his support to helping carry out the GCI by working with a Task Force that the GPSA created in June to think about these issues, according to a column he wrote in The Sun in January.
“The reopening of the Big Red Barn will provide some breathing space for the task force to explore in detail issues related to the long-term issue of the graduate center,” Skorton wrote in his column.
According to Corda, the BRB will host a grand reopening reception for graduate students in the fall to celebrate the renovated, structurally sound building.
For the undergraduate community and others who use the BRB, “[it] will be open to the public for the rest of the year,” Corda said.
The barn was built in the 1870s as a carriage house for the A.D. White House, once the home of the University president, according to the BRB’s website. In the 1950s, Cornell alumni turned it into a student center. Its most recent renovation was almost seventeen years ago.