Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 6/2017

15 06 2017

One of the biggest complaints about Collegetown is the lack of public gathering spaces – there’s no real park or public plaza that can be utilized for gatherings and events. The gorges aren’t all that accessible and aren’t suitable for large groups, and places like CTB and St. Luke’s provide for small private gatherings and community events, but the lack of a sizable public social space poses a challenge to the neighborhood’s ability to provide for its residents.

As Collegetown’s raison d’etre, Cornell is stepping up to the plate to offer a space with the renovation of Schwartz Plaza. It’s not truly a public space as something owned by the city or county, but Cornell’s large, multi-faceted presence offers a reasonable facsimile.

Part of the purpose for building the Schwartz Performing Arts Center in Collegetown was to draw in people from outside the neighborhood, and mix the non-students with the students. When the building first opened in 1989, the plaza was intended as an outdoor reception area for Schwartz patrons, and the original design by English architect James Stirling, which called for a lively “forecourt”, was never built out. Instead, the plaza was walled off from the street and there was little exposure or interaction with College Avenue. As a result, outside of performances, Schwartz Plaza tends to be barren, its only social function comes from being close to a bus stop.

The stated goals for Schwartz Plaza’s renovation are to improve pedestrian circulation, increase safety by providing for better visibility, and to enhance aesthetics. To do this, Cornell will remove the 4-foot tall concrete wall that separates the plaza from the sidewalk, create a series of short stairs to facilitate “permeability” of pedestrians to and from the plaza, and adding new seating and landscaping to make the plaza more inviting – stone walls and pavers, wood-on-granite benches, recessed LED lighting, new bike racks and planters. It’s not really a new structure or even a change of use, but to make the plaza more effective for its intended use.

To quote the marketing pitch: “This project is expected to yield a lively new gathering space that serves as a catalyst for an enhanced pedestrian boulevard along College Avenue, the primary pedestrian gateway to the university. This project is conceived as a key node within a larger, future Collegetown public realm enhancement area.”

Being a fairly minor project, and having hosted some community meetings last fall to determine the neighborhood’s design preferences, this plan sailed through the city’s planning board review, in and out from February through March. I can’t seem to locate the SPR offhand, but the total cost is about $600,000.

As projects go, this one should be relatively short at about four months, May-August 2017. TWMLA is responsible for the plaza design, T. G. Miller for civil engineering work, and Taitem Engineering for electrical engineering. The contractor isn’t clear and (unusually) Cornell doesn’t have it listed on their webpages, but the invited bidders were all regional road/landscape construction firms.

In the photos, it looks like removal of the old plaza is underway, with the wall soon to follow. The plywood around the Vermont marble columns is for protection (way back, the columns were intended to be limestone and brick stringcourses, but it was value-engineered to marble and off-white Dryvit).

 





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 6/2017

13 06 2017

For news about today’s event, please go to the Voice.

Most of the rear and east facade are complete on the Breazzano Center at 209-215 Dryden Road. The Larson sheeting on the utility/loading dock refers to Larson Alucoil, the brand name of the aluminum metal panels being used to complete the less photogenic vantage points of the new 6-story building. The clips on the rear wall will be used as hinges for architectural sunshades.

Most of the windows and spandrel glass has been installed on the read and east facade. Note that spandrel glass is purely decorative, and there are metal panels between the glass and the lip of the floor plate. The white stripes indicate where the salmon-colored metal panels will be installed over the glass, although I personally would be just as happy to see them go without; the glass curtain wall gives the building an airier, less overbearing appearance. The bottom floor uses clear glass to give the building greater transparency at street level, and is meant to enliven (“activate”) the block. In photo 9, you can see the ceiling of one of the large group instruction classrooms, meaning that the drywall has been hung on at least the lower floors, and utilities rough-ins have been completed.

