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FAQs for Upson Hall Renovations

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General Project:
1. Why are we undertaking this project?

  • Cornell Engineering has embarked on a multi-year, multi-building renovation plan to improve the learning experience and accommodate research requirements for the next 50 years.
  • We are currently in the process of completely overhauling Upson Hall. The 60-year-old building is the current home of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), college classrooms and student project teams. It had housed large portions of Computing and Information Sciences which recently moved to Gates Hall and a Computer Systems Laboratory from Electrical and Computer Engineering (PEACE) department which is relocating to Rhodes Hall.
  • The existing space and exterior will be improved in order to truly reflect one of the nation's best colleges of engineering. We are already educating top students and supporting ground-breaking research, but our facilities can no longer accommodate the exciting new frontiers pursued by our faculty and students.
  • We are restructuring the space so that it satisfies our current needs while anticipating future plans. The board of trustees and the university leadership are focused on refurbishing existing buildings rather than building entirely new facilities. This is more sustainable and minimizes operating and maintenance costs by limiting growth in the total square footage.

2. What will we gain?

  • Inside Upson, architects have incorporated environmentally-friendly elements to make the building more sustainable and energy efficient. The layout will suit flexible uses, better meet current programmatic needs, and encourage collaboration and shared lab services.  There will also be new and modern audiovisual systems and furniture, contractors will completely overhaul the stark, utilitarian features that we have had for more than half a century.
  • Larger and more effectively placed windows will add to a more inviting appearance with more natural light, while providing superior insulating properties.
  • The changes will give the Ithaca campus modern and more recognizable entrances with an overall design that is more connected to within the Engineering quad.
  • The renovation will increase the size of Cornell Engineering student team's Experiential Learning Lab in the lower level of Upson Hall by 50%. 

3. What will the project cost and where does the funding come from?

  • The funding will be coming from operating funds and reserves that the College has saved in preparation for this renovation as well as philanthropic gifts from alumni and others.
  • The project cost for the Upson Hall renovation is $74.5 million including several sizable enabling projects.
  • As this is part of the overall Engineering quad makeover, the consultants estimate the total cost of renovating the buildings around the Pew Engineering Quad will come to $300 million and take 10 years to complete.

4. What is the full scope of construction?

  • The Upson Hall facade will be replaced, the building interior will be gutted and a full renovation with entirely new and modern building systems, interior space, finishes, and furnishings will be performed. The project also includes substantial improvements to the landscaping around the building including new, more prominent entrances.
  • Long term, major renovations are planned, or being considered in Hollister, Olin, Thurston, Bard, Rhodes and Phillips, including reskining several of them.

5. Who is the project and construction team?

  • Our internal College of Engineering Facilities team (Bill Bader, Brenda Smith, Matt Steel, Patty Gonyea and Dawn Warren) are hard at work, as well as a Cornell Facilities team (Art Fives, Michael Hussar Paul Stemkoski, Tom King, Bill Sitzabee, and many others).
  • The design team, mostly from New York City, consists of LTL Architects, Perkins+Will, Thornton Tomasetti, ME Engineers and other consultants.
  • The current construction company is Pike Co. out of Rochester, NY. They and their subcontractors will be with us for the duration of Upson Hall's renovation.The City of Ithaca's code enforcement officers have jurisdiction for this project.

6. What is the project schedule?

  • Year 1: Part of the basement and levels 3, 4, 5. Construction began June 2015, and will be completed in August 2016.
  • Year 2: Part of the basement and levels 1 and 2 will be started August 2016, completed August 2017.  

7. What is the construction schedule?

  • We receive a bi-weekly update on the exact construction taking place. You will find that in your Upson Hall Renovations newsletter that is sent via email or find the updated details on the College website at


8. What are some of the challenges of this project?

  • We will occupy half of the building while the other half is being renovated.
  • Surge space and multiple moves are required due to the phasing of the project.
  • Because Upson is connected to Duffield and Grumman/Rhodes, there will be an impact in these neighboring buildings and their vicinity.  

