ITHACA, NY – Cornell’s 20,000-plus students have a huge impact on the housing situation in a small city like Ithaca. The university is aware of the negative impacts it creates for both students and the community, and they’ve started investigating their next steps in addressing the issue.

Here are the key takeaways:

1 – Initial focus is on undergrad students living on campus

The university’s current area of focus is on providing on-campus housing for undergrad students, Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi said. The university is doing what it can for graduate and professional students (namely, Maplewood) and to a lesser extent those living in Collegetown, but they want to test their initial concepts with on-campus projects.

Todd Stern, of consulting group U3 Advisors, later added that according to survey data, 78 percent of Cornell students wanted to live on campus, but only 56 percent were actually able to.

He also pointed out that the lack of on-campus housing creates a sub-optimal situation for many students. Freshman and sophomores may end up cramped into smaller rooms not designed for that many students, or they may be forced into often poor-quality off campus housing simply because of a lack of better options.

Alternately, some may end up living in the North Campus townhomes, which Stern said are less “engaged” than other on-campus spaces where new students have better opportunities to meet and interact with more other students.

2 – Deferred maintenance is an issue

Stern referred to a “bucket list” of upgrades needed in many of its on-campus resident halls, including aging heating and cooling infrastructure, accessibility needs and general modernization to better fit a modern student’s needs. Balch, Clara Dickson and Risley Halls on North Campus, and the Gothics on the west side of the campus, he said, were most urgently in need of upgrades.

For Balch and the Gothics in particular, this creates an issue as the necessary upgrades would require shutting down those halls — which means a temporary loss of about 1,000 beds total for a full year. Other buildings could mostly be upgraded during the summer, which would allow them to still be occupied during the year.

3 – Cornell is weighing the impact of its own continued growth

“We need to think about future growth. There’s not a decision on that, there’s not a target growth number on that right now. It’s a discussion our provost wants to have with the faculty and with the campus this coming year,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said that the the university is cognizant of the many potential impacts future growth could cause but they are considering it in their plan to ensure they are able to ” support the academic mission of the institution.”

4 – Where to build?

Stern explained out the criteria that were sought for potential development sites. These included:

  • Near existing housing and amenities
  • Little to no prep work required
  • Large enough to accommodate 300-500 students
  • Site does not abut a residential neighborhood or historic district

Based on that criteria, north campus became the area of focus. Two spaces in particular are being looked at. One is CC Lot, a large parking lot near the Robert Purcell Community Center that could accommodate close to 1,000 students as well as dining options.

The other space would be on the Appel fields. Stern noted, however, that maintaining green and open space and character was still a priority, which is why some other open areas like Rawlings Green were not considered for building.

The two spaces would be primarily geared toward freshman and sophomores. Dining and recreation facilities would be added to these areas in phases to keep pace with the new housing.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.