At the time these photos were taken, workers were easing a new panel section of the front curtain wall into place – it’s a bit of a delicate process to hoist the glazing with the crane and line everything up just right, and then quickly fasten it into place so they can move on with the next section, pulling the tarp back and continuing down the line. One imagines it must get a bit stuffy under the plastic sheeting this time of the year. More complicated exterior sections like the projecting atrium wall have yet to be tackled.

The Breazzano Center should be open in time for the fall 2017 semester. Not long thereafter, the staging area next door at 238 Linden will becoming a project of its own with the erection of a 4-story, 24-studio apartment building. That project is up for final approval later this month.





News Tidbits 6/3/17: The Return, Part I

3 06 2017

My apologies for the lack of a weekly round-up. My day job has been busier than usual, and the list of topics just kept growing, making it an even more daunting task. Gonna try and work through a few at a time until everything’s caught up.

1. Cornell and EHVP’s East Hill Village webpage has started to flesh out their Q&A regarding the mixed-use megaproject slated to replace East Hill Plaza. Here are a few details:

– Cornell wants to make it clear that all images to date, include the conceptual from the master plan above, are strictly conceptual and have little bearing on the final product. The more realistic and nuanced take is that Cornell has an idea of what they want and the program format they want it in, for broad concepts like housing capacity, commercial/research space and general urban planning. In terms of an actual layout or tenant specifics, they probably don’t have much.

– Perhaps in response to a Voice commenter and former Ithaca town planning board member who accused the university of segmentation (meaning, during environmental review they illegally broke up a project into phases to avoid a greater analyses and to downplay impact), the FAQ notes that they didn’t really have this fleshed out and it’s separate from Maplewood. Given the size, scale, that it’s a physically separated set of properties, and vague goals they’re walking into this with, that’s a fair statement. If this were, say, a replacement for Ithaca East, which borders Maplewood, it’d be a different story.

– The current thinking is to keep the main retail strip, which was requested at the first community meeting. However, they may take down a portion of it to create a through-street, and reconfigure/relocate the parking.

– They haven’t written off pursuing a PILOT or tax abatement. They are exploring an affordable housing component. Eco-features like solar arrays, heat pumps and net-zero structures are being considered.

– Meetings will continue through the summer, with concept plans prepared for the town by the fall. Construction on the first phase would begin in 2019. It will be multi-phase.

No second meeting has been posted yet, but keep an eye out for updates.

2. Making its round around local governments and news outlets is a recently-published study by local structural engineering firm Taitem that tells of good news for heat pumps, and maybe serve to county one of the town of Lansing’s arguments regarding the West Dryden natural gas pipeline. Although the firm is a promoter of green initiatives, their study indicated that financially, the technological advancement in heat pumps over the past several years has made them competitive with natural gas, although each has pros and cons. For smaller units, a 1,500 SF townhouse in the study, it was found that an air-source heat pump was slightly less in annual cost than a natural gas furnace – for a modeled 4,000 SF detached custom home, it was a few percent more. Ground-source pumps were more expensive (but slightly “greener” than air pumps), and propane was the most costly, as well as the biggest carbon emitter. Although contractors are still adapting to heat pumps, the cost is decreasing somewhat as their use spreads and familiarity grows.

However, not everything is roses, at least not yet. For large-scale commercial and industrial operations whose heating needs are substantially greater, it appears that heat pumps have yet to be competitive, and even Taitem’s Ian Shapiro acknowledges that’s likely the case at present. But while the pipeline will continue to be an issue for larger commercial enterprises, homebuilders and residential developers should be able to adapt without too much additional financial burden or risk.

For the sake of example, the Village Solars charged a modest premium on rents when they went with pumps a few years ago (due to installation costs rather than operating costs), but having a strong product makes up for the extra short-term investment, the costs will potentially balance out over a few decades, and frankly, it makes for good marketing in eco-conscious Tompkins County.

I’ll admit to being skeptical over the past few years, and I still have concerns for economic impacts like the MACOM decision, but at least from a residential construction standpoint, the Village Solars and this study are making a strong statement.

