Renovation Updates

March 2021 - Courtyard Plantings

Renovation of the Plant Science Building, scheduled to begin Fall 2022, will require major disruption of perimeter landscaping. Some trees and shrubs will remain in place, but many will be need to be transplanted or taken down. Please know that SIPS has worked with CALS and CU facilities and grounds over the past year to, as much as possible, reduce the impact of building renovation on the plantings. However the impact during renovation will be significant.

While most removal will not happen until shortly before construction, early spring is the preferred time for transplanting. In the next couple weeks, staff from Cornell facilities and grounds will tag trees in the two courtyards that flank the south entrance of Plant Science (Tower Road side) in preparation for their relocation. Depending on weather, the actual transplanting will happen in late March.

Loss and relocation of favorite trees and shrubs can be hard, particularly for those of us who love and study plants. Additionally, the courtyards have both served as valuable living classrooms. However, given the extensive work needed for the building envelope to achieve improved energy efficiency, and the scale of equipment and materials required for the renovation, most of the plantings cannot remain in their current locations.

Many of the trees destined for transplant are important teaching specimens – as such, their eventual transplant sites will be within easy walking distance of Plant Science. Some have also inquired about the potential impact of construction on Minns Garden. Fortunately, Minns Garden is outside of the construction zone.

If you have any questions please contact Chris Smart (cds14) or Magdalen Lindeberg (ML16)

April 2021: Plant Science Renovation Update & FAQ

Answers to submitted questions are provided by Chris Smart. If you were unable to attend the April 23 Town Hall about the renovation project, a recording is available. Please note that renovation is dynamic and many of these points are subject to future change.

Figure shows Plant Science Building diagram with information about phase I and II scope and research groups associated with the phase I lab wings [April 2021]

April 2021 Renovation FAQ

Who is the point person for SIPS on the Plant Science Building Renovation? Who is making decisions?

Chris is the point person for SIPS, questions and concerns can be directed to her. She has attended every renovation meeting since planning started three years ago. There was a renovation committee that was involved for the first two years (Gary Bergstrom, Dan Buckley, Lailiang Chang, Bill Crepet, Mike Gore, Johannes Lehmann) and the section chairs have been very involved the past year. They have all been amazing to work with and are excellent sources for you to obtain additional information. Chris has also worked with current occupants of the building that will be impacted. And of course, we work closely with CALS, Cornell, and SUNY facilities teams – there are many constraints.

When will the renovation begin?

Actual construction of phase 1 (the west wing) is targeted to begin late June early July 2022, when contractors will move onsite with demolition work starting by August 2022. Phase 1 is estimated to take 24-30 months. MY GUESS is that phase one will be complete January 2025, at which time phase 2 will begin.

How many labs will the renovated plant science building accommodate?

Each lab wing will hold 3.5 faculty. I fully realize that’s a crazy number, who has to be the 0.5??

Which labs will move to the building? Is it mostly restricted to the previous residents?

Yes, we are using the renovated labs for previous residents, retention, and recruitment of new faculty (we hope we are allowed to recruit many new faculty).

How much space does each lab have?

That is based on the number of people in the lab. There is also shared space in each lab. The faculty that populate each lab will decide how to organize the lab and work out details of shared space.

There seem to be different versions of building maps being shown at meetings, why is that?

This renovation is a very dynamic process. There is a new version of the map minimum twice weekly, and sometimes more frequently than that. We will try to keep the most recent version available online. Section chairs also have the most updated versions that are provided by the architecture and design team.

How were research areas of each lab wings decided?

Lab wings areas were decided by identifying faculty that would need labs post renovation (being displaced in phase 1 or 2) and using the SIPS strategic plan grand challenge areas as a guide. Chris put tentative research areas on the phase 1 labs and the labs that may be renovated in phase 2. Potential occupants of the phase 1 labs helped to name each wing. The phase 2 labs have temporary names for now. Chris also passed the research area names by section chairs.

Who decides who will move to the renovated space?

Chris, working with with section chairs and displaced building occupants.

Who will be in each renovated research lab wing?

The west wing labs will have the following occupants (in alphabetical order)

  • Ground Floor (Controlled Environment Ag and Urban Horticulture Hub):
    Jenny Kao-Kniffin, Neil Mattson, Frank Rossi, future hire or potentially Anu Rangarajan
  • First Floor (Soil Microbiome Dynamics):
    Dan Buckley, Laurie Drinkwater, Janice Thies, future hire
  • Second Floor (Plant Development and Physiology):
    Lailiang Chang, Margaret Frank, Mike Scanlon, Bob Turgeon
  • Third Floor (Climate-Ag Nexus):
    Taryn Bauerle, Mike Gore, Johannes Lehmann, Rebecca Nelson

The east wing is up in the air, as we are not yet certain of the scope of phase 2. I have contacted a few people about potential lab space, but we simply won’t know anything until we know the scope. 

