September 12, 2011

Don’t Forget About McGraw

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LAST APRIL, THE UNIVERSITY UNDERTOOK a major reconstruction project on McGraw Hall to stabilize its exterior masonry, repair its roof and replace the gutter system. The project was certainly necessary. McGraw Hall was the last of Cornell’s original three stone buildings to undergo a restoration project, and several sections of the building’s ceilings had, in recent years, begun to collapse into faculty offices. It is fortunate that no faculty or students were injured.

The catch was that the University lacked the funds at the time to fully complete the project. Though administrators planned to finish the project’s first phase by November, they set no timetable for more permanent improvements. Now, still without funding, the steel framing will remain on the building’s exterior indefinitely once the scaffolding is removed later this semester.

The University took the right action in repairing the building when it did. McGraw Hall was first built in 1872. Very few buildings can parallel its historic and architectural significance on campus. Today, it serves as an important campus building. It houses multiple academic departments and the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, serving a diverse sector of the campus community. It would have been a shame to allow McGraw Hall to deteriorate to the point where more significant repairs were needed. In the worst case scenario, students and faculty could have been in some risk from further collapsing ceilings. Even if administrators did not know when they would be able to complete more permanent renovations, it was important to mend the building as soon as possible.

It would be easy to let this project fall by the wayside now that the building has been temporarily stabilized. However, postponing the rest of this project indefinitely will also pose negative consequences. McGraw Hall’s historic architecture and its central location on the Arts Quad add to the campus’ aesthetic appeal. This beauty is part of what draws new students to Cornell every year and leaves a strong impression on visitors and alumni. Hindering that beauty for an indefinite time period with steel rods detracts from the campus’ image.

Projects without definitive timetables often linger and can be forgotten for long stretches of time. It is prudent for the University to set a deadline for itself to at least revisit this issue in the near future.