News Tidbits 9/30/2011: A Big Red Bandhouse

30 09 2011

At my time at Cornell, I was fortunate enough to have friends in the Big Red Band, and I could listen to all their stories/drunk antics when I was at work (I left with the impression that the Big Red Band was basically like an extra-large fraternity with talent). I never really cared to pay much attention to the Bandies because it was never where my interest lied; I didn’t follow CU Athletics, and a big school at Cornell could afford to let people diverge into their separate interests, and for me it lay elsewhere. But, I can imagine a few certain alumni that I know must be celebrating right now.

According to the monthly alumni newsletter, the Big Red Band is about to get a facility of their own. Thanks to some large finacial contributions from band alumni David and Sarah Fischell (Fischell Hall? I think so!), the initial funding/planning is underway for a multi-million dollar band facility that will be located behind the Schoellkopf Crescent.

If I had to venture a guess on the exact siting, I would say somewhere on the parking lot, or close to the substation.  The upcoming expansion of Wilson Lab will prevent any other new structure from being built west of that facility.

As for the architecture firm, the name is familiar to Cornell – Baird Sampson Neuert, out of Toronto. They previously designed the Nevin Welcome Center in the the Plantations, and I’m sure whatever they design for the Bandhouse will only further the firm’s commitment to modern/ultramodern, geometric structures. The structure, though still in the design stage, it expected to have 6,400 sq ft and be at least three stories tall. The height is necessary due to sound pressures created by hundreds of musical instruments created at once, so a large volume is needed to spread out the force. Groundbreaking is expected to occur next year, with completion in Spring 2013, and dedication at the 2013 Homecoming, where the Big Red Band alumni group hopes to gather 500 muscially-inclined alumni for the event.

A Llenroc of His Own

28 09 2011

Image property of

So, I suppose this entry is “off-topic” in that it’s outside of my usual body of work, but I could group this with my “Crazy Alumni Profiles” entries.

A few minutes’ northwest of Albany is a little hamlet called Rexford. Located in the suburban town of Clifton Park, Rexford has a fire station, a yacht club, and not a whole lot else. If you’re approaching from the southeast, you’ll notice something else facing the Mohawk River – a wrought-iron gate to a huge-ass mansion. A mansion called Llenroc.

According to the Albany Times Union, it has a helipad, fifteen fireplaces, an indoor swimming pool shaped like a sailboat, and gilded 24-karat gold ceilings. It sits on 12 acres on the Mohawk River, and was built for a price “rumored to be around $32.5 million.” The house was built in 1992 by insurance magnate Albert Lawrence. Lawrence was a “devoted Cornell alum” who modeled his house after Willard Straight Hall, and had the exterior laid with Llenroc stone. Of course, to top it all off, he had the estate christened “Llenroc”, just like the name we’ve given to Ezra’s old estate/current Delta Phi frternity house.

The story of the house is not a happy one, however. Lawrence filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997, after his Schenectady-based company collapsed. He lost his mansion to foreclosure, but he and his wife were still allowed to live in the house until it was sold off, and they ran it as a (massive) bed and breakfast inn.  However, his dirty dealings from his insurance days earned him a 20-year prison sentence in 2000, and he passed away in jail two years later. The house was bought in 2003 by a commodities trader for a mere $1.4 million, who then tried to sell it again four years later for $12.9 million. Unfortunately, the demand for mega-houses in the Albany area is rather slim, especially with the Knolls Atomic Power Lab just across the river in plain view. A hotelier named Mathai Kolath George offered to buy the estate, but he and his son were killed in a plane crash before any deal was finalized. Kolath supposedly planned to try and sell the house for $30 million. A limited liability company (with the dubious name of Power Angels LLC) bought the mansion for $1.9 million in late 2009. The house has remained out of the news since.

I think that funding scholarships would have been better, but to each their own.



Homecoming Construction Update

19 09 2011

I came. I saw. I took photos. Note that all the photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

Milstein Hall – The building so nice I visited it twice (and by nice, I mean it’s “nice”, but not “great”, and hard to believe it cost $55 million). During the second visit on Saturday evening, a group of about ten skateboarders converged on the white humps and concrete curves. I’m going to guess it will only be a matter of time before that gets banned if it hasn’t been already.

The Human Ecology Building. The woman at the info desk offered up a “scavenger hunt” assignment, but I was short on time.

The Food Science Building (Stocking Hall Addition/Reconstruction). From my favorite Bradfield perch.

Prefabs on the Ag Quad. Sad face.

The Johnson Museum Addition

The Physical Sciences Building

309 Eddy Street. When they say “opening soon”, they mean next summer. I also have a photo of the Collegetown Terrace site from a distance, but I could see was a fenced-off area that was largely cleared out.

