Cornell Plans Renovation for Hughes Hall

27 11 2015

There is almost never a period without construction at Cornell. Don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

Cornell’s latest construction plans were presented as a sketch proposal at last Tuesday’s Planning and Development Board meeting. The sketch plan is the first step in the process, where an applicant solicits input and first reactions from the board. A copy of the powerpoint presentation can be found on the city’s website here.


The renovation of Hughes Hall is the second phase of a three-phase expansion and renovation of the Cornell Law School. The first phase, which consisted of 40,000 SF of new, partially-subterranean classrooms and a 170-space auditorium, began in Summer 2012 and was completed in Fall 2014 at a cost of $23.8 million. Ann Beha Architects of Boston, and Welliver Construction of Elmira worked on the first phase of the renovation and expansion program. Ithaca Builds offers plenty of interior and exterior images of the first phase here, and a copy of the original Ste Plan Review from 2012 is on the city’s website here.

The first phase was Certified LEED Platinum (the highest LEED designation), which was possible in part because as an underground structure, it was easier to design and pay for maximum energy efficiency. The Hughes Hall renovation will pursue LEED Silver at a minimum.


Initially, Hughes Hall was to be the third phase, with a renovation of Myron Taylor Hall planned as Phase II. However, since the plan was initially conceived several years ago, the second and third phases were switched around.  The total cost of all three phases is pegged at $60 million (2012 estimate).


Externally, the changes to Hughes Hall will be subtle – the current open-air loggia will be enclosed and a new entryway will be built on the east side of Hughes. A glass-enclosed staircase will be built onto into the West facade, and the dining room terrace will be repaired. Although some parts of the Law School are historic (Myron Taylor Hall, which dates from 1932), 62,000 SF Hughes Hall is a later addition, built in 1963/64, that lacks the historical detailing of the older structures.


Internally, administrative and other non-faculty offices will be located on the ground floor, with a dining room, event room and other office/flex space on the floor below (note that the building is built into a hillside, so the Fork & Gavel Cafe, although one level below the ground floor, exits near surface level on the southern side of the building). Although the upper floors aren’t discussed in the sketch plan, the general upper-level plan is for new offices for law school functions and faculty that replace dorm rooms for first-year J.D. students.

With this mostly-interior renovation, the focus of review will probably be on staging and general harmony with surrounding physical environment (buildings and landscape). At first glance, this project doesn’t appear to be stirring any major issues (overlooking the loss of student housing, which is worth criticism but nowhere close to illegal), but will probably create the standard blitz of documents and PDFs that Cornell sends to the city to preemptively answer any questions committee members may have.

Given the timing, Cornell is likely shooting for a Spring construction start, with completion in 2017.



News Tidbits 11/21/15: Building and Rebuilding

21 11 2015

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1. Starting off this week with some eye candy, here are some updates renders of the townhouses proposed for INHS’s 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood. Details and project status here. 210 Hancock has been approved by the Planning Board, and Cornell, the city and county do have dedicated funds ($200,000 total) going towards the affordable housing units, but still needs to be seventeen conditions prior to receiving a construction permit, one of which required revised townhouses to better reflect the neighborhood. The Common Council also need to vote to discontinue using the sections of Lake Avenue and Adams Street on which the new greenways and playground will be constructed, which apart from the time needed and paperwork generated, isn’t expected to encounter any obstacles, with formal conveyance to INHS anticipated by March 2016. INHS is shooting for a May construction start.

The Planning Board will be voting on “satisfaction of site plan approval” at its meeting next Tuesday, which should be a fairly smooth procedure, if the paperwork’s all correct.

Personal opinion, the townhouses, with more color and variation in style, appear to be an improvement over the previous version. These five will be rentals, while the other seven will be for-sale units, and built in a later phase (government funding for affordable rentals is easier to obtain than it is for affordable owner-occupied units, so it could take a year or two for those seven to get the necessary funding). The apartments have not had any substantial design changes since approval.


For what it’s worth, here’s the final site plan. The rental townhomes will be on the north corner of the parcel, furthest from Hancock.

2. Turning attention to the suburbs, someone’s put up some sizable chunks of land for sale in Lansing village. The properties consist of four parcels – 16.87 acres (the western parcel) for $500,000, right next to a previously-listed threesome of 28.07 acres (the eastern parcels) for $650,000. The eastern parcel also comes with a house, which the listing pretty much ignores. Lansing has it zoned as low-density residential, and given the prices (the western parcel is assessed at $397,600, the eastern parcels at $561,100 (1, 2, and 3)) and being surrounded by development on three sides, these seem likely to become suburban housing developments, possibly one big 30-lot development if the parcels are merged. For the suburbanites out there, it’s something to monitor.

