ITHACA, N.Y. — It seemed like there was to be a lull in Cornell campus construction, but alas. Cornell has put the construction of its new Fine Arts Library out to bid, and students and staff are being reshuffled to make way for the pending work.

It has been a couple of years since the last report about the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library (FAL), which first circulated in the Spring of 2015 with dramatic interior spaces and a large glassy “lantern” on the top of  century-old Rand Hall. Since that time, there have been some changes to the design and scope of the renovation.

A Cornell University representative speaking on behalf of the project team stated the interior spaces have no significant changes from the 2015 plans and that the “lantern” overbuild is no longer part of the plans. However, a number of optional features (add-alts) are included in the bid for consideration, and until bids and budgets are assessed, the university would not know what alternatives may become part of the project until the final decisions are made in late September.

With the removal of the “lantern”, it appears that the remainder of the planned work will mostly be internal, though that partly depends on what optional features Cornell has requested and may add into the plans. An exterior stair tower built in the 1960s will be removed and relocated within Rand Hall, and the outside of the building will be thoroughly repaired. On the inside, virtually the entire structure will be gutted and replaced with multi-level library stacks with soaring staircases, as well as reading rooms and seminar rooms. Construction costs are estimated in the bid documents to be in the $12.5 million-$13.5 million range.

Jonathan Ochshorn, a Cornell University architecture professor and critic of the project, has noted that the project has faced issues regarding fire safety and accessibility. Ochshorn also questioned the value of the space as a library, noting the trend towards digital references and the likely difficulties in adapting the radical interior design to other uses.

According to the Cornell Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) school website, the moving of Rand Hall services such as shops, metal working areas, the sculpture classroom and seminar spaces has been underway since May, in order to accommodate academic functions while construction takes place. The relocated and expanded library is expected to start construction in October and open to students by August 2019. STV Architects P.C. of New York City is listed as the architect of record, while the avant-garde interior design was penned by Austrian architect and Cornell alum Wolfgang Tschapeller.

Brian Crandall

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