Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 1/2018

23 01 2018

At this point, the expansion is done, and the construction at hand is the new $7 million Community Practice Service Building at 107 Farrier Road, where the Poultry Virus Lab once stood. It looks like a waterproof spray coat was applied above the previously-applied water-resistive barrier, based on the overspray on the rough window openings. There are plastic sheets with ribbing up over some of the exterior walls and part of the front entrance – the rendering shows concrete walls with decorative finishes,  so what might be happening is that these are still curing, and the sheets are there to keep precipitation (whatever it may be this time of the year) from penetrating and changing the concrete and water mixing ratio, which can weaken the wall.

The roof equipment (HVAC commercial units) appears to be in place, but the synthetic rubber membrane has yet to be laid. A truck at the rear of the construction site suggests Michael A Ferrauilo Plumbing and Heating of Rochester is one of the subcontractors. They’ll be busy for a while yet; stacks of insulating form board and galvanized metal utility ducts suggest plenty of interior and exterior work still left to be done before the May opening.

Background info on the project can be found here.





Cornell Law School Renovation Update, 1/2018

22 01 2018

Finally, the glass for the new western staircase bump-out makes its debut. There appear to be visible brackets between glass panels in the curtain wall, so this is quite recent – the aluminum frames have yet to be finished. The copper flashing up top is nice and fresh, and if the renders are any indication, the wood panels just below that will be finished with steel panels. Peer inside closely and you can see the outline of the new staircase and the metal railings on each landing.

Worth noting, there is a major difference between the approved drawings and the built product – notice that the bump-out is four floors. The renderings show five, it was expected to extend down to ground level. That bottom section with the Lowes Green Guard (polystyrene foam insulating boards) might still be finished with steel panels and decorative “Cornell Law School” lettering, given its width; but, can’t be sure at this point.

With the newly-enclosed loggia already finished, this $10.2 million renovation project is in the home stretch; although a January 2018 was initially planned, a March completion seems fairly likely.

Background info on the project here.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 12/2017

31 12 2017

Grab a cup of coffee or tea for this one, it’s a long introduction.

Touching on a familiar topic again, downtown and urban living has enjoyed a revived interest in the past fifteen years, and coincident with moderate but steady economic growth in Ithaca, it has created plenty of opportunities for those with assets and expertise. Succeeding in those opportunities is a slightly different story – money and a strong project team are important, but some projects have an easier go of it than others. Harold’s Square has experienced substantial obstacles in its long pre-construction period, but thanks to developer David Lubin’s flexibility and tenacity, as well as an accommodating local government and growing market, it has surmounted those challenges and is now underway.

The first version of Harold Square at 123-139 The Commons was proposed back in October 2012. At the time, the plans called for first-floor retail, a few floors of office space, and 60-70 apartments on the upper floors of the 11-story building. The Sage Block (Benchwarmers) and W.H. Miller Building (Home Dairy) would be renovated, while three less historic buildings would be taken down to make way for the new development. The estimated price was $30 million and the plan was to have the 126,000 SF building finished by summer 2014. At that time, the building would have needed a fairly substantial zoning variance – the entire site was CBD-60, and it reached about 135 feet.

With the exception of the first-floor retail and Sage Block renovation, none of the other details have remained the same. However, the five major design iterations have all been by the same architect – CJS Architects (formerly Chaintreuil | Jensen | Stark Architects), with offices in Rochester and (later) Buffalo.

Lubin already had some familiarity with the project site – one of the storefronts to be removed used to be home to Harold’s Army Navy Store, a business started by his father and expanded to sixteen locations across the region. These stores were closed in the late 1990s as Lubin chose to focus on his development project and other business endeavors, like his computer recycling business. Harold’s Square is a nod to his father’s store, and the famed Herald Square of New York City.

The project design was critiqued and reviewed thoroughly over the next ten months, which also produced the first major set of design changes – in fact, if you’re googling Harold’s Square without prior knowledge, images of this version, v02, turn up enough that even many current agencies and organizations (and even the posters on the construction fence) treat it as the final design. The 2015 image from the contractor’s website, Taylor the Builders, is shown above. It did away with some of the less-liked design features of v01, but retained a clean, contemporary profile with a curtain wall of glass, and terracotta panels that extended to the roof canopy. During this period, plans to acquire the W.H. Miller Building were dropped.

This was the version that was approved in August 2013, and received CIITAP tax abatements two months later in October 2013. It had 162,750 SF, with basement utilities/storage, ground-floor retail (20,670 SF), three floors of office space (56,855 SF) and 46 apartments on floors 5-10. The eleventh floor was a 5,000 SF penthouse for tenant use. The price tag was about $38 million.

At this point, post IDA approval, we kinda enter a publicly dormant period. Publicly, apart from the occasional reassurance from Lubin that the project was still alive, and the re-application for approval permits since those expire after two years, there didn’t appear to be much going on. Behind the scenes, it gets a little more interesting.