News Tidbits 9/15/11: Cornell Construction Continues

15 09 2011

So, two tidbits:

In what is most certainly a unique case for CU facility projects (and likely only a handful of cases nationwide), a proposed campus building will be designed by students. The building is a “Sustainable Research Facility” that is to serve as home to the (what else?) Center for a Sustainable Future, which received an $80 million dollar donation last year from deep-pocketed alumnus David Atkinson ’60.

The building is designed to proposed to have a 6,000 sq. ft footprint and be 2-3 stories. Three sites are being considered – two on the east side of campus (I’m thinking near Judd Falls Road), and one site near Dilmun Hill Student Farm, which sits at the southeast corner of 366 and Pine Tree Road (shown in the Google Map below).

Or, if they’re keen on following the master plan, there’s a couple of prime sites for smaller building proposals that they might want to consider. The project is slated to start in summer 2012, with major construction starting the following year and finishing in time for Cornell’s 150th anniversary in 2015.


The other news tidbit is that Gates Hall has finally appeared on the planning board agenda in its full proposal form (the other items on the agenda are the 5-story apartment building proposed for the Challenge Industries site, and the new hotel down by Manos Diner). Quoting the site plan review:

The applicant is proposing to construct a four‐story building with 103,000 gross SF on a 56,000 SF building site, located at the southeast corner of Hoy and Campus Roads, and the expansion of an existing motorcycle parking lot adjacent to Barton Hall to incorporate 3 accessible spaces. The building will have a steel structure and will be composed entirely of a curtain wall system with 50% clear glazing and 50% spandrel glass. The exterior of the curtain wall will be constructed of perforated stainless steel panels, folded along the exterior to provide a 3‐dimensional surface, and allow for both daylight penetration and sun shading. Site work will require the demolition of the existing 51‐car surface parking area, walkways and vegetation, including 13 mature trees, and the construction of a drop‐off & delivery area, with a curb cut on Hoy Road, to the south of the building, sidewalks along Hoy and Campus Roads, a pull‐off area on Campus Road, an entry plaza, landscaping, and other site improvements. The project is in the U‐1 Zoning District.

I’m still not a fan.

The Keyword Bar XIII

13 09 2011

I feel a little guilty when I write “Keyword Bar” entries. I feel like they’re a melange of two separate thoughts – “Cornell and Ithaca aren’t doing anything I’m interested enough in to write about” and “I’m too lazy/busy with other things to research Cornell-related topics today”. So I depend on people prowling the internet and coming across the page in order to find topics worthy of writing brief snippets.

Regarding the opening photo; that photo comes from this past graduation weekend. I’m not sure if it’s the same person who put up the angry sign a couple years ago about how someone stole the peaches off their tree and as a result she couldn’t make peach pies to give to her sad elderly friends, but there’s a good chance it’s the same person (the sign did a good job of making me feel like a d—–bag and I didn’t even know there was a peach tree on the property). Anyway…

1. “new apartment building 309 eddy street ithaca cornell” 9-13-2011

I’m going to assume this is under construction? I’m going to go down there and take photos, come hell or high water.

2. “rothschilds building ithaca history” 9-12-2011

So, the Rothschild Building is also recognizable as the old Tetra Tech building on the east end of Ithaca Commons. Surprisingly, I have virtually no photos of it except for this one, where I’ve circled it in red:

The building was finished in 1975 (i.e. finished right after the Commons opened) and underwent a renovation in 1993, when Tetra Tech bought the previous occupant out (The Thomas Group) in a corporate takeover. It was built on the site of the old Hotel Ithaca, which had been torn down nine years earlier in the name of urban renewal.  The main occupant (Tetra Tech) moved out to the tech park last year because according to them, the space was too old and inefficient. The 76,000 sq ft. is slated for conversion into residential units.

3. “first snowfall in ithaca usually” 9-8-2011

Depends on your definition of “first snowfall”. Only twice in the past 20 years has there been an inch of snow before November 1st in Ithaca – 1993 and 2009 (October 31st and October 16th respectively). The 2009 snow is the earliest 1″ snowfall on the 120-year  record (however, November 2009 was 3 degrees above average and failed to record even a trace of snow). November usually averages 5.9″ of snow, but in the past decade there have only been four years with 1″ snows (November 18 & 21, 2008, November 9 2004, November 16, 27, 28 2002, November 23 and 30 2000)., and only 2 (2008 and 2002) that received above-average November snowfalls. But, in all except two years, there was at least a trace of snow in November. A quick anecdote, I think in the meteorology major, we said that the first 1″ day on average was November 18th, but if this blurb proves anything, it’s that it varies widely from year to year.

4. “edgemoor lane murder ithaca” 9-6-2011

None that I’ve ever heard of. Edgemoor Lane has almost exclusively been the home of professors, then fraternities and small dorms, since it was built in the 19th century, so a murder likely would’ve attracted Cornell’s attention, but nothing turns up online.