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3. House of the week – or in this case, tiny house of the week. The 1-bedroom, 650 SF carriage house underway at 201 West Clinton Street draws inspiration from 19th century carriage houses, which makes sense given that it’s in Henry St. John Historic District. It and the main house are owned by former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández and her partner, TWMLA architect Zac Boggs. The two of them did a major and meticulous restoration of the main house, which used to house the local Red Cross chapter, a couple of years ago (more info on that here).

Anyway, the framing is underway and some ZIP System sheathing has been applied to the exterior plywood. No roof yet and probably not much in the way of interior rough-ins, but give it a couple of months and that 1960s garage will be given a new life as a tiny house.


4. Time to take a look at the Planning and Development Board agenda for next Tuesday. For reference, here’s what a typical project guideline looks like:

PDB (Sketch Plan) -> PDB (Declaration of Lead Agency) -> PDB (Determination of Env’tal Signif., PDB BZA reccomendation if necessary) -> BZA (if necessary) -> PDB (prelim/final approval).

Here’s the meat of the agenda:

A. 210 Hancock – Satisfaction of Conditions of Site Plan Approval (see above)
B. 215-221 Spencer St. – Consideration of Prelim/Final Site Plan Approval  – this one was first presented as sketch plan in March, to give an idea of how long this has been in front of the boards
C. 416-418 East State Street – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – “The Printing Press” jazz bar is a proposed re-use for a former printshop and warehouse that has seen heavy neighbor opposition. The bar has changed its emphasis, redesigned the landscape and moved itself to a more internal location to mitigate concerns, but the opposition is still strong, mostly focusing on noise and traffic. The board has simply and succinctly recommended that the BZA grant a zoning variance.
D. 327 Elmira Road – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – The Herson Wagner Funeral Home project. This one’s had pretty smooth sailing so far, only a couple complaints that Elmira Road isn’t appropriate for a funeral home. The Planning Board, however, applauds the proposal, which replaces a construction equipment storage yard, for better interfacing with the residential neighbors at the back of its property. It has been recommended for BZA approval.
E. Simeon’s on the Commons Rebuild – Presentation & Design Review Meeting – Before anyone throws up their arms, this is only to talk about the materials and design of the reconstruction, and to get the planning board’s comment and recommendations.
F. The Chapter House Rebuild – Sketch Plan – The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) must have come to some kind of acceptance on the proposed rebuild if the Chapter House is finally at the sketch plan stage. the Planning Board will have their own recommendations, which will have to be coordinated to some degree with the ILPC (the ILPC is arguably the much stricter of the two). We’ll see how it looks next week.
G. Hughes Hall Renovations – Sketch Plan – more on that in a moment
H. DeWitt House (Old Library Site) – Sketch Plan – originally slated to be seen a couple months ago, but pulled from the agenda. The 60-unit project is not only subject to Planning Board review, but ILPC review since it’s in the DeWitt Park Historic District.

5. So, Hughes Hall. Hughes Hall, built in 1963, has dorm housing and dining facilities for Cornell students attending the law school, but those 47 students will need to find alternative housing once the hall closes in May 2016 (yes, with Maplewood closing as well, Cornell is putting 527 graduate and professional students out on the open market next year…it’s gonna be rough). However, this has kinda been known for a while. Cornell has intended to renovate Hughes Hall since at least 2011, as Phase III of its law school expansion and renovation. The building was used as swing space while Phase I was underway, and then the phases were flipped and Phase II became Hughes Hall’s renovation, while Phase III became Myron Taylor Hall’s renovation. According to Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, who designed the law school addition (Phase I), the Hughes Hall renovation will “house offices, administrative support spaces, academic programs and meeting spaces.” Well see how the renovated digs look at Tuesday’s meeting.

Klarman Hall Construction Update, 11/2015

15 11 2015

Klarman Hall is nearly ready to open its doors. The atrium’s being painted, some glass on the East Avenue entrance needs to be installed, and landscaping still needs to be done, as well as some work putting windows back into the construction-facing walls of Goldwin Smith. But apart from that and some finishing work on the inside, this project is almost done. New trees won’t be planted until the Spring, so that they don’t have to fight for survival through the winter while adjusting to a new environment.

