TC3 Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center Construction Update, 9/2019

8 09 2019

Another project to move into the “complete” column. The $6.5 million, 9,875 SF Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center has opened its doors for its young occupants. Interest in the new childcare facility has been strong enough that the facility is already full and has a waiting list, proof positive that affordable and flexible childcare options are in great need in Tompkins County.

Only signage, exterior landscaping and play areas remain on the to-do lists. Photos are limited because construction workers don’t mind their photos being taken, but parents with their young kids do.

Local architect Claudia Brenner designed the new facility, with Lansing’s Dende Engineering on board as a structural engineering consultant, T.G. Miller for surveying and civil engineering work, Jade Stone Engineering PLLC of Watertown for mechanical, electrical and plumbing design and engineering, Ithaca’s TWMLA for landscape architecture and Albany’s Ran Fire Protection Engineering for the sprinklers and other fire suppression systems.

More information about the project and Arthur Kuckes can be found here.





TC3 Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center Construction Update, 2/2019

1 03 2019

The new childcare center at Tompkins Cortland Community College has been fully framed and sheathed. Some of the windows are in, while the remainder remain rough openings, as do the doors. Given the fireproofing needed here those walls are most likely gypsum sheathing panels with a vapor/water barrier, atop a masonry base. Fiber cement and metal panels will be used in the exterior finishes. The hipped roof over the entrance has underlayment in place, but no shingles, and guessing from the temporary guardrails on the roof, it’s probably got some protective/vapor barrier down. But the pink stack on the roof is is insulating panels, and those will need to be in place before the top membrane (synthetic rubber probably) is laid. The project hasn’t made much news as of late, though it looks like some subcontracting work is out for bid. The $6.5 million, 9,875 SF project is expected to open in time for the fall semester.

More info about the childcare center can be found on the blog here.





Cornell Fine Arts Library (Rand Hall) Construction Update, 12/2018

22 12 2018

Cornell’s new Fine Arts Library (FAL) is coming along. The Mui Ho Fine Arts Library will occupy the top floors of Rand Hall, a ca. 1911 structure that long housed the design studios of the Department of Architecture. My own memories of Rand were relegated to the outside, usually a small throng of architecture students getting their nicotine fix just beyond the entrance (and on a few occasions, substances more illicit).

Rand has always been the workhorse of the Architecture School and a fine example of early 20th century industrial architecture, but for the past twenty years Cornell actively made one attempt or another to get rid of it – in their attempts to build Milstein, the university proposed to tear down Rand not once, but twice. However, there was significant pushback by alumni and historic preservation groups against the idea, and it was one of the factors that weighed into the Koolhaas design for Milstein Hall, which functions as more an addition to the AAP School than a replacement.

The interior will consist of three levels of mezzanine shelving for the 125,000-volume Fine Arts Library’s collection, as well as interspersed work/study spaces. The library stacks will consist of “inverted ziggurats” accessed by stairs and walkways. Floor-to-ceiling space will range from 48 feet on the north side of the reading room to 7.5 feet in some sections of the library stacks. Long, unobstructed hallways will run the length of Rand Hall. The large variation is meant to convey both grand spaces and “private engagement” with the books. 8,000 square feet of shop space for the AAP program will occupy the first floor. Other features will include reading carrels with built-in monitors and lockable book storage, public computing stations and a seminar room. The roof will host a 1,500 square-foot structural deck, outfitted with base plates for temporary structures as well as power, water and digital connections. The semi-elliptical roof pavilion will be built at a later date.

In this renovation and expansion, Rand’s daylight-factory windows were replaces with single panes, the east stairwell was removed, and a steel canopy is going up over the roof. The building will have two entrances, one public and one for AAP only. In an attempt to limit energy use, the building utilizes rigid foam insulation, installing double-glazed windows and all mechanical systems are being replaced. Like Cornell’s other Central Campus building, Rand/FAL is tied into the Combined Heat and Power system, which uses a mix of renewable and conventional fuel (mostly natural gas) sources.

As previously covered, the architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. More of Tschapeller’s very avant-garde designs can be found at his website here. The project is being funded in part by a  $6 million dollar donation from Cornell alumna, architect and UC-Berkeley professor Mui Ho ’62 B. Arch ’66.

