November 21, 2011

As Law Faculty Increases, School Plans Expansion

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As its faculty grows, the Cornell Law School will undergo its first major expansion in more than 25 years.

Changes will include creating new underground classrooms, repurposing the law library and transforming the Law School dormitory into offices and meeting space, according to Stewart Schwab, dean of the Law School.

“Cornell Law is one of the smallest of the elite law schools,” Schwab said. “For over a dozen years, we have recognized that we are tight on space.”

Schwab said that the Law School has strategically planned to grow its faculty by 15 percent over the last eight years. He said that at the current pace of growth, the school’s limited space would prove to be unsustainable within a few years.

“Studies by three architecture firms, the University and the Law School confirm that this is the right direction that the school should take,” said Richard Robinson, the associate dean of administration and finance for the Law School.

According to Schwab, the expansion will be broken into three phases and will not be completed until late 2014 at the earliest. The three-phase expansion will cost $55 million to $60 million in total, he said.

Phase I will begin next summer will consist of building an underground classroom east of the current courtyard and an accompanying entryway to provide access to the addition, he said.

This stage will cost about $17.3 million, which Schwab said the Law School currently has available.

Phase II will remodel the Law School’s primary building, Myron Taylor Hall. Schwab said that the school plans to repurpose its library collection, which has been intact since the original building was built in 1932.

Specifically, he said the Law School plans to remove most of the library’s book stacks on the bottom five floors and use the space to build additional classrooms and areas for student activities.

While Schwab said the library will keep core parts of the print collection, he hopes to bring the Law School into the 21st century.

“As the world goes digital, libraries everywhere, including here, are replacing print collections with digital ones in order to reallocate space,” Schwab said. “Frankly, all other top law schools are doing this as well.”

Schwab said, however, that the Law School administration is carefully reviewing the collection to ensure that the most important print materials are retained.

“For most of the print materials, particularly judicial reports and opinions at both the state and federal level, I can pull them up in a few seconds on my computer. Hardly anyone looks at the print versions anymore,” he said. “But at the same time, we want to maintain our position as a world class research law library.”

Femi Cadmus, the Law School librarian, echoed Schwab’s sentiments.

“The library will become an even more aesthetic and welcoming place with collaborative and study spaces for users,” she said. “Both print and digital collections, important to the research and scholarship of our faculty and students, will continue to be maintained.”

Phase III involves renovating Hughes Hall, the law school dorm, Schwab said.

“Over the years, the dorm has been cannibalized in terms of how many students it houses,” Schwab said. “At one point, over 125 students stayed there. Today, only 44 do.”

He said the school will convert the dorm’s residences into offices and meeting space.

According to Schwab, the dorm is now reserved mainly for international students and first-year law students who need temporary living accomodations before finding permanent housing. With this in mind, he said the school is building partnerships with private landlords to ensure that students in need will be able to find housing.

In addition, Schwab said that the construction will be planned carefully over the next few years to prevent noisy distractions for studying students.

“We will maintain full operations. None of the classrooms will be closed,” he said.

Robinson, the associate dean of administration and finance for the Law School, said he looks forward to the finished product.

“The overall master plan will provide much-needed instructional, student, faculty, administrative and academic program space for the law school community,” he said.

Schwab also said that the expansion will not interfere with students’ experience.

“In any time of change, people will get nervous,” he said. “But, we are committed to maintain Cornell Law’s distinctive tight-knit feel, where we try to get the best of both worlds — a close atmosphere here and the breadth of a larger university at Cornell.”

Original Author: Harrison Okin