3. Move this one into the “construction” column – Cayuga View Senior Living has secured a construction loan. The mixed-use, 60-unit senior housing project at 25 Cinema Drive in Lansing village has been in stall mode for a year as financing remained elusive. However, according to a construction loan filed on May 25th, Five Star Bank is loaning the Thaler family and their associates $10.88 million to make their project become reality. Along with the loan, the Thalers and their business partners will be putting up $1,796,450 in equity to move the project forward, bring total costs to $12,676,450.

Here’s a cost breakdown – individual figures are blocked out to avoid potential legal issues. But for the sake of illustration, here is the breakdown of the finances. Source of funds to the left, breakdown of hard and soft costs to the right. Breaking down the terms, we’ll start with the hard costs: easements are the legal right to use someone else’s land for your own use – often seen with utilities, they can also be used for private improvements like sewer, solar, paths or driveways/parking. Site improvements include landscaping, driveways, and drainage. Building Cons. costs are actual materials/labor expenses, and tenant improvements are the costs of fitting out retail space as part of a lease agreement. Lastly, general conditions are a catch-all for non-construction labor costs, including site management like porto-potty rental and temp utilities, material transport costs and project management – for this project, site management falls under the general contractor, Taylor the Builders of Rochester.

Soft costs include contigency (cover your rear allowance),  overhead developer profit (the amount needed to compensate the development team, which isn’t necessarily the exact same group as those putting up equity, for taking on this project), construction interest and LOC [Line of Credit] fees to the lender, and other line items that are either self-explanatory or too vague to ascribe. At $145/SF, the cost is a fair 10% less than a similar project in Ithaca city (offhand, 210 Hancock’s apartments are ~$160/SF), which can be explained in part by lower land costs and a less complicated site to work within, and to get in and out of.

Five Star Bank is a regional bank based out of Wyoming County in the western part of the state. They hold a few local mortgages, but this appears to be their first construction loan recorded in Tompkins County.

4. I’ll wrap up “Part 1” with a piece of interesting news – Cornell found a buyer for their printing facility and warehouse on Ithaca’s West End. According to a county filing on June 2nd, Guthrie Clinic is paying $2.85 million for the properties at 750 and 770 Cascadilla Street, which is over the asking price of $2.7 million. For that they get 3.12 acres, a 37,422 SF warehouse built in 1980, and a 30,000 SF storage facility built in 1988 and currently leased out.

Guthrie is a regional healthcare provider based out of Sayre, Pennsylvania – their premier facility is the 254-bed Robert Packer Memorial Hospital, which Ithacans might know as one of two locations someone is likely to be transported to in the event of a severe injury (the other being University Hospital up in Syracuse). For the record, Cayuga Medical Center has 204 beds.

Guthrie’s presence in Tompkins County includes some specialty offices and an existing 25,000 SF clinic at 1780 Hanshaw Road in Dryden. That building first opened in 1995, with an addition in 2000. Guthrie has been a building spree as of late, with a 25-bed hospital in Troy, PA that opened in 2013, and a 65-bed hospital in Corning that opened in 2014.

As for what they want to do on Ithaca’s West End, well, I’m working on figuring that one out. I’m hoping the Times writers who follow the blog will cut me some slack and let me try to unravel this one.

 





Cornell Law School Renovation Update, 5/2017

24 05 2017

Externally, not much has changed since March, although it looks like work is starting on enclosing the north loggia. The Fork and Gavel Cafe is closed for renovations through September, but a carry-out offshoot will serve in its place. Most of the work on this $10.2 million project is internal, converting former dorms into academic office and support space. With any luck, the next visit will be from the inside.





Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 5/2017

24 05 2017

So many projects in the final stretch up on East Hill. The Vet School expansion’s multipurpose atrium is in the process of being closed up with its curtain wall glazing. An interior shot from the start of May shows interior stud walls are up and utilities rough-ins taking place, but drywall, interior trim and fixtures had not been undertaken.The concrete for the “grand staircase” had just been poured.