The $21.6 million project is expected to be completed in June 2019, after a construction period of 18 months. Welliver is the general contractor.

Now at about the two-thirds mark, most of the new windows are in, with clips still in place for the newly installed windows on the east facade. The area of “damage” was the result of the teardown of the eastern stairwell, which was a much more recent construction and not original to the structure. The Carisle VP 705 on the roof is a self-adhering waterproof and fireproof fabric to limit moisture penetration from the aluminum panels.





News Tidbits 11/26/18

27 11 2018

Just to get this out in time, he’s a look at what will be a rather long but very interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting tomorrow evening.

1 Agenda Review 6:00

2 Special Order of Business – Planning Report on ILPC recommendation to designate the former Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad Station at 701 West Seneca Street. 6:05

3 Privilege of the Floor 6:20

4 Approval of Minutes: October 23, 2018 6:35

5 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 6:40
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Distribution of FGEIS & Review of Schedule – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca.

No decisions expected tonight, but the distribution of the FGEIS (Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement) is a major step forward. From here, the Planning Board will review and critique the document, and when satisfied, it will vote for a resolution of completion. A recommendation to adopt the Chainworks PUD zoning and the FGEIS findings will follow, and if successful, the Common Council will also vote to adopt the PUD zoning. That would complete generic review for the site – new builds would still come to the board as necessary, but renovations could potentially begin not long afterward. Timing-wise, the final approvals are still a few months out, but this massive 910+ unit project is slowly closing in on approvals, and potentially, construction.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:55
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). All NCRE materials are available for download at: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

Materials provided indicate that city planning staff are reasonably satisfied that the energy impacts of the massive North Campus housing plan have been mitigated. The only new letter on record this month is a letter of concern from the City Historic Preservation Planner about the project’s visual and aesthetic impacts on the Cornell Heights Historic District to the west.

C. Project: Apartments (12 Units) 7:25
Location: 327 W. Seneca Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for Visum Development
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a three-story apartment building with 12 units. Project development requires the removal of the exiting building and parking area. The project will include exterior bike storage, a trash enclosure, walkways, landscaping, signage, and lighting. The project is in the B2-d Zoning District and has received the required variances for front-, side-, and rear-yard setbacks. A small portion at the rear of the property is in the CDB-60 District. The project has received Design Review. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

Not much to add regarding Visum’s workforce housing (80% area median income) proposal for the State Street Corridor. The project is expected to receive $200,000 from the latest round of the Community Housing Development Fund, the affordable housing fund jointly paid into by the city, county and Cornell. In this case, Cornell will cover $170,000 and the city $30,000. Cornell doesn’t have any hand in this project, but having one entity pay most of the grant for a given project makes it less complex to administer. 

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:35
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11).

Note that IFR is a Travis Hyde Properties business entity. The attempt to gain approval for an environmentally compromised project site is likely going to be more heavily scrutinized given the recent controversy regarding proposed demolition procedures for the Old Library site.

E. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 7:55
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of SEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally nonconforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).

F. Project: Maguire Lincoln 8:15
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. Landscape design will improve vegetative cover; however, it will not meet the City of Ithaca’s impervious/pervious requirements (12%). The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review.

G. Sketch Plan – 312 E Seneca Street, Jagat Sharma 8:35

312 East Seneca is a 4,482 SF three-story mixed-use building on the edge of Downtown Ithaca. The building was long-owned by Ithaca architect Jagat Sharma, who ran his practice from the building (1416 SF), the Alley Cat Cafe (1926 SF), and a four-bedroom apartment (1140 SF) on the upper floors.

A few years ago, the site was floated as part of the potential footprint for Visum Development’s Seneca Flats mixed-use project, though at the time it was made clear that it was not an essential property to the development, and simply a possibility if Sharma chose to sell to Visum. Sharma didn’t – in September, he sold the building to an LLC associated with the Stavropoulos family for $800,000, double the assessed value. That lofty price relative to assessed value was a big clue something was planned here, and it looks like the first glimpse of that will come tomorrow night. The Stavropoli of West Hill have been growing their assets through acquisition or development for the past several years, including the 4-unit North Aurora project in item E. above.

