ITHACA, N.Y. –– It’s been four and a half years since the town of Ithaca was selected by the Dalai Lama to be an international center for Buddhism, and three years since the project launched into its fundraising phase. But at last, the proposal is finally ready to move forward.

Sketch plans for the new His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama Library and Learning Center were submitted for review by the town of Ithaca’s Planning Board last Tuesday. The Namgyal Monastery Institute is in charge of shepherding the project through the municipal review process, with an assists courtesy of Ithaca’s Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects (TWMLA) and HOLT Architects.

The project on Tibet Drive involves construction of a new 9,230 square-foot, two-story building, which will contain the library, exhibit space, a reading room, a “Great Hall” for events of up to 250 people, a meeting room, and office and storage space for library operations. The building is set into the hillside, allowing for entrances on both the first and second floors, and will have a terra cotta and stucco facade. The project is ADA compliant and will utilize LED lighting.

Outside of the building, plans also include a 70′ x 70′ stone dust entry plaza with concrete and cobble paving accents, a parking area, a drop-off area for buses and visitors on Tibet Drive, paths and walkways, landscaping, outdoor lighting, and stormwater facilities. The total area of site disturbance will be about 1.4 acres of the 28-acre property.

As previously reported, the facility will host teachings, writings and artifacts of all fourteen Dalai Lamas, the monks who have served as the spiritual leaders of Tibetan Buddhism for centuries. Additionally, the Dalai Lama Library and Learning Center (formerly the Dalai Lama Library and Museum) will serve as an academic center for the study of Tibetan cultural and religious history, working to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture, including its literature, artwork and performing arts.

The Library and Learning Center will also house the works of The Mind-Life Institute (MLI), an organization whose goal is to support dialogue between Buddhism and science. According to the institute’s website, “{t}he MLI was initiated by the current Dalai Lama and brings together scientists, philosophers, educators, and practitioners from around the world, to explore the relationships between Buddhism and modern science, particularly the science of the mind and consciousness.”

Along with the usual Planning Board review, the project will require a Special Permit as it shares a site with a religious facility (the Buddhist monastery) and it will need a height variance from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Initial reactions to the sketch plan (concept plan review) of the project were favorable, according to town planner Michael Smith.

Smith added that detailed site plans and environmental review documents are expected to arrive next week, which indicates the project is ready to push forward with the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Due to the non-residential use, modest size and limited site disturbance, the project will only need to complete Short Environmental Assessment Forms (SEAFs) instead of the usual and more extensive Full EAF forms, and those will be submitted with the stormwater pollution prevention plan and the site/building renders. The approvals process will likely take 2-3 months to complete, and the plan is to start construction in June.

Brian Crandall

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