April 26, 2012

As Ground Breaks, Professors See Bright Future in Gates Hall

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Since ground broke on Gates Hall in March, professors said they are eagerly awaiting the new $60 million computing and information sciences building, which they hope will promote greater collaboration between the Departments of Computer Science and Information Science.

“I think everyone is super excited; we’re watching the hall as it goes up out of our windows,” Prof. Eva Tardos, computer science, said.

Computer science professors said they are looking forward to the completion of Gates Hall because they will have opportunity to share a building with information sciences faculty.

“This is one of the most exciting things happening [for the computer science department],” Prof. Daisy Fan, computer science, said.

Prof. Joe Halpern, chair of the Department of Computer Science, agreed with Fan, saying the new building will give the University “a chance for us to bring together computer science and information science together in one building.”

“There’s something to be said for being in the same physical space,” he said.

Because the two fields are currently housed in different buildings, Prof. Fred Schneider, computer science, said that “having been physically separated has made it harder for us to have really high levels of interaction with [the information science department].”

For instance, Prof. Hakim Weatherspoon, computer science, noted that information sciences faculty are located on College Avenue, while computer science faculty are primarily housed on the Engineering Quad. Because many computer science courses are cross-listed, sometimes faculty have to hold office hours in both locations or use two different offices — in addition to handling other “minor inconveniences,” Weatherspoon said.

With the new building, professors hope they will be less inconvenienced by the 10-minute trek from campus to Collegetown. Additionally, they said, they look forward to expansion of their building space.

Schneider expressed his excitement over having “much more laboratory space” when Gates Hall is completed.

Halpern, however, noted that while he looks forward to the expansion, “to be honest, we were hoping for more [space].”

Construction has been “going well and on schedule,” according to John Keefe, facilities project manager for the University.

According to Keefe, the construction team is currently working on “shoring,” a process which involves installing the base foundations for the building and “a lot of digging.”

“The target is for us to have construction finished in time for the computer science and information science departments to move in before the semester that starts January 2014,” Schneider said.

According to Keefe, the building —which will be situated on Campus Road across from Barton Hall on the former site of the Grumman Squash Courts parking lot — will include a large auditorium and feature an exterior facade made almost entirely out of glass.

The $60 million project will be financed by a $25 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the University received in 2006.

Schneider expressed his belief that the gift represented Bill Gates’ desire for computer science to fully integrate itself into all academic disciplines.

“[Gates] wants computing to get to the next phase, where it’s so important that it’s having significant impacts all over the academic scene, and Cornell was an obvious place where that value system was very strongly held,” Schneider said.

Tardos also said she saw the potential for the computer science and information science departments to effect other areas of study.

“I think Cornell has been a leader nationally and maybe internationally in having computer science integrated into other fields, especially communication and the social sciences,” she said.

Additionally, professors hope, the new building will catch the eye of prospective students.

“It’ll be a standout so when people come to visit, the first thing they see is the building they’ll be entering … This will attract [many] more people [to the University],” Weatherspoon said.

Akane Otani contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Shane Dunau