Cornell Updates Upson Hall

31 10 2014

Fresh from the planning board’s first look, here are the renovations Cornell plans to do on Upson Hall. Upson Hall, named for long-time trustee and big donor Maxwell Upson 1899, was built in 1956, and is part of the interconnected octopus of buildings that makes up the eastern half of the engineering quad, connected directly with Grumman and Duffield (with which it shares walls), and Phillips and Rhodes. 5-story Upson occupies about 160,000 sq ft, of which 142,000 sq ft is usable space, which has most recently been occupied by the computer science and mechanical/aerospace engineering departments.

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The renovations to Upson are just one more step in many taken, or to be taken, to update and expand facilities Cornell’s engineering school. The plans have been underway since Duffield was built 10 years ago, and have evolved with the changing needs of the school. For instance, the original plan had Hollister and Carpenter Halls being demolished to make way for a larger building, which can be seen in the Cornell Master Plan of 2008. But, this plan was tabled as a result of the recession, and that individual proposal was never revived. Similarly, early Gates Hall plans had a building site just south of Thurston, facing the gorge. Currently, work is underway to renovate Kimball Hall, with a summer 2015 completion and $15 million price tag. There is also work planned for a new biomedical engineering building, design and construction TBD, but with a price tag of about $55 million (for comparison, Gates cost $60 million).

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In the proposed $63 million renovation, Upson retains its current footprint, A new entry is established at the intersection with Duffield, and small bump-outs are built over the other two entryways. Better entries and landscaping are strongly emphasized in the proposal.

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The design is standard 2010s fare – whereas the current Upson is a box with bands of windows (“International Style”) much celebrated in the days of I Love Lucy and early seasons of Mad Men, the current is the metal-and-glass of all sorts of sizes and shapes. I expect it to age about as well (i.e. poorly). Coincidentally, the design of the building is by internationally-acclaimed firm Perkins + Will, who also designed the original Upson in the early 1950s.

I feel the real draw here is the landscaping. The initial landscaping isn’t all that special, put the Phase III landscaping is a treat. Cornell is way too trendy when it comes to new buildings, but if it’s one thing the university excels at, it’s landscape architecture.

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News Tidbits 10/25/14: It Seems Expensive Because It Is

25 10 2014

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1. I always appreciate it when people respond to my emails. On a whim, I emailed the realtor in charge of the Belle Sherman Cottages to see which ones were underway with sales, and what the time frame was. She forwarded the request to the developer, Toby Millman of Agora Homes and Development LLC, who wrote back to say that as of the 17th, the front-loading garages on lots 25-29 (render above) were being marketed, and three of the five have been sold. They are planning for an April 2015 completion for those five, with the modules being set into place next year (some site prep work may occur this fall). The five townhomes with the back-loading garages are not being marketed just yet. Who knows, with most of the homes being sold and several under construction, the entire project could be complete by the end of 2015.

2. Oh geez. An Irish-themed Hooters is coming to Ithaca. According to the Post-Standard, Tilted Kilt, a “Celtic-themed sports pub”, is looking at a restaurant for Ithaca. The Syracuse location due to open next month will be 7,000 sq ft, I expect an Ithaca location would be similarly-sized. The chain already has a location in Watertown, and has plans for a Utica restaurant as well. Basically, any city over 30,000 roughly within an hour’s radius of Syracuse. Here’s the chain’s website, featuring a woman preparing to make out with a hamburger. I’m sure the fratty frat boys at Cornell are getting excited. Placing bets on whether they go for Lansing or southwest Ithaca.

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3. Per the IJ, The developers of the Carey Building expansion are asking for a tax abatement from the city via the CIITAP application. A primer on CIITAP applications can be found here at the Ithaca Voice; a number of projects in the city’s “density district” have used them in recent years as a way to offset high development costs in downtown and West End. Recently, Jason Fane made news for pursuing a tax abatement via CIITAP for his project on East Clinton Street. The standard abatement is 7 years, with 90% of the increased value being offset in the first year. In this case,the building was assessed in 2014 at $475,000. The new construction will cost $4.7 million according to the IJ, but it says $1.6 million in the city’s site plan application; that gives us assessed values in year one of $945,000 if the IJ is right, or $635,000 if the SPR is still accurate. The abatement tapers off through the latter six years. As with Fane, I suspect Travis Hyde Companies is pursuing an abatement simply because they can, they meet the qualifications so carpe diem. The wide difference in the IJ and SPR numbers could be an indication of rapidly rising project costs. Regardless of reasoning, this definitely isn’t going to do the developers any favors when it comes to community relations.