Additional images of the project (including aerials!) can be found on Landmark Images here. Additional project information is available on Cornell’s website, or the umpteen million posts discussing this project over the past two years that it’s been under construction. Welliver and LeChase Construction were the contractors for this project, and Boston-based Koetter | Kim & Associates is the project architect.

This is just meant to be a short thing, but there might be an expanded Voice piece once this project approaches its ribbon-cutting in January.

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Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 11/2015

13 11 2015

A lot of progress has been made with the Gannett Health Center addition on Cornell’s campus. The new addition has been framed up and topped out. Some of the interior walls have been framed with metal stud walls, with more work yet to come. The primary glass curtain wall is still being framed out, but some of the smaller sections to the north and east have some window panels installed. The variety of glass color used in the facade isn’t quite apparent just yet, since many of the panes are still covered with a blue cellophane wrap for protection.The dark blue material on the concrete stairwells is likely a water-resistant barrier, not unlike that used on the Planned Parenthood Building when that was under construction a couple years ago. The addition, which is phase one of Gannett’s three-phase expansion and modernization program, should be open for its first patients and staff next summer.

The Pike Company‘s Syracuse office is serving as general contractor for the $55 million project. Local architecture firm Chiang O’Brien designed the renovation and addition, and Ithaca firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects will be doing the site landscaping.

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Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 11/2015

12 11 2015

The site of the future west wing of the Cornell Veterinary School expansion has been excavated and the foundation is being poured for what will be a 3-story building with the new Flower-Sprecher Library, and additional program space. Look along the outer edge of the newest foundation section and you’ll see wooden forms pressed against the concrete. These forms provide stability and shape while the concrete hardens, and they provide support to the reinforcing rods embedded in the concrete. They will move further along the perimeter as pouring continues.

Without being all that knowledgeable about deep foundations, the structures in the middle of the excavated foundation might be pile caps. Piles are driven into the ground, trimmed to a predetermined height, formwork is set up around the piles and the concrete is poured and left to cure. So the piles are underneath the caps, and columns extend from the base of the cap. The load of the structure’s will be transferred to the pile caps and distributed to the piles below, providing stability for the building.

EDIT: Quoting commenter Drill Deep, who is knowledgeable about foundations: “No deep foundations at this one. Just very wide spread footers. East Hill and the Cornell campus usually has ground that can be made to do the job. The basement here is very tall and something like a hangar. Lots of headroom to run utilities.”

More information on the background and details of the expansion can be found in the September update here.

NYC-based architecture firm Weiss/Manfredi designed the expansion, and regional construction firm Welliver is the general contractor.

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Upson Hall Construction Update, 10/2015

12 10 2015

Over on the Engineering Quad of Cornell’s campus, work continues on the gut renovation of Upson Hall. Gone are the original Terra-cotta panels that banded the facade, and the bluestone that faced the building will be removed as the project progresses. Plastic sheeting covers the exterior, working as a vapor and weather barrier. Exterior metal studs, which form the walls, have started to show up on the third floor, with spaces indicating future window openings. These studs will be sheathed (probably with glass-mat gypsum sheet-rock) and later the facade will be put up after the windows have been installed and the building is fully closed in.

Inside the plastic sheets, new telecom rooms are being framed out on the first and second floors, and new drywall is being hung up. Wall framing for new classrooms and offices is underway on the third floor, as well as duct and pipe hanger installation (utilities rough-in). Floors four and five are still undergoing interior demolition – walls are being sandblasted to remove paint, worn-out mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are being removed, and the old interior walls are being deconstructed so that the space can be re-purposed. New vertical shafts are being cur through the floors, and these will house state-of-the-art electrical and telecom infrastructure.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks (target date October 21st), the steel angle installation will begin for the northeast and northwest corners, which will be expanded outward as part of the renovation (the net gain in space will be about 4,000 SF). Steel clips will be attached to the existing structural steel, and then the new steel beams will follow. The entire project is expected to be completed by September 2017, with landscaping work in the second phase.

Upson Hall houses the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department, and previously housed labs and offices for computer science until the completion of Gates Hall last year. Built in 1956, the 160,000 SF building is being renovated and modernized at a cost of $63 million.The building will be seeking LEED Gold certification.

