ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s one of the largest projects in Tompkins County history, and it looks like its ready to begin the arduous task of site plan review – Cornell has submitted the filings for its approximately 2,000 bed dormitory project, and the city of Ithaca Planning Board is expected to declare itself lead agency for environmental review at its meeting Tuesday night.

At $175 million, 25.6 acres of disturbed land and 767,400 square feet of dormitory space plus associated student program space, the only other project on the boards that exceeds the cost and scale of the North Campus Residential Initiative (NCRI) is the Chain Works District – however, Chain Works is supposed to be built out over a period of fifteen years. The NCRI program is seeking to do it all in just a little over three years, April 2019 to May 2022.

The 250-page Site Plan Review (SPR) application can be found here, with supplemental reports here. While the project extends into the town of Ithaca and slightly into the village of Cayuga Heights, the majority will be within the boundaries of Ithaca city, so the city will have lead review status with input from the town and village. Most of the building sites are either parking spaces or athletic fields, but the Cornell-owned Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house will be demolished and the fraternity moved to another location.

As previously noted, Cornell has grown substantially while its housing options have not. The application provides further insight by saying that one of the goals isn’t just to have housing available to 100% of freshman and sophomores, it’s to mandate they live on campus – currently, there is no requirement to live on campus, though freshmen are strongly urged to do so. 800 beds will be sophomores, 1,200 beds for freshmen, and 75 beds for live-in faculty, RAs and support staff. The growth in campus housing from 8,400 beds to 10,400 will also allow Cornell to address long-deferred maintenance to older residential halls and increase its undergraduate enrollment by another 900 (the current undergraduate enrollment is 14,900).

The sophomore housing would be built first, from April 2019 – April 2021, and initially used as freshman housing as some older dorms are taken out of service for renovation. Fall 2021 would be the first year the new mandatory two-year on-campus living requirement takes effect. From November 2019 – May 2022, the new freshman housing would be built, and by opening in August 2022, the North Campus Townhouses, Clara Dickson Hall and NCRI’s first phase would be reprogrammed to sophomore housing.

Water will come to the new dorms via Fall Creek and the Cornell filtration plant, sewer sustems will connect to joint city/town/village facilities, and the loss of 396 parking spaces is mitigated in part by the observation that the CC’s Lot inconvenient location and expensive parking permits meant only about 110 spaces were regularly used, and a surplus of parking in other North Campus parking lots means users will be assigned spaces nearby, with enough spaces left over for the few hundred additional vehicles 2,000 on-campus students may bring. However, Cornell notes freshman move-in day may have to be extended over multiple days, as CC Lot is heavily used during move-in.

From a sustainability perspective, the buildings will aim for LEED Silver certification for energy efficiency and design, but they will not use heat pumps. The dorms will tie into Cornell’s centralized energy system, which is primarily fed by the campus power and heat plant, and is powered by natural gas and reuses waste heat, as well as an increasing set of renewable energy resources, like solar arrays and the lake source cooling program. The anticipation is that Cornell will build more solar arrays and continue to explore geothermal options in an effort to wean itself off fossil fuels.

A big project will require a sizable number of workers. The project teams expects that 75-100 construction workers will be employed at any one time, 140 on average, and 280 at peak construction periods. The new dorms would create 85-110 jobs after opening, mostly in maintenance and program support roles.

Along with Princeton-based ikon.5 as project architect, several local firms are involved in the enormous project – Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture, T. G. Miller P.C. (civil engineering / land surveying), and Taitem Engineering (energy consultant). The multinational WSP Engineering will do the mechanical, electrical and plumbing designs, Thornton Tomasetti the structural engineering, SRF & Associates of Rochester will do the traffic study, and John P. Stopen Engineering of Syracuse will handle the geotechnical work. Intergrated Acquisition and Development (IAD) is the co-developer (non-owner) with Cornell, and Welliver of Montour Falls is the general contractor.

Brian Crandall

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