5. “why is cornell considered the heathens on the hill” 9-9-2011

Cornell was founded as a non-sectarian school, a radical departure from the norm in the mid 1800s. Many preachers and men of the cloth attacked the schools for its seemingly amoral standards, for instance not mandating church attendance. Heathens on the hill arose as a pejorative term that took on a more endearing, self-deprecating tone as non-sectarian schools became more common in the following decades.

Flooding in Ithaca: Because Blizzards Aren’t Bad Enough

4 09 2011

This kinda ties into the last entry, which discussed the historical context of hurricanes (a.k.a. tropical cyclones if you follow the research literature) in the Ithaca area. Irene, while it had devastating impacts in some towns in the Capital Region and the Catskills, left Tompkins County with 1-2 inches or rain, hardly more notable than a particularly rainy summer day. I went down to southern Connecticut to enjoy being exfoliated by high winds on a beach, and a decent though not amazing storm surge. Then I came back to my Albany home to find roof damage, and a 60-foot ash tree that crashed down in front of the duplex across the street and on top of a Honda Civic. I’ve had better weeks, meteorologically speaking.

As I mentioned previously, the two worst floods in Ithaca occurred quite a long time ago – in 1857 and 1935. However, this is not to say that Ithaca hasn’t been flooded in modern times. The flood control channel down by Cass Park is there for a reason. Also, here’s a youtube video that starts with the flooded intersection of Mitchell and Pine Tree next to East Hill Plaza from way back in December 2010.

But comparatively, that’s small potatoes to some of the floods Ithaca has seen. The 1857 flood was massive. It also hails from a much different time in Ithaca’s history, before the colleges, and when the town itself had a few thousand people. Although sources are severely lacking, the downtown area was underwater for several weeks. This was before the era of effective flood control, and since downtown Ithaca is basically surrounded by steep hills on three sides and a lake on the fourth, the drainage system is about as far from optimal as you can get. Add to that some relatively impervious soil, and it becomes a big soggy problem.

Flooding is not unlikely with the spring thaw, or rapidly evolving early winter storm systems that start off with a warm moist tongue of air, dumping heavy rains before the area freezes over (certifiable proof that Mother Nature hates us all). But the two worst floods are summer events – June 1857 and July 1935, respectively.

The flood of June 17, 1857 seems to be the result of a highly localized warm-season precip event directly on the Six Mile Creek watershed (the creek just south of the Commons), which gives me the impression of a wet microburst or a cloudburst type of event. Both tend to be local and related to intense thunderstorm activity (and here’s a fun thought for when you go to sleep – they are notoriously difficult to forecast, and microbursts are one of the biggest reasons planes won’t land near thunderstorms). Anyway, the raging torrent washed out two dams, whose debris then slammed into the Aurora St. bridge, collapsing its stone arches and sending the whole shebang surging through the town. Hell, you can quote Dear Old Ezra on that one.

Some measures were taken to improve flood control, including more or bigger dams (like the one on Beebe Lake in 1898), and these were damaged by further floods, including events in 1901 and 1905. But nothing quite prepared the ares for the disaster that was the July 1935 flood.

The July 8, 1935 flood, from the descriptions I can find, seem to indicate an intense and prolonged mesoscale convective system (big effin thunderstorm complex), or something of similar intensity, with tropical moisture but nothing TC-based.  At the very least, it was definitely associated with thunderstorms on the evening of July 7th, in an area spanning from Hornell to Binghamton.

The 24-hr. rainfall total of 7.9 inches in Ithaca (the weather station was on the Ag Quad) is impressive. The local creeks almost immediately began to flood, and as drainage brought more water through the streams, they began to tear away at their banks, and flood Cayuga Lake downstream. The damage went throughout the county, from homes washed away in Enfield to cottages being washed from the lakeshore up by Trumansburg. A passenger train was stranded, and all the train tracks in the county were washed out or impassable due to debris. Most state parks in the area were badly damaged and downtown was once again flooded. Eleven people lost their lives in Tompkins County as a result of the flood (with 52 being lost in total, and $26 million in damage [1936 dollars, equivalent to $409 million today]). The damage to Ithaca was about $1.8 million in 1936 dollars, or $28 million in 2009 dollars.

As for the university, being on higher ground protected it from the wrath of the waters. Barton Hall was used as an emergency shelter for almost seven hundred people. The damage to campus was estimated at $10,000-$12,000 (1936 dollars, about $250,000 today), mostly due to the hydroelectric plant being flooded and some trail and bridge damage.

So, maybe it’s not on a Biblical scale, but there’s something to be said about living on higher ground and away from creek banks in the Ithaca area. Or you can just look at the Beebe Lake Dam after a good rainstorm to get a faint idea of how much worse it could be.