The New York office of Perkins + Will, who designed the original building during the height of modern architecture 60 years ago, are also working on the new design, in conjunction with New York-based LTL Architects and engineering firm Thornton-Tomasetti. The Pike Company out of Rochester has been hired on as the general contractor for the multi-million dollar project.

An interview with Robert Goodwin, the design director for Perkins + Will’s role in the project, can be found on the Voice here.

On a personal note, I walked through a spider web while getting photos, and once I got back to my car, found a fingernail-sized sandy-brown spider on my cheek. I quickly grabbed it and flung it onto my umbrella, and shook it out a moment later. Spiders don’t freak me out much, but if that had been a bee on my face, you’d be reading on the Voice that I either died of a heart attack, or drove into a wall.

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News Tidbits 10/10/15: Meeting With the Stakeholders

10 10 2015

1.There is nothing wrong with a little speculation. In a follow-up of sorts to the Voice piece about parking capacity in Downtown Ithaca, the Times’ Josh Brokaw did an interview of his own with city of Ithaca parking director Frank Nagy. Nagy believes that the 248-car estimate used by State Street Triangle is “way high”, but given that one of the refrains is that there’s not enough parking, they’d rather be safe than sorry.

More importantly, Nagy believes that the Seneca Garage only has about 10 years of life before a new garage will need to be built (the Seneca garage was built in 1972). The structural situation at Green Street is severe enough that the city may have to remove the end pieces and build up the middle section, which was renovated several years ago. The property is being reviewed, and with Tompkins Trust vacating office space on its ground floor as part of the move to its new HQ, the assessment is well-timed.

If the Green Street garage decides to go up rather than out, that leaves two very valuable properties that the city could sell to its benefit (financial, affordable housing, or otherwise). Both ends of the Green Street garage are zoned CBD-140, which offhand is the densest zoning in the entire city, 140 feet maximum height with no parking requirement. A zealous councilperson might try and change that post-SST, but as is, a rebuild of Green Street a few years from now could yield a lot of possibilities for downtown development. Put that in the notebooks for 2020 or so.


2. Speaking of future plans, we have the bike debate currently raging in the streets. Now, this is only tangential to my usual work, and I am not versed in the topic, so it’s nice to go in without preconceptions.

The city just finished work on Board of Public Works (BPW)-approved bike lanes on North Cayuga Street, specifically an unprotected bike lane on the east side (protected lanes were considered, but not approved). Although meetings gave due public notice, there were no letters sent to Cayuga Street residents informing them of the change, and a number of folks were caught off guard, including members of the city’s Common Council.

In the one corner, you have folks angry about the loss of parking, the inconvenience, and the danger it poses to the elderly. Unfortunately, you also have a council member describing biking-proponents in the same tone one would describe Albany lobbyists. The mayor has come out in favor of the N. Cayuga Street bike lane, although according to the Times, he’s not a fan of “resident-driven infrastructure”. It’s really a fascinating read from a planning perspective. – Times coverage here, Journal here.


For what it’s worth, bike lanes are a major part of walkable communities and reduced ecological impacts (carbon footprints). I feel like I’ve seen this type of argument play out from the perspective of development quite a bit – every new Collegetown or downtown building gets the “Ithaca shouldn’t allow big buildings/they’re ruining Ithaca/where are they going to park” argument, and the “Ithaca is not a small town/it promotes walkable communities/suburban sprawl is destroying Tompkins green space” counter-argument. The key problem with the bike situation seems to be a lack of communication between the BPW and Common Council (and residents by extension). Luckily, the planning board doesn’t quite have this problem – everything they vote on gets publicized, on this blog if not elsewhere.


3. The last hurdle for John Novarr’s 215 Dryden Road project has been cleared. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved variances from the Collegetown Form Guidelines – the corner isn’t chamfered or set back enough and the building only has one main entrance (the form-based code mandates an entrance every 60 feet of non-residential space). The owner of the house across Linden from the corner was the lone opposition speaker, and the BZA vote was 4-1, with Marilyn Tebor Shaw opposed. No reason for Shaw’s decision was provided in the article.

With all the approvals tucked away, all that’s needed is for the city to sign off on the building permit. Expect this one to be underway within the next month.

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4. Reader submissions are always welcome. The photos for this week’s “House of the Week” featurette come courtesy of Frost Travis. The house receiving the addition is 416 North Plain Street in Ithaca’s Washington Park neighborhood. The current owners brought the property in October 2014. County records give it a 1900 construction date, which is often a default for old and unsure; it appears on an 1889 map of the area, but was not yet built in the 1866 map.