9. What kinds of site impact will the construction have? 

  • There are fenced off construction areas.
  • Entrances will be closed and/or covered.
  • Pedestrian paths will be temporary moved.
  • Egress signing will be updated to reflect the latest emergency evacuation path.
  • See our communications for more details about the site impact. 

10. What kinds of impact will there be for occupants and users of Upson Hall?

  • Construction activities will take place in certain occupied space as well as on unoccupied floors in order to run necessary utilities, create additional utility shafts, provide service formerly coming from construction areas, and create new data closets and mechanical rooms.
  • Occupants and users will experience noise, utility shutdowns, occasional room closures, and temporary relocations.
  • See our communications for more details about the impact to occupants and users of Duffield Hall.  



11. How do I know that the environment is safe?

  • We have EH&S from the University as well as the City officials checking that our faculty, staff and students are not in any danger under the construction conditions. If you feel uncomfortable about your work situation, please have the team address it (via our Facilities ticket system 

12. What can we do about noise levels?

  • Some extremely noisy activities are restricted to early hours when the contractors are in but most occupants aren't. The contractor is also making an ongoing effort to change practices to reduce intermittent and irritating noises--for example, minimize backing up of outdoor vehicles/equipment.
  • We have worked to relocate any classes affected by the high noise levels. 

13. What can we do about the smells?

  • We have had two occasions of diesel fumes entering the building from outdoor equipment. This happens when vehicles are parked near air intakes or open windows, and exhausts are pointed toward the building. Reversing the position of the vehicle and the direction of the exhaust pipe seems to correct the problem.The contractor is making an effort to prevent this from happening again. 

14. Is our ventilation Ok?

  • The city inspectors required the plywood coverage over the windows below any exterior work. This was not anticipated, but the contractors reacted quickly and added the plywood for the safety of occupants on the floors below. However, this limits ventilation in the building via the windows. Per the code when Upson was built, occupant ventilation in many areas is only provided by operable windows.
  • Once abatement work has concluded around the facade, the contractor will tilt the plywood out at an angle, which will still protect the lower floors but allow natural ventilation controlled by the occupant. The occupant can close the windows if noise or other outside conditions become an issue.
  •  We have asked the construction superintendent to provide an exhaust fan and path out of the building away from the offices and on the above floors for the dust generated during the current wall demolition.
  • We have added fans to use in high occupancy rooms such as classrooms where ventilation and heat might be especially problematic.
15. How is the contractor managing the dust?
  • All conduit openings will be sealed by the contractors. Plastic barriers, tape and other sealing measures will be added around blocked off areas to minimize the possibility of dust migrating to occupied areas.
  • EH&S has monitored indoor air quality and found it within acceptable limits.

16. How do we handle office hours and counseling students in these conditions:

  • While we understand this won't work for everyone, we encourage people to use conference rooms and alternative meeting areas for private conversations and office hours. Elsewhere on the quad and further away we have some additional spaces that are designated for office hours that could be made available.

17. We were told there would be light in our windows, now there is not.

  • This is a problem we knew we would have, although it got worse when the plywood was required. We suggest frequent breaks to naturally lit areas such as the outdoors (in good weather) and Duffield and Gates atria and similar areas at other times.  

Communications Forums: 

18. How do I register comments and complaints?

  • Please use the Facilities ticket system ( to log your comments and concerns, as well as any necessary changes you require. 

19. How do questions or concerns get communicated to the project team and contractors

  • We hold weekly meetings with our Cornell construction manager to pass on concerns and get more specific information about what work will be done where and when. 

20. How can I stay up-to-date on what is going on? 

  • Information from our regular meetings allow us to be more specific about possible impacts in our biweekly project updates that come out in Engineering Info Update and on our web page: .
  • A more general town hall meeting is being planned for October 5, 2015. A closed session will be held at 3:30 in the Upson Hall Lounge for faculty and staff, and one at 4:45 in Upson B17 for students.
  • Additional town meetings will be scheduled as the project progresses.
  • More detailed information will be posted, initially on the Upson Hall Lounge windows.