The atrium will be called “Takoda’s Run“, in honor of a greyhound adopted by alumna Janet Swanson (for whom Cornell’s wildlife rehabilitation center is named). The Swanson family are major university benefactors – Janet, Class of 1963, has given millions of dollars to the Vet School since the mid-2000s. Husband John (BS 1961, B.M.E. 1962, M.M.E. 1963), an engineer and tech executive, has given tens of millions to the university. The atrium in Duffield Hall and a lab suite in Weill are named for him, as well as several endowed professorships, fellowships and scholarships. Not just leaving it to Cornell, the couple has buildings named after them at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, and a $41 million donation to the University of Pittsburgh led to the Swanson School of Engineering. My former editor at the Voice is definitely not a fan of this practice, but for those with a lot of money to burn, naming opportunities can be found or scoffed at here.

From the outside, the new administrative and library wing haven’t changed much since March, but at this point all Welliver has left is some window installs, exterior panels and finishes. Since I’m on a kick at the moment, the Flower-Sprecher library is named for former governor Roswell Flower (1892-94) for allocating funding, and in the early 1990s, Dr. Isidor Sprecker ’39 (Americanized from Sprecher) donated a substantial sum for renovation. It looks like some underground utilities work is going on out by the curb, possibly in preparation for the new landscaping and lighting fixtures.

The new Community Practice Service Building is underway, although I don’t have photos – the Poultry Virus Building has been demolished and the site was being cleared and readied for new construction. The timeline for the new 12,000 SF HOLT Architects-designed building is May 2017-May 2018, a couple months later than originally programmed.

The project seems to be a little bit behind schedule. The project team was initially aiming for a June completion, which was a little optimistic. The new schedule calls for an August opening.

 





Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 5/2017

23 05 2017

Another Cornell project in the final stretch is the second phase of the $44 million Gannett Health Services reconstruction, now known as “Cornell Health“. The new entrance is being fleshed out with fiberglass mat sheathing, and will be finished out with stone and brushed aluminum. The silvery material is a Carisle 705FR-A fireproof air/vapor barrier, which is made of aluminum and HDPE (plastic) sheets. The entrance canopy will be enclosed in glass, and the concrete podium will be concealed when the front entrance is backfilled to the height of Ho Plaza. The new northeast wing is being clad in limestone panels atop a continuous anchor system, because stone is dense and it needs a system able to support its weight. OCD-inducing Side note, that “Cornell Health” lettering signage is a different font than the rest of campus, Arial versus the campus’s usual Kabel font.

Like with Upson, the plan is to have the building open by August, although the landscaping could take another couple of months, wrapping up by October 2017.





Upson Hall Construction Update, 5/2017

22 05 2017

Home stretch for Upson Hall’s $74 million makeover. Nearly all of the turquoise water-resistive barrier (WRB) has been covered up with terracotta panels and aluminum inserts at this point. The utilities shaft and mechanical penthouse have been faced with a water resistant base layer and aluminum clips, and will be faced with grey metal panels. Note that those thin yellow aluminum plates on the exterior are a finished design featurethey’re intended to be a nod to the original canary yellow aluminum curtain bands that once lined Upson Hall’s facade. At this point, the upper three floors are occupied, the lower two floors and basement are being finished out, the exterior is nearly complete and interim landscaping features will be installed by The Pike Company before the building opens for full occupancy in August.

Over the next ten years, Cornell would like to utilize LTL Architects and Perkins + Will to redo the rest of the Engineering Quad with designs similar to Upson Hall. The $300 million plan also calls for the demolition of Carpenter Hall and a new multi-story building on the corner of Campus Road and College Avenue. Whether or not those things happen remains to be seen. The earliest renders of the Upson Hall plan are included at the end of this entry, and while the general design has remained the same, some of the design features, such as the shape of the bump-outs, the fenestration, and the emphasis on the south terrace were revised before the final plan was drafted.