The rear addition looks like it’s been underway for a while – the exterior has been framed and sheathed with plywood Huber ZIP system roof and wall sheathing, which uses seams and tape to save time vs. traditional sheathing such as Tyvek housewrap. There are some windows fitted into the rough openings, but there’s still plenty of work to do with closing up the exterior and interior utilities rough-in. Looking at the original house, the owners appear to be fitting smaller windows in place of the originals – two window cutouts on the north wall have been filled in with sheathing, and a new window has been fitted in a new opening. The front door and adjacent window are gone, one large rough opening in their place. The front roof above the door and window was slanted, but has been dropped to a flat roof as part of the renovation and addition. Presumably, the butter yellow vinyl exterior will be re-finished as construction progresses. With any luck, this one will be finished before winter comes.


5. What a quick turnaround. The Cornell Daily Sun first made mention of the Ag Quad renovation last week as part of its coverage of the Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting. Now only a week after Cornell shared a glimpse at the cards in its hand, they’re playing them. The $9.6 million project will be broken down into two phases, one that focuses on infrastructure, and one phase on landscape improvements (and being that much of the infrastructure is underground utilities, phase one could be described as churning up the ground, and phase two is making the upturned dirt pretty again). The renovations, which are set to start next summer and run through 2017, will include additional emergency phones, a rain garden, and outdoor gathering spaces in front of Mann Library and Roberts Hall (upper right and lower left in the above render).

Too bad those temp buildings are still there between Kennedy Hall and Plant Science. If the Southern Tier wins that Upstate Redevelopment competition, I have an idea where the new Plant Science Commericialization Building should go.

6. Plans for 416 E. State have evolved since the bar was first proposed. Originally conceived as a general bar/drinking establishment, developer and Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has faced substantial opposition to the project – neighbors are vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department was not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement, which had after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. Although the project doesn’t need planning board approval, it does need BZA approval – area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.


Representatives for Rosenblum and neighbors have met, and the compromise Rosenblum and his associates have proposed involves a lounge-type of establishment they’re calling “The Printing Press”, after one of the previous uses for the late 1940s warehouse. They’ll be going for an industrial/”speakeasy” aesthetic, and targeting the same older, more affluent clientele that patronizes the Bar Argos next door. Signage would be minimal, and exterior work limited largely to an accessory parking lot/handicap access, landscaping and a new coat of paint. Looking at the original plan vs. the revised plan, the bar no longer is in the rear corner, but moved closer to the building center so as to buffer the noise of patrons from disturbing neighbors. Parking will be shared and organized with the Argos Inn’s lot. For more info, cover letter here, renders here, vision statement here.

The new parking arrangement may assuage the county, and the low-key bar located centrally in the interior may be enough to satisfy some of the neighbors. But we’ll have to see the BZA’s reaction and what remaining opposition there is before anything is set in stone.



7. The Planning and Development Board has scheduled a Design Review Committee meeting to offer guidance and commentary on the styling of proposed buildings. While State Street Triangle isn’t on the agenda (yet), the Hotel Ithaca addition is. Renders here and here.

I’ve toned down my opinions over the years, but this…well, let’s just so those “sick burns” Nick Reynolds mentioned at the last planning board meeting were pretty well justified. I mean…yikes. The cross-hatched blank walls, the circular glazing, the “tourist trap” aesthetic. There’s an alternative being shown with small windows in place of the circular glazing, and rectangular facade hatching instead of the cross-hatching, but it’s not a great improvement. The board’s going to have a lot to say with this proposal.



8. I had hopes that for the first time in three years, a major project would go through the boards without complaint or opposition. Hopes dashed. The complainant against the 4-building, 12-unit 215-211 West Spencer Street project cites the loss of the city’s parking lot on the site, the narrow width of S. Cayuga Street (the “rear” road), traffic, and no neighborly interactions because it’s a rental that faces Spencer Street.


The kicker is, the letter-writer lives in an upscale Lansing subdivision. He rents out his 3-unit Cayuga Street property. The “house” that the letter claims used to be on the site is also misleading. It was a run-down multi-story apartment building (shown above in the photo from county records), demolished 12 years ago by the city, and turned into an informal parking lot that was never meant to be a long-term use. The land was sold by the city to Ed Cope for $110,000 last March.

I’m willing to entertain legitimate arguments and complaints to projects. But this isn’t one of them.


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