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4. Maybe the Novarr interview in the Voice will have run by the time this runs; maybe it won’t. Just in case, straight from the developer himself, Phase III/Building 7, with its 247 units, is planned for a late 2015 construction start, with completion in the summer of 2017. It’s a long construction period; it’s also a very big building.

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5. From the Cornell Daily Sun, it’s expected that rents at Collegetown Crossing will be around $1,000, per month, per tenant. Students in Cornell’s Student Assembly aren’t exactly pleased, since that number far exceeds even what most Cornellians can afford (but don’t worry; with student population growth far outstripping supply, there’s enough demand for student rentals, even in the luxury segment, that this place will fill up to capacity as soon as it opens). Welcome to Ithaca’s severely under-supplied rental market; open your wallets wide, boys and girls.

It just occurred to me that since I wrote the enrollment column last year with 2012 numbers, I glanced at the 2014 numbers on the University Factbook. Now it’s 21,850, an increase of 426 students in 2 years, and in pace with the 2002-2012 period. 234 of that 426, 55%, were grad and professional students.

There are a number of factors for why it’s so expensive – land values in Collegetown are high, construction labor is expensive because Ithaca is off the beaten path, taxes are high, and the new Collegetown zoning doesn’t allow Lower to build out the rear portion as he initially intended, forcing him to keep the building’s rear flank at 4 floors instead of 6 (the zoning is also what allows him to build in the first place, since it removed the parking requirement).

Let me be clear. Unless something is done to reduce demand or increase supply, this will become the norm, and Cornell students of modest means will be placed in an increasingly precarious situation with the cost of housing. Just like the rest of Ithaca.

6. To wrap things up, here’s looking into the agenda of next week’s Planning Board meeting (and what will probably comprise my mid-week posts). Purity, The Canopy by Hilton, Chain Works, 114 Catherine, and the 15,700 sq ft retail building on the Wegmans pad site. Only the Wegmans parcel is up for final approval.

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114 Catherine comes to the board with one major change – the front entrance was moved from the corner to the middle of the front facade. Still 17 bedrooms in 3 units.

As for new projects coming up for sketch plan, we technically have three. As much as I was looking forward to it, Ithaca Gun is not one of them, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next month.

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The first is 402 S. Cayuga Street. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize this as INHS’s 4-unit townhome project.

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The second is Cornell – Upson Hall renovations. Cornell stuff is easy enough to find, they publish veritable novels about projects once they’re cleared by the Board of Trustees. Upson renovations sound like they’re mostly internal work with a facade update. I’m more interested in the proposed biomedical building they have yet to roll out designs for. The Upson renovation is supposed to cost $63 million, so maybe there are additions involved; the new biomedical building, $55 million. The firms involved look to be LTL Architects, Perkins+Will, and Thornton-Tomasetti. In other words, modern glass and steel box, looking for LEED Gold. No renders yet, but I’ll post ‘em when I see ‘em.

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The last of the trio is yet another Collegetown project – 302-306 College Avenue, an address which consists of the three architectural stunners above. I’ve been patiently waiting for a proposal here (though to be honest, I’m kinda partial to 302, second from the left). John Schroeder from the Planning Board has wanted a proposal here for years. They sit in an MU-2 zone – 6 floors, 80′, no parking required. All three are owned by the Avramis family, Collegetown’s third-largest property owners. More interestingly, rumor has it that the buildings they own contingent to 302 College on Catherine Street, which are CR-4 zoning (no parking, 4 floors), are involved as well. So this could be a fairly substantial project. My money is on Sharma Arch being involved, since they are Avramis Real Estate’s usual architect-of-choice. I figured that the M&T Bank on the 400 block would get torn down first, but this is no big surprise, the Avramises have been fairly active in redeveloping their properties.





A Building Cornell Regrets, and That Time I Was Duped

16 09 2014

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Cornell’s a large campus with many buildings to its name. With some, form comes before function (Balch isn’t the most practical layout for a dorm, as eye-catching as it is), and others it’s function before form (Olin Lab, for instance). The goal is to have both a pleasing form and functionally efficient, which many of the more beloved buildings, like Willard Straight Hall, have been able to accomplish.

Some building accomplish neither. Some buildings do such a bad job at accomplishing form or function that they force the university to do an overhaul of its planning process.

There’s a few that could earn such a dubious distinction (old MVR north and Bradfield come to mind), but one resulted in a special amount of acrimony – Uris Hall.

