Frequently Asked Questions

About the Project

Why does Cornell need to build more residence halls for first-year and sophomore students? 

How will the new residence halls make North Campus more suitable for first-year and sophomore students?

What is the timeline for the project?

Will first-year and sophomore students be required to live on campus?

How is the project linked to enrollment growth?

Where will the North Campus Residential Expansion project be built?  

In which municipalities will the project be located? 

How will the project affect the Ithaca rental market?

Transportation and Parking 

What are the potential impacts on TCAT service?

How will construction traffic be routed so it’s not going through Forest Home?

How will the project impact parking on North Campus?

Sustainability & Energy

Energy Impacts Overview

How will the buildings be heated?

Is Cornell offsetting NCRE energy use?

Are air or ground source heat pumps a better option in terms of using less natural gas and reducing methane leakage?

Why doesn’t the project include rooftop solar?

How energy efficient is the design of the buildings?

Why doesn’t the project follow the county’s Green Building Policy? 

Infrastructure

Will the project use union labor?

What are the impacts on water infrastructure?

What are the impacts on sewer infrastructure?

What measures is Cornell taking to reduce the impacts of storm water runoff?

Will the new buildings affect the observatory?

 

About the Project

Why does Cornell need to build more residence halls for first-year and sophomore students?

Many students come to Cornell in part because it is a residential environment distinct from many of its Ivy League and private peers located in metropolitan areas. Providing students with developmentally appropriate housing during their formative college years leads to more enriched living-learning experiences, and better enables them to transition to college, build friendships and utilize resources that will help them to be successful during their time at Cornell. 

With the completion of the project, Cornell will have enough housing for all first-year students and sophomores to live on campus or in affiliated housing. This will relieve the strain on first-year students who currently need to start considering off-campus housing options for the following year within their first weeks of arriving at Cornell. In addition, the new residence halls will temporarily provide enough swing space to allow Cornell to address deferred maintenance in some of the university’s most iconic, historic residence halls. 

How will the new residence halls make North Campus more suitable for first-year and sophomore students?

All new residence halls will be built within the existing residential community on North Campus. These will be designed as undergraduate communities, with their own social space amenities, to create engaging residential environments that maximize community building. The new buildings will help students to build community with creative floor plans that enhance the residential experience by creating shared spaces that encourage collaboration. Live-in, professional staff members will continue to provide students with community and program development, administrative management and support for their residence hall, and the new first-year student buildings will each have a Faculty-in-Residence who also lives in the building and will help to foster academic and intellectual learning and personal development. 

What is the timeline for the project?

•    Sophomore Site – approximately 800 student beds and a dining facility scheduled for occupancy fall semester 2021.

•    First-Year Student Site – approximately 1,200 student beds scheduled for occupancy fall semester 2022.

Will first-year and sophomore students be required to live on campus?

The university has announced plans to create a residency requirement that will stipulate that first-year and sophomore students live on campus or in affiliated housing (e.g. co-ops, Greek and affiliated housing). It is anticipated that the first-year students enrolling in fall 2021 will be the first class to have a two-year residency requirement. In the coming year, more details of the new policy will be developed.

How is the project linked to enrollment growth?

While addressing housing needs for our current and future students, we want to build in enough flexibility to accommodate a modest increase of approximately 900 undergraduate students in total (spread over four undergraduate class years). This enrollment growth is expected to happen gradually, being fully realized by fall semester 2024, pending the timeline of the NCRE. This projected increase is in response to requests from the academic leadership of the colleges and schools who are evaluating several new academic programs and shifts in existing majors. As noted above, all first-year and sophomore students will be required to live on campus once the new residence halls are built, so we must balance future enrollment growth with the availability of developmentally appropriate housing. 

Where will the North Campus Residential Expansion project be built?

The project will be developed on two sites on North Campus, as shown in the image below.   

In which municipalities will the project be located?

The North Campus Residential Expansion will be located in the City and Town of Ithaca respectively, with some site work, grading, and landscaping for the sophomore site occurring on Jessup Road, in the Village of Cayuga Heights. Approximately 77 percent of the project is within the city, and 23 percent is within the town. 

Map of municipalities where NCRE construction will be located

How will the project affect the Ithaca rental market?

The 15,000 students currently living off campus in Tompkins County strongly impact the rental market, and specifically the Collegetown neighborhood. While additional residential housing options continue to come online in the City of Ithaca, helping to alleviate some pressure on the rental market, the vacancy rate remains well below average, leaving many Collegetown rentals already at or near capacity for next academic year. 

