January 15, 2009

Milstein Hall Passes Hurdle After a Contentious Debate

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Ten years and four sets of architects later, Cornell has moved one step closer to building Milstein Hall after gaining a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission last night.
With the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board’s preliminary site plan approval of Milstein Hall on Jan. 6, Cornell now only needs final site plan approval from the planning board. A meeting to consider the approval is scheduled for later this month.
This 59,000 square-foot extension to the College of Architecture, Art and Planning will connect Rand and Sibley halls, “knit[ting] disparate programs of our college together,” said Prof. Kevin Pratt, architecture, at the meeting.
Many AAP faculty members voiced enthusiasm for Milstein Hall, the first building designed and created for their program and its distinct needs. Most professors who spoke stressed the importance of the building to the accreditation of the college.
“Milstein Hall has been many, many years in the making and has had the input of many people,” said Prof. Mark Cruvellier, architecture, who is also the department chair and director of graduate studies of architecture. “It really allows our number-one ranked program to carry forward into the next century.”
Before discussing the approval of Milstein Hall, Associate University Counsel Shirley Egan argued that because the commission had failed to make a mutual agreement between its members and Cornell representatives to extend the 45-day limit to decide on the matter, the University had automatically gained a Certificate of Appropriateness.
Commission members argued that because a meeting had been scheduled for last night, a mutual agreement had been established.
Explained Dan Hoffman ’72, Ithaca city attorney, “Cornell University sent in its application in November. The ordinance of the Commission can be extended by mutual agreement to this January meeting.”
However, according to Egan, there was no such agreement. She claimed that neither she nor her associates were cognizant of such a limit on the timeline, and therefore could not agree to formally extend the deadline.
“There was no motion made to extend and no mutual agreement that was formally documented,” Egan explained.
In response to Egan’s argument, however, the commission members decided to vote against the motion to close discussion on Milstein Hall.
While the debate over the project’s timeline was contentious, eventually, the commission approved plans for Milstein Hall without any major stipulations.
The decision was reached after much discussion between C.U. representatives and commission members. Alphonse Pieper, chair of the ILPC, hoped to make some adjustments in order to protect the Foundry, a historical building located 16 feet away from the approved site’s cantilever.
“There is so much room on the west side next to east side of Sibley,” said Pieper. “Why can’t you just push it west?”
Commission member Nancy Broak thought that minor adjustments would go a long way in protecting the integrity of the foundry.
“A modest reduction of square footage would better accommodate the trying of the old and new of the campus.” Brcak said.
The Certificate of Appropriateness for Milstein Hall was finally approved without any of the suggested further modifications under the condition that Cornell would make efforts to maintain and promote the physical structure of the Foundry along with its historical significance. The final vote count was 6 in favor, 0 opposed and 1 abstention.
Although many of the commission members disliked the building’s modern style, the final consensus was that this aspect of the construction should not be a factor in the commission decision.
“I have no say as to the aesthetics of the building,” said commission member George Holets. “It is not my job to be an artist.”