ITHACA, N.Y. — Things are about to get a lot busier on Cornell’s North Campus. During the State of the University address this morning, Cornell Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Harrison confirmed plans to bring 2,000 additional beds to Cornell University’s North Campus dormitories by 2021, setting the stage for what will likely be a very busy four years of planning and construction.

“You all know we have a housing shortage on campus, and we know how poor housing conditions are in much of Collegetown,” said Harrison. “As a result, we are planning to expand undergraduate student housing on North Campus by 2,000 beds by 2021.”

The plan, which is in an early conceptual design stage, calls for multiple dormitory buildings and support structures (dining halls, recreational space) to be built on the North Campus, which straddles the city of Ithaca and Cayuga Heights. The goals is to build enough housing to accommodate all Cornell campus freshmen, sophomores and transfer students. The current housing situation only guarantees freshmen housing. Previous estimates from last year called for an addition of 1,250 beds by Fall 2020.

Part of the motivation for the expansion is the planned increase in undergraduate enrollment at Cornell by 1,000-1,100 students, or 250-275 more students per class, a 7-8% increase over the current target class size of 3,250. The new housing will therefore create a net gain of at least 900 beds for Cornell’s undergraduate student population, with exact numbers dependent on actual future enrollment and housing statistics.

The overall Ithaca market is likely to see a lesser impact given increasing enrollment in graduate and professional students, up 1,200 in Ithaca over the past decade. However, with so many beds being added, the new housing would take significant pressure off of rising rental prices, an ongoing issue in the area’s housing affordability crisis. Landlords specializing in student housing could expect a stable market at best, with the impacts of Cornell’s enormous East Hill Village neighborhood masterplan still up in the air.

Perhaps more pressing to area landlords was another plan announced by Harrison to develop out an online “safety-rating” database of all rental properties in the city, regardless of whether they advertise with Cornell off-campus housing. “Our not-so-subtle goal here is to apply market pressure on those landlords who, while meeting minimum fire and safety codes, can and should do more to make their properties as safe as possible for their tenants — our students.” Harrison further stated the university and the city would work together to update Collegetown infrastructure and bring in retail to make it a more attractive entrance to Cornell’s campus.

One of the emails that frequently comes into the Voice is that Cornell should build housing on its property. They’ve announced plans to do just that, but now comes the part of gaining approvals from the city, likely with Cayuga Heights’ input as well. A project of this size is likely to require a thorough and lengthy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as Maplewood and Collegetown Terrace did. That process, which analyzes all of the project’s impacts, would take several months at a minimum, not to mention the time for review of the EIS itself followed by a year or more for construction. The EIS would likely need to be performed for all future buildings at once, the avoid risk of violating segmentation laws (they can’t be reviewed separately, since the buildings are related and they’re going to have a collectively greater impact).

Early indications are that construction would be undertaken in phases, starting with a 450 to 500-bed building that will act as a “swing space” while the university addresses long-deferred but crucial maintenance and renovations to existing dorms such as Clara Dickson Hall and Balch Hall.

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