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Let me do a quick summary. Uris Hall was completed in 1972 thanks to a generous donation from real estate developer Harold Uris ’25 and his brother Percy (who graduated from Columbia, which has a less offensive Uris Hall). According to the now-offline Dear Uncle Ezra’s 12/27/2005 edition, Cornell gave the donors the ability to dictate design preferences, and while they were in Pittsburgh, the Urises noticed how amazing the (then new) U.S. Steel tower’s facade looked (which uses cor-ten steel). They wanted to see that on the new building, so that’s why it was used on Uris Hall. Corten steel turns a rusty-gold with blue overtones when it reacts with common air pollutants, but because of Ithaca’s lack of air pollution to oxidize the steel’s surface, it’s a decades-long process.

Okay, so it’s ugly. But it gets so much worse than that.

For one thing, the upkeep of the facade gave the building an incredibly high maintenance cost, something that Cornell was not happy about. An October 2, 1973 Sun article notes that Uris cost about 81 cents per square foot to maintain in 1972-1973, compared to the campus average of 15 cents per square foot. When a building is 174,000 square feet, that cost really adds up (if you’re keeping score at home, that’s about $115,000 in 1973 dollars, or about $616,000 today). There were a couple primary reasons for this: large glass expanses of single-pane bronze-tinted glass resulted in huge utility bills and were too big for facilities equipment to clean, and the slowly rusting steel. Technically, if all had gone to plan, the rust would have formed quickly, and the oxidized surface of the steel would have created a protective coating and kept future maintenance costs low. In reality, the slow rusting resulted in a runoff of steel oxide film being deposited onto the glass, which had to be quickly cleaned off before it could etch into the windows. So every rainstorm was a race against time with inadequate equipment. These were things that the architect, Roy O. Allen Jr. of SOM, admitted had not crossed his mind when designing the building.

For what it was worth, Harold Uris donated another $1 million for the building’s maintenance, and the university reconsidered the balance of building design vs. maintenance costs. Corson himself declared that the university would not borrow money to construct buildings that would be a long-term burden on university finances.

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Well, I’ll admit I’ve been tricked. I ran a couple keyword checks to see if the article cited below checked out and nothing came up to suggest it was false. Apparently I used the wrong keywords. My mistake! I commend the 1970s Daily Sun for making it so believable. -BC

Ah, but when it rains, it pours! And when it pours, it corrodes the exterior steel, to the point where the entirety of Uris Hall had its structure compromised. So the university found itself in May 1974, two years after the building opened. The university was a little nervous about issues with Uris Hall and commissioned a team of civil engineers to examine the building. They found that only was the steel weak from corrosion, the building was liable to collapse in a matter of weeks. Harold Uris freaked out. Unable to bear further embarrassment from his namesake building, he threatened to take back a $1 million donation unless students were away from campus while emergency repairs were taking place at the end of May. This meant rescheduling student exams and reducing the exam study period from five days to two in order to accommodate. The university claimed that it was a chilled water/air conditioning issue that caused the abbreviated study schedule. In sum – a rich donor held the university by its financial balls and forced 15,000 students to undergo undue extra stress in order to hide an embarrassing mistake that was in some degree the result of his architectural tastes. The only reason all this news became public is because the outgoing arts dean refused to go along with the charade. Thomas Mackesey, the VP of planning who had signed off on Uris Hall, resigned as a result of the fiasco.

There’s probably more to the aftermath, but the Sun archives lack information for fall 1974 through early 1978. But at the very least, when it came to being a disaster of a project, Uris Hall wins the gold medal.

 

 

 





Cornell Construction Projects Update, 9/2014

10 09 2014

1. The future Klarman Hall progresses on East Avenue. The $61 million, 33,250 sq ft humanities building being built by Welliver is currently in the process of building its north foundation wall, with rebar assembly underway this month (Jason at IB offers a more thorough explanation). The concrete is being poured section-by-section, and the north foundation wall has made some progress since Jason’s photos from September 1st.

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2. Exterior work is finishing up on Statler Hall. The $2.4 million renovation and 1,300 sq addition to the front entrance will be finished before winter comes, and will round out phase III of renovations to the ca. 1949 structure. All three additions are by KSS Architects.

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3. Renovations continue to the historic wing of Stocking Hall. Inside, ceilings are being dry-walled and walls are being primed. The gutters are being replaced and new windows are being prepared for the the original 1921 structure.  These photos don’t show these details, but I have a friend who’s kind enough to forward the project updates the program sends to its alumni. The project is a little behind schedule since it was due to finish in August 2014, and it looks like Q1 or Q2 of 2015 is a safer bet. Both the renovations and the new addition cost a combined $105 million.

