Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

The renovation plans for McGraw Hall, the third oldest building on campus by construction date, might finally resume after seven years of suspension.

March 25, 2018

McGraw Hall Renovation Plan Back in Motion After 7-Year Suspension

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A previous version of the article incorrectly referred to McGraw Hall as the second-oldest building on campus. It is the third-oldest building on campus by construction date. 

McGraw Hall’s renovation plan — indefinitely postponed since the University installed temporary struts after three ceilings collapsed in 2009 — may finally be brought back in motion.

A report written by consultants to “study renovation options” for the 146-year-old building is now “out for review among the various stakeholders,” said Rick Burgess, vice president for infrastructure, properties and planning.

Exposed wall in McGraw Hall elevator hall covered by a thin panel.

Yuichiro Kakutani / Sun News Editor

Exposed wall in McGraw Hall elevator hall covered by a thin panel.

“The consultants presented their findings [in February] and we are now sifting through their report in greater detail,” Burgess told The Sun in an email. “We all recognize that McGraw Hall is an iconic structure and must be renovated, so I am confident that we will arrive at a solid plan that we can move out on.”

Burgess said that the deadline for stakeholder consideration is yet to be decided, but added that the renovation project will be undoubtedly very costly.

“While we do not yet have full financial information, the renovation will be quite expensive, and funding for this high priority project will need to come from a variety of sources, including significant fund raising,” he said.

Aside from commissioning the report, the University has yet to commit to a renovation project or fundraising plan as they are “still very much in the exploratory and fact-finding phase,” according to David M. Taylor, associate dean of administration for the College of Arts and Sciences.

The prospective renovation projects came after the incidents in 2009, when three ceilings in the building — two in faculty offices and one in the hallway — collapsed overnight.

In one of the affected offices, ceiling tiles and lights fell down on a professor’s table, “dropping down and crushing computers” in a way that would have “seriously [injured] or potentially even kill[ed]” the occupant of the table had he been there, according to Prof. Holly Case, history, who described the details to The Sun in 2010.

The University patched up the collapsed ceilings, but has yet to fix up all the ceilings with cracks in McGraw Hall.

“They redid the whole ceiling, but they couldn’t afford to do all the ceilings right? So what, you look above, you can see the crack in the ceiling above the desk,” Prof. Durba Ghosh, history, told The Sun.

After the consecutive ceiling collapses, the University opted to add temporary external supports to the building. At least 14 bracings are visible from the outside of the building, but they are only partially effective in easing the worries of the people who work inside.

“It’s always worrisome when you look at the cracks that suddenly appear on the building,” said Prof. Isabel V. Hull, history. “But beginning in 2011, they really started to get on top of it, and the scaffoldings are proof of that.”

A bracing installed in 2011 running through the office of Prof. Ghosh in McGraw Hall.

Yuichiro Kakutani / Sun News Editor

A bracing installed in 2011 running through the office of Prof. Ghosh in McGraw Hall.

However, after adding the temporary supports, the University indefinitely postponed it’s plan to overhaul the building for a permanent fix. In response, Burgess said that the building is safe as the temporary bracings are “performing as expected,” but conceded that it’s not a permanent fix.

“We do not anticipate structural issues that would pose undue risk,” Burgess said. “It’s not a long-term solution though; for that, we need to get on to the full building renovation.”

The renovation plan may have been suspended due to the construction of Klarman Hall, which was a “competing need” that absorbed money that could have went to renovation, according to then-University facility manager Eric Grey, The Sun previously reported.

Peter Lepage, then arts college dean, contested Grey’s account and said that the budgetary limitations caused by the 2008 financial crisis contributed to the suspension.

“Our budgets are tight because of the financial downturn, the need to maintain adequate financial aid for our students, and so on –– that is, for reasons that have nothing to do with the humanities building or the tech campus,” Lepage said.

Built of local Ithaca bluestones and designed by locally famed architect Archimedes N. Russell, McGraw Hall is the third oldest building on campus by construction date, with work commencing in 1868. When the building opened in 1872, it originally housed parts of the University library and a large natural history museum.

McGraw Hall was originally constructed to be part of a building series along with Morrill Hall and White Hall, which were renovated in 1973 and 2003, respectively.

Hull suspects that that the building’s transition from a museum to faculty offices and classroom spaces led to its structural issues.

“The architect of the building … is rather famous in upstate New York and has a bunch of buildings that are still standing,” Hull said. “So you would expect this building would be just as good as the other ones that he built, but it is true that this building was originally meant to perform a different function than it now performs, and now has been for many many years.”