ITHACA, N.Y. — Introducing a new project to work into Cornell’s never-ending construction – construction has begun on Cornell Law’s renovations of Hughes Hall. Coincidentally, the Voice brought these plans to light almost a year ago to this date.

In Summer 2012, the Cornell Law program embarked on a three-phase renovation and expansion program to their facilities. The first phase was a 17,500 SF, mostly-subterranean addition of an auditorium space, two large-group classrooms. foyer space, and a renovated courtyard. Designed by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects and constructed by Welliver, that $23.8 million phase, certified LEED Platinum, was completed in late summer 2014. Plans for phase II came forth in November 2015, and were approved by the city this past March. Phase III, which calls for renovations to the law school library, has yet to be presented.

Hughes Hall was built by the university in 1963 and named for former professor Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes only spent two years at Cornell, partially because of the need to make better money from private practice, and partially because of familial pressures to leave behind a “one-horse town like Ithaca”. He would later serve as governor and a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Hughes was a source of inspiration for Cornell alumnus and mid-20th century megadonor Myron Taylor, and at his request, the new law school dorms were named in Hughes’ honor. The building was entirely a dorm and dining facility for the law school until 2005, when the first and second floor dorms were renovated for administrative and faculty office space.


The Hughes Hall remodeling will have three basic components: enclosing the open-air loggia that currently connects Hughes Hall with Myron Taylor Hall, adding a staircase to the west face of Hughes Hall, and renovating the dining terrace of the Fork and Gavel Café. Administrative offices and event spaces will be on the lower floors, and faculty offices on the upper floors. The renovations will be seeking LEED Silver certification – this is two levels lower than the LEED Platinum of phase one, but it’s a lot easier and cheaper to achieve energy savings when a project is underground.

As a result of the remodeling, the last law school dorm units, totaling 47 student beds, were removed. At the time this was announced, Maplewood had yet to come forth, and the Voice did an editorial calling Cornell out on a lack of planning and poor stewardship. Minor site plan and landscaping improvements are planned.


Design work is by KSS Architects, with offices in Princeton and Philadelphia. Frequent Cornell collaborator Welliver will serve as the general contractor. The project is expected to cost about $10.2 million and take about 13 months to complete. The project was initially slated to begin in June 2016 and wrap up in July 2017, but it appears the construction launch ended up being a few months later than anticipated.

20161119_114831 cornell law

In these photos taken this past weekend, some of the exterior stone veneer has been stripped from the wall, and on the lower levels the windows and some of the concrete masonry wall has been removed. This will be where the new glass-enclosed staircase will go. Work on closing up the loggia has yet to begin.

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