The Employee Assembly convened on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the North Campus Residential Expansion with the senior director of the real estate department Jeremy Thomas there explaining the proposed plan to the assembly members.
The North Campus expansion will construct two new housing sites, which will give housing to an additional 1,200 freshman and 800 sophomores, The Sun previously reported.
“A big part of this is meeting the current and future demand for on-campus housing,” Thomas said. “We know from experience that first-years come in and they learn very quickly that if they were to find housing for their sophomore year they need to start looking in the external market. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress [on the students.]”
Thomas addressed current housing problems on North Campus. He described the Townhouse Community, currently in use by first-year undergraduates. “[The Townhouses are] not really the ideal environment; the ideal environment is more of a dorm setting.”
He also spoke about the current state of Balch Hall.
“[We] have some deferred maintenance projects — Balch Hall for example. It needs to be renovated,” he said. The new dorms will mitigate the impact of the lack of available space in Balch Hall when it is renovated.
Thomas said that he hopes that the plan “free[s] up housing for faculty, for staff, for others that are out there who would just like to live closer to the core but can’t afford to do so.”
Thomas also addressed how these buildings will be powered by natural gas.
“We’re increasing our footprint of built-environment on campus by 4%, and we’re increasing our use of energy by just 1.4%,” he said. “These are going to perform 30% better than the building code requires, from an energy perspective.”
“These will be the best performing residential buildings on the Cornell campus today — that includes [Cornell] Tech,” Thomas said.
He acknowledged criticism to the proposed plan, namely regarding its use of natural gas. Activists at an Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting last Wednesday expressed concern over the buildings’ methane emissions, The Sun previously reported.
“There are certain advocates that feel that using any natural gas is not a responsible method and we understand that and we actually agree that you want to minimize use of natural gas,” Thomas said.
However, he cited reasons why Cornell plans on using natural gas. Thomas noted Cornell’s already-existing district energy system, which allows heating and cooling to be done centrally. According to Thomas, if Cornell used the electrical grid directly, more carbon emissions would be produced.
“40% of the energy that’s created in that grid is actually done by burning gas, oil, and coal,” Thomas said. “When you add load you are utilizing gas, oil and coal — all the other sources are fixed.”