Moving all first-year and sophomore students into Cornell of affiliated housing during these formative years is not only in the best interest of our students, but may also lead to more opportunities for graduate and professional students, staff, faculty and other local residents to move into housing closer to central campus, the City/Town of Ithaca and/or their place of employment. 

Transportation and Parking 

What are the potential impacts on TCAT service?

Cornell anticipates an increase in demand for TCAT services and is working with TCAT to evaluate and coordinate future ridership needs and how these needs will be met. While the exact changes to bus schedules or routes are not yet finalized, preliminary review by TCAT indicates that Route 82 could use two additional bus runs during its morning peak-time on weekdays and Routes 90 and 92 would each need an additional bus run on weekday evenings.

How will construction traffic be routed so it’s not going through Forest Home?

Construction vehicles will be directed to use Route 13 (a designated truck route), exit on Triphammer Road to Hanshaw Road and take Pleasant Grove Road to access the project site. The University will work with the contractors to coordinate these routes in order to minimize construction traffic impacts.

The Forest Home community primary roads (Caldwell Road and Pleasant Grove Drive beyond Cradit Farm Drive) will not be designated as approved approach construction vehicle routes to campus.

How will the project impact parking on North Campus?

The CC Lot (a 386-space parking lot on Jessup Road) will be replaced by the sophomore housing development. A September 2017 survey indicates that there are approximately 20 staff and maintenance vehicles and 90 students who utilize the CC Lot on a daily basis. Due to the relatively low utilization rates of the lot, it is expected that parking displacement at the site will not impact overall parking on North Campus and that most parking needs can be accommodated through the current surplus parking inventory on campus. Cornell’s Department of Transportation and Delivery Services is currently studying ways to better utilize parking across campus. Parking will be enhanced at Robert Purcell Community Center to help accommodate visitors and conference attendees. 

Sustainability & Energy

Energy Impacts Overview

•    The project will require no new gas infrastructure for building heat, hot water, power, or cooling.

•    Modeled energy use is ~30% better than the latest State Energy Code standards. As a result of this exceptional energy performance, these buildings will require the equivalent of only about 1.4% of today’s total campus district energy (in the form of chilled water, hot water, and electricity) despite representing over 4% of Cornell’s utility-connected campus in terms of net square feet of building space. With continued campus-wide energy conservation and good energy stewardship supported by full-time staff, Cornell forecasts a continuation of its decades-long trend: overall reduction in total campus energy use by the time this project is completed and operating.

•    NCRE will connect to Cornell’s unique district energy systems (underground electric, chilled water, and steam/hot water piping systems that serve most of the Ithaca campus). These systems are anchored by Lake Source Cooling and Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power Plant. Using Cornell’s district systems further reduces the impact on the environment.

•    NCRE facilities are designed for low-temperature hydronic heat and tied into district heating and cooling systems. The facilities will be connected to current Cornell renewable energy systems (hydropower, Lake Source Cooling, and on-campus solar facilities) and can accommodate future renewable or low-carbon energy opportunities like Earth Source Heat, waste heat, biomass, solar thermal, renewable electric, or heat pump technologies. The low-temperature design and hot-water conversion at the district level are new campus standards and represent investments in a lower carbon future.

How will the buildings be heated?

The new residence halls will be connected to Cornell’s existing Central Energy Plant, a highly-efficient combined heat and power facility (CHP) that uses natural gas. CHP generates electricity on campus primarily with gas-fueled turbines; an on-campus hydroplant and rooftop solar arrays also provide some power for the campus. The hot exhaust from the turbines is used to heat the campus. In this way, the gas used serves a dual purpose, drastically increasing fuel efficiency. The buildings will be cooled by Cornell’s Lake Source Cooling, an extremely efficient system which does not include the use of refrigerants.  

Cornell anticipates the new residence halls will use the equivalent of 1.4% of today’s campus energy usage, which will be offset through other energy efficiency measures and projects. As a result of these ongoing campus-wide energy efficiency programs, by the time NCRE is built, campus building energy use will actually be less than it is today – even with the addition of NCRE.

Is Cornell offsetting NCRE energy use?

