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Cornell Engineering

Best Laid Plans

Scaled back renovation and construction will meet the college’s immediate needs for less.

By Robert Emro

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Construction begins on the new BME Instructional Lab in the Weill Hall basement

When the College of Engineering developed its master plan in 2007, razing Carpenter Hall and part of Hollister to make room for a new building that could better serve the school’s needs made perfect sense. But then the “Great Recession” struck. The growth predictions driving the approximately 260,000 square feet of additional program space called for in the master plan were as valid as the subprime mortgages that sent the economy into a tailspin. The plan was shelved and the scale model of the engineering quad featuring the new building was put into storage.

The college’s strategic plan identified many other needs that remained, however. Completed in 2005, it reinforces the college’s goal “to be recognized as the premier research university in advanced materials, information sciences, and nanoscience, and a world leader in bioengineering, complex systems, and energy and the environment.” On clear objective is to “Establish and maintain facilities and infrastructure that are second to none in supporting the achievement of the college’s vision, mission, and values.”

“While we are in the process of updating the strategic plan, these goals remain central to our long-term success as an institution,” says Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering. “The plan’s objectives for the physical environment look toward the goals of interdisciplinary research and collaboration. The quality of space and the research environment can either constrain or inspire creativity.”

So the college moved ahead with some smaller projects. Olin hall received a major infrastructure renovation and minor renovations were made in Olin and Hollister Hall to improve classrooms and support new faculty in the schools of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Enhancements to the Physical Sciences Building and Clark Hall were completed in 2011 to meet the needs of the School of Applied and Engineering Physics, and the construction of Weill Hall, completed in 2008, met some of the needs of the new and growing Department of Biomedical Engineering, which is planning to offer an undergraduate degree in the near future.

This year, a new space study to meet the college’s strategic needs for the next ten years while staying within its existing footprint was completed. The new study addresses the remaining objectives outlined in the strategic plan, including significantly increasing research, instruction, and office space for the Department of Computer Science, the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and the School of Operations and Information Engineering.

The College of Engineering includes 13 buildings surrounding the Pew Engineering Quad and five additional buildings outside of the immediate area. The 13 buildings on the quad are Olin, Carpenter, Hollister, Snee, Bard, Thurston, Kimball, Ward, Duffield, Phillips, Upson/ Grumman, and Rhodes. Off-quad buildings include the High Voltage Lab—fully occupied by the college—and Weill, Clark, the Physical Sciences Building, and the Langmuir Lab in the Cornell Business and Technology Park, all partially occupied by the college. The total area occupied by the college exceeds 1.7 million gross square feet.

Most of these buildings were built during the 1950s and early 1960s and were designed to meet the college’s need for undergraduate teaching space. “Since then our greatest needs have shifted to facilities for effective interdisciplinary research and collaboration,” says Collins. “The college now faces the prospect of laboratories and systems that are poorly matched to our needs, outdated, and badly in need of repair and renovation.”

To avoid that scenario, the college has begun renovations and new construction that will cost more than $140 million over the next several years. A $1.2 million renovation of BME student lab space in Weill hall is already underway. Renovations to Kimball Hall ($15 million) and the Hollister Environmental Labs ($6 million) will soon follow. Slated next is a major renovation of Upson ($63 million) and construction of a new building for the BME Undergrad Program ($ 55 million).

“We are really excited to get these renovations going, so that we can provide the optimal environment for our world-class programs and research,” says Collins. “They will allow us to grow and become the college of engineering that we all aspire to work and do research in.”