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4. A more subtle campus project is the re-landscaping of the campus property along Tower Road. The road was repaved, and the adjacent parking was removed and replaced with sidewalks, lighting and covered bus shelters. Considering this is where I typically park when I visit the campus, I’m less than enthused, but it is a prettier sight then the pothole-laden parking spaces that used to be there.

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Cornell Construction Updates, June 2014

4 07 2014

Three sets of Cornell updates in this post – the law school addition is complete, Klarman Hall excavation is underway, and a picture from the Statler Hall renovation (which Jason just posted about).

The law school addition, by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects and constructed by Welliver, is part of the multi-phased renovation of the law school, which began in 2012. The cost of the renovation is begged at $55-60 million, with 40,000 sq ft of new space and 160,000 sq ft of renovated space. The architects specialize in contemporary additions sympathetic to present facilities – arguably, one of the few parts of Cornell where this was deemed an important matter (looking at you, Hotel School).

The Hotel School addition is phase three of renovations, adding a modern entrance to Statler Hall. The glassy entrance will add 1,619 sq ft at a cost of $2.4 million, and should be complete in time for the fall semester.

Klarman Hall, given its notable location behind Goldwin Smith, is the campus project du jour, sporting 67,500 sq ft of space (33,250 sq ft usable) and a $61 million price tag. Foundation footings will be completed by early august, and foundation pouring by mid September. Final construction will wrap up in December 2015, as posted on the sign below.

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Apparently naming green spaces is fashionable. I thought that Pew Quad and Rawlings Green would be the extent of it.

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Dairy Bar and Bar Argos, 4/2014

15 04 2014

Two of the bars I hit up last weekend. For the former, it was my first time inside the new Stocking Hall (the old one is undergoing renovation, and the project won’t be fully complete until 2015). It was absolutely packed with 4H kids/parents, and Cornell Days kids/parents. To order and receive ice cream was a 40-minute endeavor. But I got my Italian lemon cream cake, and that’s what matters.

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Meanwhile, on the more adult end of the spectrum, this past weekend was also my first time inside Bar Argos, the open-to-the-public bar of the Argos Inn. I had a Cuba Libre that was not overpowering, just the right amount of bite. Drinks here run on the high side of average, but the interior was fairly warm and inviting.
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News Tidbits 1/11/2014: Unhappy Faces on Roosevelt Island

11 01 2014
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Image Property of Cornell University

Full disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of the tech campus. I’ve also never been a fan of Morphosis/Thom Mayne’s work.

New York is a different creature when it comes to approvals. This isn’t Ithaca, where many folks feel that Cornell’s large presence makes the local community behooved to approve whatever the university wants to build. Here, people tend to be a lot more vocal, and perhaps a lot more negative. Folks in New York are especially wary of Thom Mayne because of his involvement with the 41 Cooper Square project, a building that has been seen as one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis experienced by local college Cooper Union, which has led to an end of their famous “free tuition” policy.

Last month, Cornell revealed the first phase of the tech campus, which Curbed NY has covered in extensive detail. The first phase has three components; 1) a 150,000 sq ft, 4-story building designed by Thom Mayne (the building lower left; the roof is covered with solar panels, or what Thom Mayne calls a “lily pad”) 2) A six-story, 200,000 sq ft “Colocation Building”, which is designed for corporate and school interaction. This is the building to the right, and is designed by another Cornell favorite, Weiss/Manfredi Architects, and 3) The residential building, represented by the tall featureless box. A design has not been finalized, but is being handled by developer Hudson Companies, in conjunction with Handel Architects. This build will house about 350 units, with larger units for faculty. Construction for the residential tower is proposed for a 2015 start. The campus is wrapped in green space by architect James Corner, who designed a campus without walls and to invite the public to check the school out, and all of this using an Skidmore, Owings and Merrill master plan.

Community groups are difficult to please, however. Although the net zero energy aspect was pleasing, complaints were raised about the large loss of trees, a lack of equipment for the hearing-impaired in the new academic building, and a lack of cohesiveness as the result of so many starchitects trying to compete with each other for attention. Regardless of the complaints, construction is supposed to be underway starting this month. New York and Bloomberg have previously stipulated that the first building must be open by 2017, or Cornell will face major penalties.

On the bright side, Cornell’s getting crap tons of money thrown at its New York investments. Following Chuck Fenney ’56’s $350 million donation to the tech campus, former Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs ’56 gave a $133 million donation last April, and total donations to the tech campus exceed $500 million. Weill Cornell has not been left out by all this tech campus attention; they were the recent recipients of a $75 million donation for cancer research, courtesy of former CEO of Grey Global Group Edward Mayer ’48 and his family.

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Image Property of Cornell University








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