November 27, 2012

City of Ithaca Board Approves Sweeping Renovation of the Commons

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A plan to renovate the Commons by improving lighting, renovating aging infrastructure and increasing its aesthetic appeal was unanimously approved by the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board on Tuesday.

“The Commons project is a big transformation for downtown and we hope that more students will come down [after the renovations],” said Susannah Ross, a senior associate at Sasaki Associates, the lead designer of the project. “We’re really excited by the changes that are happening downtown and we see the Commons as a critical step in the process of revitalizing downtown Ithaca.”

Sasaki Associates’ plan to renovate 75,000 square feet of the Commons is centered around the goal of having the space reflect the geologic features of Ithaca’s environment. The plan includes creating a “distinctive paving pattern” for the ground and constructing a small water fountain that “was directly inspired by the cracking, splitting characteristics of the stone found in Ithaca’s gorges,” according to Sasaki Associates’ website.

The project will cost approximately $8.5 million, according to Ross.

The city hopes to begin construction in March 2013 and estimates that the project will be completed in June 2014, according to city documents.

The project has stemmed out of a desire to make the Commons “a more successful retail destination,” said John Schroeder ’74, a member of the planning board.

Ross said she hopes the changes will make the atmosphere of the Commons seem safer and more inviting. Because of the dense foliage on the current Commons, as well as the dark pavilions, “people have this perception that [the Commons] is not safe,” Ross said.

Sasaki’s plan attempts to dispel these misconceptions by removing existing pavilions and other concrete elements that block sight lines, according to Ross.

“Part of the redesign is to provide complete visibility from one side of the Commons to the other,” Schroeder, who is also The Sun’s production manager, said. “The existing [structures] interfere with retail sales because they prevent customers from seeing storefronts directly across the space.”

The project has also proposed improving the lighting of the Commons by adding new overhead cable-held lighting that will be suspended 18 feet above the ground.

“The new lighting design will be much more functional, as more light will be evenly distributed over a larger area,” Schroeder said. “This type of lighting system has been used in Europe — it’s going to make the Commons a striking place. It’s going to be like a floating plane of lights.”

Although the project will not be able to use solar panels for the lighting due to a lack of sunlight throughout the winter, it will remain environmentally friendly by being durable and reducing maintenance demands, according to Ross.

In addition, the project proposes using trees to help absorb carbon dioxide. There will be 30 feet of space between the new trees, according to Schroeder.

In addition to improving the Commons’ aesthetics, the project will also upgrade its underground infrastructure, according to Ross. The current pipes — which Ross said are at least 100 years old — contain lead joints that will require extensive excavation to be replaced.

Additionally, the project hopes to rehaul existing manholes that are in poor condition, she said.

The project will also replace existing storm sewers with larger pipes that will allow for better storm drainage on the Commons.

Original Author: Jonathan Dawson