As part of Cornell’s Climate Action Plan, the university looks at ways to avoid and reduce energy use, and to replace our energy supply with renewables. Making strategic decisions about energy efficiency and renewable energy allows Cornell to truly reduce its carbon footprint beyond what would be achieved by just purchasing offsets from unrelated projects. Due to campus-wide commitments and thoughtful long-term planning, Cornell’s net energy use is expected to be lower in 2022 when the buildings come online, than what it is today, and an ever increasing percentage of campus energy needs will be supplied or offset with renewables. 

These are just a few examples of campus-wide initiatives and projects that help to offset energy use:

•    Cornell Energy Conservation Initiative (currently in Phase II) includes retrofits, replacements and weatherization projects in buildings across campus.

•    Adoption of building energy standards to create energy efficient buildings that are compatible with a variety of renewable energy supply options.

•    Interactive building dashboards allow occupants to monitor their energy consumption in real-time in an effort to reduce energy consumption.

•    Green Office, Lab, and Event programs provide checklists and resources to assess and improve practices for energy, materials management, transportation, etc.

•    Annual engagement initiatives like the Winter Setback Program and the Energy Smackdown, help community members to reduce energy usage leading to significant cost savings and reduction in emissions.

•    About 10% of the campus’ net annual electricity is already generated by off-site solar farms, rooftop solar, and the campus hydroelectric plant. The campus has a goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035.

Are air or ground source heat pumps a better option in terms of using less natural gas and reducing methane leakage?

No. Even though Cornell will use natural gas to meet the energy needs of this project, relatively more gas would be needed if electricity were used to power heat pumps. This is because using electricity from the Central Energy Plant or directly from the grid to power heat pumps both result in an increase in natural gas use to generate the electricity. Because Lake Source Cooling is five times more efficient than heat pumps, and because the Combined Heat and Power process provides usable heat as a by-product of Cornell’s power generation, less gas is consumed using the Cornell systems than would be used on the grid to provide the extra electricity needed to serve heat pumps. In either case, upstream methane leakage would present the same  problem, so minimizing gas use is the goal.

Natural gas is used to generate nearly 40% of the electricity in New York State’s grid and is needed to meet peak demands throughout the state (renewable sources of energy are already used at maximum capacity to supply some of the “baseload”). Any new project using electricity in New York can only result in an increase in natural gas use, even if the Upstate region were to become gas-free (i.e. develop enough renewables to meet its own baseload electricity needs). The Upstate portion of the grid uses less natural gas, but adding (or reducing) electrical loads anywhere in the state will result in a change in the overall gas use in the state as long as gas is used to meet peak electrical supply demands statewide. New York State has a 2030 goal of 50% renewable electric energy. Cornell’s goal is more aggressive – achieving 100% renewable energy (heating, cooling and electricity) and a carbon neutral campus by 2035.

The idea of heat pumps adding to gas use may seem contradictory to what many people have heard about heat pumps.  In fact, in many applications (such as residential buildings not connected to an efficient district heating and cooling system such as Cornell’s) heat pumps may be the best solution for supplying heat and cooling using the lowest possible “source” natural gas. Cornell’s use of highly efficient Lake Source Cooling and Combined Heat and Power systems just means that, for Cornell, using district energy is a more energy efficient solution. 

Greenhouse Gas Emission comparison chart created by Taitem Engineering

There are some downsides to using heat pumps at this scale. Heat pumps use refrigerants, potent forms of greenhouse gases. Control/elimination of refrigerants is considered to be one of the most important and impactful climate change mitigation strategies. Limiting the use of refrigerants played a leading role in Cornell’s decision to develop Lake Source Cooling, which uses only water heat transfer and does not require refrigerants.  In addition, air and ground source heat pumps would be large expenditures of additional equipment, with associated capital costs and space requirements. For example, if Cornell was to use ground source heat pumps, more than 400 wells would be required, which takes significant space and added electric use. 

Why doesn’t the project include rooftop solar?

As a part of campus, NCRE is included in the campus carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy goals. Cornell is pursuing these goals systematically, prioritizing the most efficient and effective projects. Given the current economic and policy environment, larger scale projects are more efficient and effective in reducing our carbon footprint. Cornell will remain vigilant and advocate for opportunities for efficient deployment of rooftop solar for NCRE (and/or other campus buildings) relative to other opportunities. 

About 10% of the campus’ net annual electricity is generated by off-site solar farms, rooftop solar, and the campus hydroelectric plant. Cornell is a founding member of the NY Campus Aggregate Renewable Energy Solutions (NYCARES) consortium to pursue hundreds of MW of large-scale renewables. Cornell has also been supportive of a solar  developer whose 18MW community solar farm will break ground in fall 2018.