The project was having trouble securing a construction loan, and that was for a couple of reasons. For one, Lubin (as L Enterprises LLC) was having trouble securing a major office tenant, and office space made up about a third of the building. No one had any concerns about the apartments since the residential market was (and still is) strong, and retail is not hard to sell when it’s on The Commons, but office space is a different matter altogether. The demand for new space is modest, and often custom built for a tenant, rather than speculative space to be filled by tenants after it’s complete. So if we’re being fair but critical, the project team made a fair gamble but ended up overestimating the market for office space. Unless that space was spoken for, there would be no financing.

Re-examining the mix of uses, Lubin decided to revamp the project when seeking re-approvals in August 2015 – two floors of office space would be replaced with apartments. The first mention of this actually came through the New York Times, followed by the Voice and the Ithaca Times. With the drop in office space, the number of apartments jumped to 86. This also required some design changes, which were going to be reviewed by the city in Fall 2015. My notes show August 2016 ended up being the review date. We’ll call this version 3, v03.

Now Harold’s Square was 180,090 SF, with basement utility/storage space, ground-floor retail, second floor office space, and ten floors of apartments. The project had grown from 11 to 12 floors, but the height was nearly the same since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling heights than Class A office space. The total unit count was now 108, with 40 micro units (all the rage these days), 30 1-bedroom units, and 38 2-bedroom units. This version was approved in September 2016. By the time the project was up for re-approval, the city zoning had changed such that 140-foot buildings were allowed on-site, so no further height variance was needed.

With the space utilization issue worked out, the project was still seen as a sizable risk to potential lenders – it was at its inception the largest project proposed in downtown Ithaca since 2005’s Seneca Place, and Lubin had some experience with smaller projects, but nothing this size. Finding a partner to buy in to the plan would reduce the loan needed and add experience, making the project an easier sell to lenders. This is where McGuire Development, a major interest in the Buffalo market (3.5 million SF), came into play. They saw the potential in Lubin’s vision and the value in the Ithaca market, and agreed to buy in as a development partner. This appears to have been finalized in January 2017.

Fast forward to May 2017. With McGuire playing a role on the project team, major design iteration #4 (v04) removed the terracotta panels in favor of metal, and reconfigured the Commons storefront retail to use a common entrance, for “financial viability”. The enclosed atrium was removed and a mechanical penthouse added. It seems likely that McGuire wanted to ensure a certain return on investment. This version was approved without much further comment, except perhaps a bit of exasperation from city officials. Concurrently, the project team re-applied to the IDA for a revised tax abatement – the project’s price tag was now up to $42 million, and they were seeking revised, slightly more generous terms, which were granted with some grumbling. Complaints include a lack of explicitly affordable housing units, local labor concerns, and gentrification. The use of heat pumps and 60 kW of rooftop solar panels assuaged the sustainability crowd.

By October, the project was underway, courtesy of a construction loan from Norwich-based NBT Bank. The bank is a regional player with about 1.5x the assets of Tompkins Trust. This is new territory for NBT, which typically limits itself to single-family home loans in Tompkins, and has no service branches within county lines. The loan is for $33,842,000. L Enterprises and McGuire have each put up $5 million to cover the $43,842,000 cost of the project.

So here we are. The site has been cleared, and shoring and excavation by Paolangeli Contractor will take place over the next six weeks. After that comes ten days of pile driving, using a zero-resonance hammer to reduce vibration and noise – ostensibly, because is probably the second-most high-profile project site in the city after City Centre (which used the same method). Project completion is expected in Spring 2019. Sorry folks, but the Commons playground will remained cocooned and closed due to safety concerns.

The project team includes L Enterprises LLC (led by David Lubin) as lead developer, McGuire Development as co-developer, Taylor the Builders as the general contractor, CJS Architects, Fagan Engineers and Land Surveyors handling the application and civil/structural engineering work, and Brous Consulting for public relations. Those who want to follow the project without this blog as an intermediary can sign up for update on the project webpage here.

With the latest update on their webpage also comes the latest version of the project design, v05 – which doesn’t really affect the program space, but it does have several visual changes. The corner units now have exposed balconies vs enclosed rooms, the dark metal band on the top floor facing the Commons has been removed, and the retail frontage was reconfigured a bit on the Commons facade (the north module was stretched, one of the entry doors moved, and different fenestration patterns have been applied to some of the modules and the northwest face).

Pre-demo photo:





City Centre Construction Update, 12/2017

21 12 2017

As with the Hilton Canopy Hotel under construction just across the street, City Centre is in the middle of foundation work. Steel forms with plywood facing have been erected and braced along the perimeter of the building footprint. In fact, it looks like the project team is using the same Symons Steel-Ply system being deployed at the Canopy site. The piles have been driven and the foundation slab is poured. The team is slowly making their way to the steel frame of each pile, encasing it within forms before pouring the concrete, letting it cure, and then removing the forms to reveal a concrete/steel column ready for vertical additions. The elevator cores and stairwell columns are also on the rise. – the elevator core facing East State Street appears to be the furthest along.

