Rehabilitation of The Foundry to preserve historic landmark

November 25, 2009

For more than 45 years, students and faculty members in Cornell University's Department of Art have molded sculptures from metal, plaster, and clay in a wood-frame, 19th-century building overlooking Fall Creek Gorge.

As construction of Milstein Hall proceeds on an adjacent site, included in the project is a $500,000 rehabilitation of The Foundry to reinforce the roof and add sprinklers to the 119-year-old landmark.

For the faculty and students who work in The Foundry's studios, the project is a long-awaited step in preserving the structural integrity of the one-story gray and white building. During the past several years, concerns about the Foundry's roof have prompted crews from Cornell to shovel snow off the building in heavy winter storms.

"I think this gives it a new lease on life," says Mike Wilkinson, a construction manager for Cornell's Division of Project Design and Construction. "It will keep The Foundry there for decades to come."

Michael Ashkin, one of two faculty members who work in The Foundry, said the availability of studios in the building was one of the reasons he joined Cornell's art faculty four years ago. An assistant professor of art, Ashkin is a world-renowned artist who received a 2009 Guggenheim fellowship to support a solo exhibit at Secession, in Vienna.

"To be given this space is a blessing," says Ashkin, whose work spans sculpture, photography, video, text, and installation art. "Because we're doing sculpture, we need more space."

Due to its proximity to the Milstein Hall project, sprinklers were installed in The Foundry last summer to meet state codes. Because the sprinkler piping added weight to the building, a separate project was launched in September to provide additional support for the roof. Another factor that prompted the reinforcement project was a concern that snow may drift onto the Foundry's roof from the proposed cantilever of Milstein Hall.

Ryan-Biggs Associates, a structural engineering firm based in Skaneateles, New York, was hired to design a series of reinforcements that included new roof trusses and metal gusset plates bolted to wood beams installed in The Foundry's attic. The reinforcement project is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

"Over the years, there have been several structural fixes to the Foundry, but these are the first substantial improvements made to stabilize the structure," says Andrew Magre, associate university architect and former project manager for Milstein Hall.

New landscaping and sidewalks will be installed in front of the Foundry once Milstein Hall is completed in 2011.

Kent Kleinman, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning, describes The Foundry as an important piece of the new "outdoor room" being formed by the construction of Milstein Hall. Along with the Foundry, Sibley and Rand halls define two other sides of the room that replaces an "unlovely parking lot."

"[Milstein Hall] activates the northern edge of the Arts Quad while remaining deferential to the historical structures," says Kleinman. "It acts as a visual bridge between the quad and the spectacular nature in the gorge behind Sibley…. [transforming] the 'backside' into a 'frontside.'"

Designated as a landmark by the city of Ithaca, The Foundry is the only surviving vestige of the 19th-century complex of industrial buildings that occupied the area north of the former Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts. Built in 1890, the structure originally housed foundry casting and sand molding equipment and served as a blacksmith shop for the engineering college.

When the College of Engineering moved south to the new quadrangle near Cascadilla Creek in the 1950s, the remaining engineering shops behind Sibley Hall were demolished to allow for construction of new parking lots. In 1960, The Foundry was assigned to the School of Art and was converted into studios three years later.

by Sherrie Negrea

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