How energy efficient is the design of the buildings?

Cornell has a goal to provide all campus energy needs with 100% renewables and achieve carbon neutrality by 2035; to facilitate that goal, all new construction must incorporate energy efficiency. These new residence halls are designed to achieve a minimum of a 30% reduction in building energy use as compared with the industry standard (ASHRAE 90.1). In addition, Cornell’s internal policies require that all new buildings must achieve a minimum of LEED Silver. As we move through the building design process, we continued to engaged the architects and community around energy efficiency. We can now say with full confidence that NCRE will achieve LEED Gold.

In accordance with Cornell’s energy goals for 2035, the buildings are designed to adapt as more efficient energy systems are ready to be implemented on campus, such as enhanced geothermal energy, biofuels, or a greener grid. Cornell is currently exploring Earth Source Heat, a version of an enhanced geothermal system that is believed to holds the potential to sustainably heat the campus without the use of any fossil fuels. To accommodate this potential, NCRE is designed to Cornell’s new campus design standard – comfortable heat using lower-temperature water (140oF vs the prior standard of 180oF) with distribution pipes that also carry hot water, not steam. This design will allow the buildings to be more easily retrofit for the district system so that the buildings are heated by enhanced geothermal energy or other renewable or low-carbon sources. This lower-temperature design also serves as a scalable solution and model for other institutions.

Why doesn’t the project follow the county’s Green Building Policy?

While the City/Town are working to create a Green Building Policy, it has not yet been transformed into an adopted code or law. The draft policy is focused on small residential and small commercial construction, and there is not yet an appropriate track to align with larger facilities or institutional projects; it also does not accommodate Cornell’s unique and highly-efficient district energy system. Discussions are ongoing to create a policy with an institutional track that would take into consideration the unique resources and attributes that Cornell has in place, such as Lake Source Cooling, Combined Heat and Power, transportation networks, etc. Cornell continues to work in accordance with its Climate Action Plan, an award-winning plan that is nationally recognized as the gold-standard for campus sustainability. 

Infrastructure 

Will the project use union labor?

Cornell University has a long history of working closely with the Tompkins-Cortland Building & Construction Trades Council to ensure that on-campus projects make the fullest possible use of local union labor. Cornell remains fully committed to making sure that the upcoming North Campus Residential Expansion, uses the skilled and highly valued local labor community. This 2,000-bed undergraduate residential expansion on the Ithaca campus – which will be financed, owned and managed by the university – will create a significant amount of construction work for years to come. The developer of this estimated $200 million project has been contractually required to comply with Cornell’s standing agreement with the Building & Construction Trades Council. In addition, Cornell has a robust capital project list for the Ithaca campus, all of which will utilize Cornell’s trades employees. 

What are the impacts on water infrastructure?

The North Campus Residential Expansion will create greater demand for water and sewer. Cornell maintains its own potable water system that serves campus and limited portions of the surrounding community. Campus water infrastructure is currently being upgraded on North Campus as part of a multi-year project that preceded this effort. With completion of the North Campus Water Main Replacement Project, improvements to the distribution system and continued operation of the Pleasant Grove Road pressure-reducing valve station, the system is more than adequate to supply both domestic and fire-flow demands to North Campus, including the increase in domestic demands associated with the proposed NCRE.

What are the impacts on sewer infrastructure?

Though Cornell manages and owns its own water filtration facility and distribution infrastructure, sewer infrastructure feeds into the Ithaca Wastewater Treatment Plant. In general, the City has seen a decrease in flows over the past several years due to the continual introduction of low-flow plumbing fixtures connected to the system and the raising of environmental consciousness of the users. Improvements to the City’s meter stations, including the one on Thurston Avenue, are to be completed later this year. The Sisson Place branch sewer and Kline Road sewer have sufficient reserve capacity to carry increases well beyond the addition flows from the proposed project. 

What measures is Cornell taking to reduce the impacts of storm water runoff?

Stormwater review is occurring as part of the design process. Final designs later in 2018 will determine the amount of total project impervious surface and projected stormwater reduction practices.  

Will the new buildings affect the observatory?

We are actively engaged with the Fuertes Observatory, including faculty and observatory club members to mitigate concerns with the new building exterior lighting design, specifically on Site 2 near Appel Commons. Cornell is also working with Observatory users to mitigate poor existing conditions of adjacent exterior lighting and landscaping that impact nighttime sky viewing.