We finally have a named general contractor, and like the architect for the City Centre team (Humphreys & Partners of Dallas), its a new entrant to the Ithaca area – Purcell Construction Corporation, with offices in Richmond, Virginia and Watertown, New York (an hour’s drive north of Syracuse). It appears that they have plenty of experience with multi-story towers and large structures, which is no doubt an asset for the project team.

As I previously said, as structural steel takes height here and with the Canopy and Harold’s Square, downtown Ithaca is going to look like one big advertisement for TCAD.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2017

20 12 2017

Given how long this project seemed to be be stuck in post-approval financial purgatory, it still surprised me when I see construction underway at the Hilton Canopy hotel site on the 300 Block of East State Street.

One imagines that summer 2018 will be a construction nerd’s paradise, as cranes for City Centre, Harold’s Square and the Hilton will dot the city’s skyline, no doubt making their way into future TCAD imagery. But for now, it’s subsurface work. The Canopy is excavated, lagging, H-beams and steel tiebacks have been erected to hold the soil back, and wooden forms are being assembled for the concrete pours. Forms are typically plywood, sometimes aluminum or steel, and are braced to resist the pressure from the concrete as it is poured to make the foundation walls. For commercial buildings like the Canopy, stronger steel forms with plywood sheet ply are used. In this case, since the walls are quite tall, workers have installed brackets and scaffolds along the forms so that they can stand and work higher up on the walls. Specifically, I think it’s a Symons Steel-Ply Forming System that is being used.

The footprint of the site also has some less imposing wood forms that have been assembled, and interior to those some steel rebar has been laid, to add strength to the concrete as it cures. Some of the basement concrete slab has already been poured along the perimeter, and some is being readied for pours. The elevator shaft and north stairwell will occupy some of the footprint of where the rebar grid is in the second and third photos below. The basement will consist of storage rooms, utility space, a fuel room, laundry facilities, housekeeping office, main offices for hotel staff and back-end operations, restrooms and a breakroom. The smaller forms with the square outline on the south side of the site look to be about where the money counting room and/or data/communications room will be.

Note the light rigging onsite – December’s short daylight hours are no conducive for outdoor construction. Floodlamps are a way around that.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 12/2017

19 12 2017

Most of the scaffolding and netting has been taken down on the Tompkins Financial Headquarters in downtown Ithaca. Most of the glazing has been completed, and the Endicott “manganese ironspot” brick veneer is being attached, which isn’t so much a jet black as it is a dark grey. Definitely not as dark as the waterproof coat going on over the gypsum sheathing on the front facade, which will be finished with a grey stone veneer. Not sure why the change of materials on the front facade between U.S. Gypsum panels and Carisle CCW-705 air/vapor barrier, since it doesn’t look like barrier is being applied over the whole of the front before the coating is applied. If someone from HOLT Architects or LeChase Construction knows, feel free to chime in.

It appears there was one design change made late in the process – the rear stairwell, which was initially face with light grey aluminum panels, has instead been faced with the dark Endicott brick. Adds more variety perhaps, but I think the panels made for a less imposing rear face. We’ll be seeing the exact same color and brand of brick on another project, The Lux in Collegetown, where it will face the lower floors of the Dryden Road facade.

There’s still plenty of work left with the exterior finish work, stone veneer and granite base, not to mention interior work like drywall, fixtures and finishes. TFC staff should be moving into the new digs by the end of May.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 12/2017

18 12 2017

Some progress on Visum’s latest project, “The Lux” at 232-236 Dryden Road in Collegetown. 232 Dryden, the building closer to Dryden Road, has started work on exterior framing – the partially-above grade basement level, built into the slope of the site, appears to have been framed with Amvic insulated concrete forms (ICFs), similar to those seen at the Ithaka Terraces and the Fox Blocks at the Thurston Avenue Apartments. These are thermally insulated plastic blocks filled with concrete – they tend to be a more expensive approach, but they also tend to have a higher grade of insulation (higher R-value), making for a more energy-efficient structure. There has been talking of making the complex net-zero energy capable, provided that the energy of an off-site solar array can be procured. STREAM, the architect of The Lux, also did the Ithaka Terraces. The exterior walls will be assembled block by block, with new pours as rows of blocks are set in place. The rebar provides additional stability. It appears the cinder block elevator core/stairwell has been assembled as well.

232 Dryden might be the more visually prominent of the two building, but it is also the smaller one – it will have 20 units and 53 bedrooms. 236 Dryden will host 40 units and 138 bedrooms.

Speaking of 236 Dryden,  Welliver has the foundation excavated, and the steel piles are in. However, judging from the steel rebar sitting on the edge of the site, the concrete pours have yet to take place, and it looks like the wooden forms are just now being built on the far side of the footprint.

Pessimistically, I could note that this is one of the few Collegetown projects that was able to move forward after the building code change that brought multiple other projects to a halt – the power lines on Dryden Road aren’t close enough for the project to infringe on the new regulations. I had heard Visum might actually pay for the burial of power lines on the 200 Block of Linden Avenue, but even if they did, they would still have to deal with NYSEG’s slow schedule.