Normally, the Stavropoulos family is low-key about development, preferring lower-profile infill builds in established neighborhoods – the largest project of theirs to date is the 11-unit 107 South Albany project. They often turn to local architect Daniel Hirtler, but this time, Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma will have a hand in redeveloping the building that housed his office for so many years. This would be Sharma’s first building downtown since the Greenstate Building (127 West State Street) in 1991. For the record, this would be their second Sharma commission, with a duplex planned for 209 Hudson Street being the other (granted, that’s also a modular structure).

Zoning-wise, this is CBD-60. Within that zone, Sharma can design a five-story building up to 60 feet tall, no parking required, with any variety of commercial or residential uses. Any design will have to conform with the recently-adopted Downtown Design Guidelines. The Stavropoli are likely to do all-residential or residential with ground-floor retail. The current building is quite narrow, but it also only occupied the east half of the lot – a new structure could practically touch the neighboring building at 308 East Seneca.

H. Sketch Plan – 114 Catherine Street, Jagat Sharma 8:55

Things are about to get a bit confusing. A few years ago, the Lambrou family, mid-sized Collegetown landlords and developers of Collegetown Park, presented and built an infill project at 114 Catherine Street – while all the working docs used 114 Catherine Street, the address of the existing building set back into the lot, the new 3-unit, 17-bedroom building was christened 116 Catherine Street.

This new building is expected to be a replacement for the existing 114 Catherine Street, the Mission Apartments, and is expected to complement 116 Catherine in appearance (Jagat Sharma designed that as well). Zoning here is CR-4, up to four floors, with a maximum of 50% lot coverage (but not parking required). Expect this to be student housing – probably not too big, a few dozen beds at most, but something to take note of nevertheless.

I. Sketch Plan – 130 Cherry Street, Residential, Vecino Group 9:15

130 Cherry Street is a 4,600 SF auto body shop that’s been for sale for quite a while now. The rumor mill says Vecino CEO Rick Manzardo was walking around the area a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like there was a reason for that. The plan being floated is affordable “artist housing”. This wouldn’t be a new concept to Vecino, who renovated a vacant warehouse in Troy into the 80-unit Hudson Arthaus. What makes the Arthaus unique among affordable housing is that it offers on-site amenities geared to artists, as well as income-based rents for those who make only a modest living while engaged in their creative pursuits.  Those amenities include a wood shop, on-site storage units, gallery spaces managed by a local non-profit, and a computer/digital work suite.

Zoning here is “Cherry Street District” Waterfront Zoning. Since it’s north of Cecil Malone Drive, housing is allowed – but not on the first floor. The first floor is for light industrial and many commercial uses, including restaurants, stores and offices. No ground-level storage permitted, however. In this “artist housing” format, the first floor would likely be the exhibition/gallery.workshop space. The building may be up to five floors with 100% lot coverage once setback requirements are met. Bonus for this site, the Cherry Artspace is a few hundred feet away. With about 179,000 SF in building capacity offered by the site and zoning before setbacks are considered, a potential project could be fairly sizable.

6. Old/New Business 9:35

7. Reports 9:40
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

8. Adjournment 10:00





TC3 Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center Construction Update, 11/2018

24 11 2018

Normally I’m a little more on top of construction starts, but Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3) is somewhat isolated, so I rarely check it out. This time it paid off.

Over at TC3, the footers are in, the foundation slab has been poured and the steel frame is being assembled for what will be the newest addition to the college’s campus, a $6.5 million, 9,875 SF daycare and early education facility. The construction costs are about $4.5 million, covered in part by $2.5 million in state grants and a $2 million donation from Arthur Kuckes, the founder of local firm Vector Magnetics, and a longtime supporter of the college. The funding goal was 50% state sources, and 50% private donors. The remainder of the funds will be used to pay for equipment purchases to outfit the facility, and to set up an operating endowment. The previously vacant project site was selected for its easy vehicular access and picturesque views.

