Tompkins Center for History and Culture Construction Update, 7/2018

2 08 2018

I don’t usually spend much time covering renovations, but here’s a major project that deserves a good summary.

Let’s start this off with a little self-promotion by linking to the summary and project team interviews I did for the Voice pack in February. The History Center (THC) is a non-profit that celebrates Tompkins County’s past, with an eye towards improving its future. It’s a source for genealogists, historians, teachers, archivists, and many of the old-timey photos that the Voice, Times and other news outlets share with intrigued readers. The History Center has been renting space at 401 East State Street (Gateway Center) on a 25-year lease, due to expire this year.

When weighing their options, there were a couple of reasons why a move was looking better than a renewal of the lease. For one, it would give them a chance to find a more visible place to call home – a higher-profile location would give them more opportunity to be seen, and hopefully be heard. For two, the rent on their existing space was set to go up quite a bit, nearly doubling to $90,000/year.

It happened that Tompkins Trust was in the midst of building its new headquarters, so there was potentially some space opening up in the downtown area. A prime site availed itself in a pair of buildings along the pedestrian-only block of 100 North Tioga Street, better known as “Bank Alley” since nearly all the buildings along it were occupied by banks. 106 North Tioga Street, the shorter brick building, was the county clerk’s office when it was built back in 1863. Its neighbor at 112 is relatively young, built for the predecessors of Tompkins Financial in 1895. 106 was acquired by the bank in 1949, and various renovations from the 1950s through 1980s brought the buildings together as a bank complex with a modern connector space between them. After initial discussions in 2015, Tompkins Financial said it was open to a sale of the 18,826 square-foot space, and the county, who helps covers The History Center’s expenses, paid for a $15,000 feasibility study.

The first public discussion of the plan, then dubbed “The Tompkins County Heritage Education Center”, was in October 2016. The feasibility study checked out, so in January 2017, The History Center, in conjunction with other non-profits, requested $35,500 from the County Tourism Program for early stage development costs – a capital campaign, branding and marketing materials, and architectural drawings.

The project could be described as part “heritage tourism”, part visitor’s bureau and information center, and part non-profit office space. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture will house the CVB’s Downtown Visitors Center (part of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce) and The History Center on the first floor. The Wharton Studio Museum, the Dorothy Cotton Institute, and the Community Arts Partnership will also be major components of the project. Historic Ithaca and the Discovery Trail will also be affiliated with the Center, and a newly rebuilt “Tommy” bi-plane will be on permanent loan in the exhibit area. Most project partners will have office space on the second and third floors. The History Center is promoting the TCHC as a co-working space that would allow non-profit partner organizations to work together more efficiently, enabling them to share the costs of administrative functions, and tackle and divvy up larger grants and projects.

The Tompkins Center for History and Culture was a bit of an effort to name. It was initially turned down by the county legislature last summer because they wanted The History Center to do community outreach and make sure people were okay with the moniker. And two legislators still opposed the new name, one for not having the exact phrase of “Tompkins County” in it. To be honest, it’s a mouthful even now.

The project’s costs are estimated at about $3.75 million, but the enumerated amount is $3,345,100. Originally, the cost was $2.9 million. The county paid $2 million for the property, about $400,000 below assessment. The other $900,000 was for hard and soft costs related to the renovation itself. As for recuperating some those costs, $1.365 million is being paid for by a pair of NYS grants, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, and a $305,000 economic development grant, which were awarded as part of the state’s economic development competition in December 2017. An earlier state grant gave $28,500 towards planning costs of the project. Another portion ($100,000) will be covered through some of the hotel room tax. Another $450,000 or so will come out of the $1.75 million being raised in the a capital campaign supported by individual and institutional private donors.

The county initially expected to be on the hook for $350,000. But in May, The TCHC requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, which the county would have to cover in the short-term. The extra cost, raising the renovation’s price tag to $1,345,100, was attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The legislature is hoping the expense is justified through the boost in tourism (30,000 visitors, a mix of local and non-local, will walk through its doors annually after it opens) as well as the modest rent it will charge the non-profits for the office space.

STREAM Collaborative is doing the design work, Tetra Tech did the structural engineering, New York’s Tessellate Studio is designing the new exhibit area and Iron Design developed the logo, website and marketing material. On the construction side, Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, has the the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, won the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, earned the Electrical Contract ($135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and just finished a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

With Tompkins Financial now in its new HQ and out of Bank Alley, construction could proceed and the formal “groundbreaking” for renovation was last month, Tompkins Center for History and Culture is expected to open in early 2019. The website for TCHC can be found here.

At this point, asbestos removal by LCP Group has been finished, and some of the windows have been removed in 112 North Tioga while non-load bearing interior walls are removed and the interior space is reconfigured for its new tenants. Exterior work will generally be limited to murals, lighting and signage.

Render:

July 7th:

July 27th:





Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 8/2017

18 08 2017

Cornell’s modest but useful renovation of Schwartz Plaza has made significant progress. Gone are the walls that kept the sunken plaza cloistered from passerby, and in its place are stone seats and durable granite setts, for what ideally serves as a visible, attractive public gathering space in Collegetown’s dense quarters. Ornamental grasses will be planted between the seats, and from the renders, it looks like recessed LED light poles will be added as well.

Wood benches will be installed on a granite base below the steel trusses of the far wall, and some of the stone seatings on the near/eastern side will be overlaid with wood benches as well. Hopefully the marble columns get a thorough cleaning; after a few decades, it could use a good scrub. New ornamental bushes and vines will be planted along the trusses and against the back wall of the sunken “forecourt”.

Originally, this was supposed to be done in time for classes, but that seems unlikely at this point. A September finish is likely a fair estimate.





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).