Ithaca, N.Y. — Work has continued on the site of Ithaca’s Carey Building on East State Street, a block away from the Commons, according to developer Frost Travis, where a five-story addition is underway on top of the two existing floors.


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The underpinning (foundation-strengthening) process to support the new addition has been underway during the winter.

“Building a new building over an old building presented a greater engineering challenge than we originally anticipated, but our structural engineering firm Elwyn Palmer solved the multitude of design problems presented by the overbuild in an elegant and efficient way,” replied Travis in an email to the Voice.

While the building permit for the Carey Building has been issued for structural steel up to six floors, according to Travis the project will need another height variance to add a seventh floor because of design changes required by the most recent review of building code.

Some design renderings of the project:

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Some design renderings
Some design renderings

The currently approved design calls for interstitial space between the second and third floors. Interstitial space is an intermediate space between floors sometimes used for housing mechanical equipment.

These type of designs, while expensive, are often employed in multi-floor lab or hospital space, where remodeling or re-purposing of floor space is common. The existing second and new third floors of the Carey Building are used/will be used for the Rev business incubator, where that type of flexibility is a huge asset.

Unfortunately, the previously-approved plans don’t comply with build and fire codes, which was not realized until recently. When asked how the code issue, Travis said that the issue was found in a follow-up review of the fire code after initial approvals were granted to the project last summer.

“We recently learned that building and fire codes prohibit us using the space between the second floor ceiling and the third floor deck to run mechanical equipment,” he said.

“We had conceptual approval for our original approach from the building department, but their subsequent review of code earlier this year revealed that this approach was not allowed without adding sprinklers and also spraying on fireproofing material to all of the structural steel.

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“Given that there are 14” beams running through the 24” void between the second floor roof and the third floor deck, it became physically impossible to install electric and plumbing as well as add sprinklers in the space and to fireproof to the steel. We thus had to add height to the third floor.”

The new plan is to put in what’s called a plenum space between the third and fourth floors. A plenum space is between the structural floor and a dropped ceiling or raised floor, and it’s used to house HVAC, communication cables, or other mechanical equipment. The change in layout results in an increase in building height from 77 feet 10 inches to 83 feet.

A few other modifications are also planned – a glass railing on the third floor will be changed to metal, and juliet balconies are being removed from the northern facade (back side, facing the proposed Canopy hotel) because the removal of an old chimney during the foundation-strengthening forced the need for a building lot area variance that the developer doesn’t want to pursue.

The old chimney encroached on the rear setback, but with it gone, that grandfathered privilege went with it. The top floor southern balcony (front side) may also be removed as a cost-cutting measure down the line. An emergency stairway for the sixth and seventh floor has been moved from the exterior to the interior.

Travis is optimistic that the changes to the project, including the extra six feet in height, will be approved.

“We expect that we will get a recommendation from the planning board to the BZA to approve the requested height variance. This is a not an entirely uncommon occurrence and while there are no guarantees, I am told that the BZA is generally sympathetic to variance requests of this nature.”

In the case where the height increase is denied, the Carey addition can still continue, but without the seventh (top) floor. Travis expects that structural steel for the new floors will begin to show up in the Ithaca skyline around May 25.

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Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at