March 10, 2009

C.U. Proposes Hydraulics Lab Clean-Up

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Over the past 111 years, the old Hydraulics Lab in Fall Creek has become a landmark at Cornell, akin to the clock tower, Morrill, McGraw and White halls. The lab’s collapse two weeks ago was not only met with surprise from freshmen on their daily walks past the gorge, but also confusion from the administration, which was not aware of the collapse and had no protocol in place to deal with it. University officials are now considering a proposal to clean up the debris from the lab’s demise.
“The University is looking at a proposal to clean up some of it and dismantle the rest,” said Simeon Moss ’73, director of Cornell Press Relations. “It’s just a proposal at this point and would have to go through municipal approval.”
The proposal was prepared by Steve Beyers, service team leader for the Office of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability within the Division of Risk Management and Public Safety, according to a statement issued by Moss. The plan includes demolishing the remaining structure, removing current debris and restoring the area to a more natural state.
“We thought that what was left on the wall of the cliff could pose a danger and [it] certainly is an eyesore, so we talked around with different departments and decided to put together a proposal to have it removed,” Beyers said.
The current debris includes stone, iron and steel that need to be cleaned up; so far the University has notified the appropriate governmental agencies to minimize possible impacts to the community and environment. Moreover, the structure that is still left hanging violates building codes. There have already been numerous proposals throughout the years to demolish the lab and return the gorge to its natural state.
“I was sad to see it go because it was such a beautiful feature at Cornell,” Nicky Chopra ’09 said. “It’s like losing a part of our history.”

[img_assist|nid=35973|title=Vanishing act|desc=The remains of the old Hydraulics Lab, which collapsed into Fall Creek Gorge last month.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Brittney Fordyce ’10 agreed. “[The Hydraulics Lab] is something that is recognizable to everyone on campus and I remember hearing urban legends about students going down into it.”
The “majority of leading American hydraulicians in the first quarter of this century either were educated, or participated in tests conducted, at Cornell,” claimed the first director of the lab, Prof. Ernest Schoder ’1902, civil engineering, in a soon-to-be-published history account of the College of Engineering.
Author Morris Bishop also wrote in A History of Cornell that: “Built of the same gray stone as the rock wall, [the building] makes no ugly disharmony.”
While students mourned the loss of a historical landmark at Cornell, the lifespan of the lab has already exceeded the expectations of some.
“It’s a shame to see that history go away, but we got a pretty good run for something lasting about 100 years in an outdoor climate like that,” Beyers said.
The University sealed off the old lab decades ago for the safety of the community. According to Moss’ statement, however, trespassers have still risked climbing into the structure. The University will therefore build more fences in the area and add more signage to warn people against the unstable remains until funding is obtained for the realization of the clean-up proposal.
This project is estimated to cost around $1 million, and will require approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the City of Ithaca, Ithaca Fire Department, the Department of Health, as well as the Cornell University Review and Approval Groups, amongst other agencies.
“I don’t think now, especially with the financial crisis, that it should be a priority,” Fordyce said.
When asked about the prioritization of the project in terms of the financial crisis, Beyers said, “The University has lots of priorities, this is not the highest; I think the University will take care of it but I can’t say exactly how fast.”
Moss stated in an e-mail that the project proposal is now simply being developed, and before it can be implemented it will have to go through University, municipal, and state approval processes.