The purpose of the building is multi-pronged. For one, it provides a much-needed daycare option for students with infants and young children, giving parents more flexibility to take classes while their kids are in a safe, stimulating environment nearby (it’s also open to the children of faculty and staff). A 2014 feasibility study commissioned by the college found that about 5,400 children in Tompkins and Cortland Counties are in need of third-party childcare, and that existing providers, ranging from formal childcare facilities to babysitters, serve about 3,000 children in the study area, meaning a 45% deficiency and by extension, a lack of affordable childcare options. The existing on-site daycare can care for 33 children, and does not have the capacity for infants. The new facility is expected to serve up to eighty children in two infant rooms and six early childhood classrooms, and create a dozen jobs. The college expects about 90% of the enrollees will be the children of students, with a small number of faculty and staff children. If there are still openings (few if any are expected outside the TC3 community), members of the greater Tompkins-Cortland community may apply.

Secondly, it gives students in the Early Childhood education program a greater chance to develop hands-on experience. The Early Childhood program also expects to increase its number of on-site student interns from 14 in the current campus daycare, to 45-50 students over the course of a typical year.

The project was first publicly announced in February 2016, with a somewhat grander design that was toned down (value engineered) in an effort to stay withing budget and start construction sooner rather than later. The fundraising campaign launched in June of that year, and the project went out for construction bids in February 2018. The project expenses still increased somewhat in the few years from conception to execution, growing from about $5.5 million to $6.5 million. The groundbreaking in May suggested an opening by the end of 2018, but Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan (SWPPP) stated August 2019.

According to the construction documents (all 702 pages of them), local architect Claudia Brenner designed the new facility, with Lansing’s Dende Engineering on board as a structural engineering consultant, T.G. Miller for surveying and civil engineering work, Jade Stone Engineering PLLC of Watertown for mechanical, electrical and plumbing design and engineering, Ithaca’s TWMLA for landscape architecture and Albany’s Ran Fire Protection Engineering for the sprinklers and other fire suppression systems.

The foundation is a standard concrete slab-on-grade shallow foundation, and given the immense need for fire protection for a facility like this, the frame will be fireproofed steels, with extensive fire suppression systems (fire-rated doors, sprinkler system), and fire-rated gypsum board sheathing. Finishes will include masonry, fiber cement, and metal exterior panels, and asphalt and metal roof materials. Windows will be typical commercial-grade aluminum frame, and the trim will include wood and metal flashing. Note that the exterior play areas will include not one, not two, but three play areas, for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers respectively. In the photos brlow, the foundation appears to be finished, with some rebar and orange rebar safety caps still on-site. The steel skeleton is still being assembled, with some roof trusses and corrugated steel decking sitting near the structure, ready to be hoisted into place.

Site plan, as seen in the geotechnical report.

Interior render.

Current design, front entrance.

Older design, rear wings with the pre-school and toddler playgrounds.





Amici House Construction Update, 8/2018

10 08 2018

One of the things that stands out about the new Amici House project – or rather, doesn’t – is that the five-story residential building under construction doesn’t really stand out for a structure of its size. The hillside to the east keeps it from being prominent, and the section of Spencer Road on which its sits is tucked away from most neighboring structures – the building is hardly noticeable from South Meadow Street.

The structure is fully framed, nearly fully sheathed with fire-resistant National Gypsum eXP panels, and then layers with Dow Thermax panels, which stand out somewhat because of the reflective aluminum facer. The Thermax panels are glass-fiber reinforced polyiso insulation, a lighter duty but fire-resistant material, and bonus, it’s made at facilities powered by 100% renewable energy and has “zero ozone depleting potential”. The blue material is a liquid sealant to fill the spaces between panel edges (Dow LIQUIDARMOR), and it looks like metal rails are being attached at the ground level, where the exterior finish will be attached. I’ve kinda assumed this will be fiber cement panels, but to be honest I have not seen a materials sheet in the city’s online files.

The same could be said for the new Harriet Giannelis Childcare Center, which looks nothing like the plans on file and presumably is filed somewhere, just not online. To be fair, it doesn’t look bad at all. Perhaps a bit plain, which isn’t a surprise given TCAction’s tight budget, but Schickel Architecture did attempt to dress it up by varying the colors and playing with the architectural details. Given the goals of the project, as long as its appearance doesn’t actively repel visitors and scare the kids, then it’s A-OK. Landscaping, colorful children’s projects and plantings will make it even better.

