After nearly a decade of cutting though a jungle of bureaucratic red tape, the construction of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning’s new 47,000 square-foot Paul Milstein Hall is well underway. With little delays expected, the project should be completed by Aug. 2011, restoring University Avenue, the AAP Quad and the Arts Quad to normalcy.
As many members of the Cornell community have noticed, the portion of University Avenue stretching from East Avenue to Central Avenue is closed. As a result, a temporary road has been built connecting University Avenue with Central Avenue in order to allow access to the Johnson Art Museum and the buildings along the western side of the Arts Quad.
John McKeown, project director for AAP, stated that “a new road needed to come up Libe Slope and a new parking lot was built, but both are absolutely temporary and the area will be restored when the projects are completed.”
The projects — the construction of Milstein Hall and the building of an addition to the Johnson Art Museum. — are conducted simultaneously to “minimize the obstruction,” McKeown stated.
Although the projects may cause some difficulties when driving around campus, some people are excited that ground has finally been broken and construction has begun.
[img_assist|nid=37945|title=In Progress|desc=A view shows progress on the Milstein Hall construction behind Sibley Hall on Aug. 25.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=504]
“I am thrilled about the new project. Construction has been a bit of an inconvenience but it will be worth it. Architecture students are in need of more studio space,” Lauren Jordan ‘12, an architecture student, said. “The long-awaited addition of Milstein Hall to AAP will only enhance Cornell’s architecture program.”
McKeown, who has been working on the project for almost nine years, also expressed relief.
“We feel the whole project is important for the college. This is going to create a world class facility for the college of AAP. We have a tremendous need for additional space to maintain the quality programs that we have. We are delighted that the project is underway.”
However, not all of the original plans for Milstein Hall are in progress. An underground parking garage, which was originally planned to be built alongside Milstein Hall, has been put on hold.
“It was an administrative decision not to spend the several million additional dollars it would have cost to build the parking garage,” explained Mike Wilkinson, construction manager for Cornell’s Department of Project Design and Construction.
“In the past year projects were put on hold and reviewed due to the economy. The parking garage was a separate project up until about a ear ago when we looked at it as a team and thought we could realize a significant value if we combined them, but it didn’t work out,” Wilkinson stated in an e-mail. “While extremely valuable, underground parking garages are expensive to build and during these economical times, probably not in the best interest of the University.”
In the past, the University has struggled to get the project off the ground, negotiating with city officials for several years.
“The project has had a number of delays over the years for a variety of reasons,” McKeown said. “First of all, we’ve had other architects involved in prior years and we wanted to do a very thorough environmental impact statement. There was also a lot of debate between the University and the city over the ownership of University Avenue. Then, of course, we had to go through the normal process of getting approval from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Ithaca Planning Board. This all took a lot of time.”
The University also had to get a green light from the Ithaca Fire Department before constructing the steel building.
“One of the major concerns of the Ithaca Fire Department was the close proximity of the Foundry to Milstein. It is a very old wooden structure and they felt there was a chance of a possible fire due to construction. We agreed to install a complete sprinkler system throughout the building,” Wilkinson stated. “In addition to that, many structural upgrades to support the roof system are scheduled due to the possibility of additional snow loads from Milstein.”
However, the delays in construction may have actually helped the University financially. Due to the current economic recession, Cornell was able to secure a better deal as construction companies competed for the opportunity to build the structure.
“The economy is poor for a lot of people, so we found ourselves in a good situation when construction bids went out. We are expecting to be on time and on budget for the entire project,” McKeown said.
Currently, construction crews are excavating the planned site and preparing existing buildings for the arrival of Milstein Hall.
“Thus far they’ve been doing similar work that relates to stabilizing the area around the Milstein Hall construction site. First, they stabilized University Avenue and now they are stabilizing Rand Hall and Sibley Hall so the foundations of those buildings are not impacted by the construction of Milstein,” McKeown said.