Renovations will make Sibley Hall fully accessible

July 3, 2008

Sibley Hall is undergoing renovations this summer and fall to provide full access to people with disabilities. The modifications include the addition of a wheelchair ramp, two new elevators and six new or upgraded restrooms.

The renovation project, overseen by Cornell's Office of Project Design and Construction along with the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP), follows a 2007 survey to identify barriers to accessibility at Sibley Hall. The survey was conducted for the university by a consulting firm.

"AAP is grateful to Cornell administration for supporting the 2007 survey and now this construction to bring Sibley Hall into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)," AAP Assistant Dean Peter Turner said.

A wheelchair ramp behind Sibley Hall is being installed on the northwest side of the building. Workers also will install two elevator shafts, one on each side of Sibley Dome, through four stories of the building and the roofs of East and West Sibley.

"As Sibley is actually three separate buildings constructed years apart in time and with many different floor levels, each elevator will need numerous stops, back and front," Turner said.

West Sibley was built in 1870, and its extension was completed in 1884; East Sibley was completed 10 years later. The center section known as Sibley Dome was built in 1901-02, connecting the east and west buildings.

The work will add two new restrooms in the Fine Arts Library, and four other existing restrooms in Sibley will be upgraded to ADA standards. The college also will install an elevator and ADA-compliant restrooms in Rand Hall during construction of Paul Milstein Hall, which is expected to begin in early 2009. Milstein will connect to both Rand and East Sibley.

The project addresses concerns stated by the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB) in its reviews of AAP's architecture program.

"The accreditation board has been on our case for many, many years now about how none of our facilities comply with the ADA requirements, and that has been quite embarrassing," said Mark Cruvellier, chair of the Department of Architecture. "Even given the addition of Milstein Hall and adding an elevator to Rand Hall, they said that was all well and good, but it would still not address Sibley Hall.

"The accreditation board was here last spring and they reviewed and reiterated their long-standing issues with not being compliant," Cruvellier said. "They said Sibley should not be unattended to in that whole scenario. There are important and essential functions in Sibley that would not be accessible to students -- [including] the dean's offices, the library and career services. It's important in the scheme of things for all of our facilities to be accessible and compliant, so I am very pleased that this is happening."

Turner said the "hard, intrusive work" of the construction in Sibley should be done by mid-August, before students return for the fall semester. He also noted that the renovation has been approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The renovation project has necessitated the final removal of trailers from behind Sibley Hall, where they were placed in 1986 to provide overflow space for studios and faculty and staff offices. The trailer removal is the latest step in preparation for the start of construction on Milstein Hall.

By Daniel Aloi

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