Note that one of the primary parking areas will be behind the new stone retaining wall at the rear of the property. Another will be along the section of Spencer Road across from the TCAction offices.

More info about the project can be found here.

 





Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center Update, 8/2018

6 08 2018

I don’t typically follow renovations, but figured I’d play the role of curious alumnus and drop in to the newly renovated Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center at Noyes Lodge on the north shores of Cornell’s Beebe Lake.

The 7,646 SF Noyes Lodge originally opened in 1958 as a womens’ dining hall, and over the years was re-purposed to become the Language Resource Center, with audio carrels and other equipment for those with linguistic coursework. Cornell decided to shift facilities, moving the LRC to Stimson Hall and renovating the lodge into a campus welcome center, which opened in June. This is now where student tour guides gather their broods, vs. the old days when they would congregate at Day Hall. The lower level hosts conference space, utility rooms and offices.

The Tang family have long been trustees and major donors to the university. The $3 million gift in October 2016 was in response to a challenge grant created by mega-donor Atlantic Philanthropies (funded by Charles Feeney ’56), which offered up to $3 million in matching funds to donations towards the new welcome center – so with $6 million secured, the renovation’s financing was secured and will be able to move forward. Cornell has long considered a reception and exhibition space by the gorges, having mulled over but ultimately backing away from a plan penned by architect Richard Meier in the late 1980s. Tang, Class of 1970 and now retired, was a venture capitalist based in Hong Kong, and the regional chairman of a recruitment firm for business executives.

JMZ Architects of Glens Falls, a favorite of the SUNY System, was the design firm in charge of the renovation and re-purposing. The exhibition space is the work of Poulin and Morris Inc. of New York City.

With that all said, here’s a story.

When I first visited Cornell, it was for Cornell Days: cold, windy and kinda desolate. My mother and my uncle made the trip with me, since I had just been accepted to the university – my family did not have the money or time to visit schools unless I was already given an offer. Out first stop was RPCC on North Campus. On a Powerpoint on a TV screen were two sailors kissing; it was part of a promotion for a campus LGBTQ organization.

Having come from a blue-collar and fairly conservative town north of Syracuse, my mother was shocked into silence, and my uncle proceeded to have a crisis of moral conscience on whether his nephew should attend such a school. You have to keep in mind, it was still controversial for many of our town’s older generation that the high school A.P. Government teacher was openly gay. The kids didn’t care, and I couldn’t have cared less that day either.

Anyway, what warmed my mom up to Cornell were “the castles”. Sage Hall. The Arts Quad. Uris Library. But as for me, I didn’t feel like I fit in. My tour group was a bunch of wealthy kids, one of whom loudly grumbled his disappointment that he didn’t get into Yale and his mother didn’t like Dartmouth. Why would a 17 year-old want the constant reminder that he’s not cut from that cloth or a part of that world?

So I wrote out a deposit check with my money from waiting tables to SUNY Geneseo. And Geneseo was the check that had been put out in the mail. Until my mom took the envelope out of the mailbox and tore it up, putting one out to Cornell in its place. We had some fights after that. She wanted me to give “that big money Ivy League school” a chance, I was not as keen.

When I first arrived at Cornell, I was pretty sure I’d transfer to Geneseo after the first semester. I didn’t feel comfortable there. But then I started to meet other people who didn’t feel comfortable there or fit that upper-crust Cornell image, and we became friends. Suddenly, the urge to leave was much weaker. Mom had resigned herself to the idea of me transferring by Thanksgiving, but when she found out I hadn’t completed the paperwork, she was pretty happy.

As for me, well, I was required to attend a fancy dinner a few weeks earlier where an older gentleman who had funded one of my scholarships urged me to visit his old Cornell fraternity, and I went to their Thanksgiving dinner as a polite gesture. I found it to be a down-to-earth place filled with people with backgrounds like mine, that’s how I ended up coming back for rush week and in Greek life – something I managed to hide from my mom until graduation day. I steadily came to know more people, get involved in different activities on campus, and things went from there. And a growing fascination with “the castles” and their history led to Ithacating. I guess in some sense it all worked out eventually.