Miracles Do NOT Happen…

12 02 2009


So, let’s start with the article:


“A group of Cornell professors is urging the university to hold off on construction of Milstein Hall, citing concern about the economic recession and the building’s environmental footprint.

In response, a group of Cornell architecture faculty is urging the university to move forward, saying the new building is needed to keep its top-ranked department accredited.

The ultimate decision on whether to go forward with Milstein Hall lies with University President David Skorton, and he has not yet made that decision, Cornell spokesman Simeon Moss said Tuesday.

Skorton announced a university-wide construction “pause” in October. The pause extends through the end of the fiscal year in June.

“Basically all projects that don’t have a shovel in the ground are subject to the pause, and the president and the executive vice president are reviewing those projects,” Moss said. On whether Cornell will move forward with Milstein Hall, Moss said, “That decision by the president hasn’t been made yet.”

Throughout its city approval process, Cornell officials repeatedly said that Milstein Hall is not subject to the construction pause.

On Monday Mark Cruvellier, chair of the Department of Architecture, sent The Journal a joint statement in favor of Milstein.

“This is a building that is urgently needed by the Department in order to maintain our accreditations as a professional school of architecture,” reads the statement signed by 13 architecture professors. “The building permit is in hand, bids have been reconciled, and it is, in today’s parlance, shovel-ready. Given the current low cost of materials and competitive bidding situation, to delay construction of Milstein Hall yet again will only add to its cost.”

Cruvellier could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Milstein Hall has spent 10 years in the design and approval process, including two years gaining approvals from a variety of city boards. The city’s planning board and landmarks preservation commission have both signed off on the project.

Milstein Hall is proposed as a modern, glass structure that will physically connect with Rand and Sibley halls and stretch across University Avenue toward the Foundry. Another cantilevered extension would extend out into the arts quad.

A group of at least 25 Cornell faculty and alumni have petitioned the university to halt construction of Milstein, using The Cornell Daily Sun, other media and, today, the university’s faculty senate, government professor Elizabeth Sanders said.

Those opposed include an architecture professor, Jonathan Ochshorn, and music professor Martin Hatch, who has spoken against Milstein before a variety of city boards over the last two years.

Sanders contrasted the process and design for Milstein with Ithaca College’s new Park Center.

The Park Center received the highest rating possible from the U.S. Green Building Council, a LEED Platinum, and cost $19 million, according to the Ithaca College Web site.

“And we’re going to spend $60 (million) and get less space and much lower sustainability and a lot of offensive aspects?” Sanders said. “If Ithaca College can do this, why can’t Cornell do this?”

Andrew Magre, project manager for Milstein Hall and the Central Avenue Parking Garage, said last month the total project cost would be approximately $54 million.

Milstein Hall would be roughly 50,000 square feet, according to information presented to Ithaca’s planning board, and will include studio, gallery, meeting and exhibition space, and a 275-seat auditorium. The parking garage will include two underground levels and one surface level for a total of 199 parking spaces.”


Let’s consider the Park Center for a moment.

Photo by Granger Macy

Photo by Granger Macy

The Park Center was a $19 million dollar project to build a 38,800 sq ft building [1] on the Ithaca College campus that was completed in early 2008 (it’s also the building that caught fire during the fourth of July celebrations).

So, let’s consider some key differences between the Park Center and Milstein Hall.

-Milstein is cantilvered and is connected to two structures that are a century old (Rand Hall) and ~110 years old (East Sibley). Park Center isn’t. The area was home to a green space that bordered a parking lot (and oddly enough, was not a suggested building site on the Ithaca College master plan [2], and to the contrary seems to throw off the master plan by cutting off the proposed green avenue through the main campus).

-Milstein had to go through red tape hell after Paul Milstein’s original $10 million donation in 2000. Park Center was launched with a major donation from Dorothy Park in 2002 [1]. The cost has gone from somewhere in the 20 million dollar range when first proposed to $40 million from a couple of years ago to about $54 million today. I wonder if that total includes the $2 million Cornell paid for University Avenue so they could actually build the damn building.

-Milstein incorporates a parking garage, auditorium, and bus stop. Park Center has a large atrium, but otherwise it’s mostly offices and smaller lacture spaces [1]. Park Center is LEED platinum (highest ranking), and Milstein is gold (second highest ranking).

My issue is that the comparison does an unfair presentation of facts. If we were to plop Milstein out on the alumni fields or near the vet school, I bet it would be a lot of cheaper too. Park Center didn’t have the red tape issues or ambient environment issues that Milstein Hall has to deal with.

My other issue is that some people are finding fault with the modern design. Let’s not start that crap again. In my own opinion. this is probably the least offensive design of the three that have been planned, if but just because it spares Rand from the wrecking ball. I’ll admit I’m no fan of it, but it’s less jarring than the previous two proposals. For one thing, architecture schools have a habit of wanting to be on the cutting edge of design (makes sense, considering building design is much of their field). Plus, the design is going to be different, because if people want to preserve Rand and Sibley the building has to build up or out. Being on the Arts Quad, I’m willing to wager some passionate people would rather burn the construction site down than let it build up.

As much as this site is a Cornell construction monitor, and as I much as I actually like seeing new projects go forward, I’m really torn opinion-wise. Yes, I’d like to see the the architecture build-out so it can have more (badly-needed) space. However, with operations cuts across the board, I don’t see a good reason this should be spared. My concern, however, is that prices will continue to skyrocket, costs will be prohibitive and the project will have to go back to the drawing board again, and AAP will have a crisis due to its trip through red tape hell.

[1] http://www.ithaca.edu/news/release.php?id=2501



One response

14 04 2009

“However, with operations cuts across the board, I don’t see a good reason this should be spared. My concern, however, is that prices will continue to skyrocket, costs will be prohibitive and the project will have to go back to the drawing board again, and AAP will have a crisis due to its trip through red tape hell.”

The crisis of rising/prohibitive costs are the least of the college’s worries. Milstein Hall is instrumental in securing the M.Arch I program’s NAAB accreditation and keep the B.Arch program from loosing it: the new building will provide ADA compliance with Rand and Sibley, linking the buildings at all levels, which has been ongoing and unresolved problem.

Without this building being fast-tracked, the school looses any credibility with the board, that this issue and the solution through a new building (a 10+ year promise) would be resolved any time soon.


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