How will the shared spaces (labs) idea integrate "shared" equipment (instrumentation) across "labs" across SIPS?

That will be determined by the occupants of each of the lab wings

Will the phase 1 renovations of the roof impact any of the labs on the 4th floor?

Yes, the west side of the 4th floor will be impacted by the mechanicals that will be going on the west side of the roof. To the east of the stairs will not be impacted in phase 1 but may be impacted in phase 2. Chris will be meeting individually (or in groups, as you like) with researchers that are potentially impacted by phase 2. These meetings can happen now, or once we know the final scope of phase 2, or both. Anyone interested in meeting can contact Cindy and set up a meeting. 

When will the scope of phase 2 be finalized?

Learning the exact scope of phase 2 is critical, as we need to determine what the research lab, teaching lab, classroom, and meeting room needs will be covered by new renovations and which will not. The scope of phase 2 will be finalized by the end of June 2021.

What exactly is ‘phase 3’?

Phase 3 is space that is not within the current renovation budget. Chris is working with Alumni Affairs and Development as well as with CALS administration to identify strategies to get phase 3 renovated.

When will impacted labs/offices have to surge out of the phase 1 area?        

For labs and offices currently located in phase 1 space surge to temporary space is targeted for late May through late July.

Where will my lab/office be located during construction (where will I surge to)?

The specifics of where people will surge to have not yet been developed. Once the current design planning for phase 1 is complete I will be working with facilities, and everyone that will be surging, to ensure that you have appropriate research and office space during construction. I realize that everyone wants to know where they will move to, and that is simply information that does not yet exist.

What about folks that have offices in Plant Science but no lab?

We had offices for everyone identified for a whole building renovation. Once we know the scope of phase 2 we will be able to ensure that there is an office available for everyone that needs one.

Will the labs in the "Enabled" area on 2nd floor need to move?

It appears that the enabling work will only require 2-3 weeks and not require a surge out

Are there plans to minimize disruption to folks still in the building during phase 1?

The goal is to minimize disruption but some (noise etc) is inevitable

Will the Susan Henry Terrace on the east end of 2nd floor be lost?


The plans for Plant Science don’t show any space for grad student offices. What are the plans?

The architects call graduate student, postdoc, and technical staff offices ‘write up space’. There are desks available for everyone in the write up spaces.

What is a write-up room and how does it differ from a collaboration space?

A write up room is desks for students, postdocs and technicians. Collaboration space is an open area where folks get together for friendly conversation, research discussions, or work teams.

Will there be gender neutral bathrooms included in the building design?

Yes, on each floor

Will the many stairs and inaccessible parts of the building for folks with movement and vision disabilities be made more accessible? (Wider doorways, more regular stairs, etc) 

Yes, all renovated spaces will be fully accessible

Are collaboration spaces going to be assigned to specific groups, or is every collab space supposed to be open to all members of the community?

Yes, collaboration spaces will be open to all members of the community

Will staff be expected to manage/reserve collab and write-up spaces?

No, staff will not be expected to manage collaborative spaces. For write-up spaces, the staff that currently assign desks to students, postdocs and technicians will be responsible for assigning desks.

Are general assignment classrooms supposed to be centrally scheduled or locally controlled?

The general assignment classrooms will be centrally scheduled.

How are we going to guarantee that the SIPS “heart” room is for our community and won’t be taken by the registrar for central classroom scheduling?

I am in discussions with Beth Ahner and CALS administration about this. I am confident that by 2025 when the new room opens we will have a plan.

Will Hortus Forum get a room in the renovated building? What about other student clubs like Fantastical Fungi and Hydroponics? Could we have a “clubhouse” space for all student clubs to share?

We need to know the scope of phase 2 before I can give an informed answer to this question.

What is going to happen to Minns Garden as a result of the construction/renovation? Are the beech and hazelnut trees going to be saved/spared?

Minns Garden will not be impacted by the renovation. However, many of the plantings around the building will be impacted. Nina Bassuk, Chris and others in SIPS are working with CALS facilities to minimize the damage.

Will our office windows open?

Sadly no. I have tried, but we want the building to be as sustainable and energy efficient as possible. The environmental engineers have told me that windows that open cause energy efficiency to plummet. The answer is no.

Will the old windows in the areas that don’t get renovated get replaced? These windows are leaky, and it seems they would effect the efficiency of the heating/cooling in the building

Discussions with the architects and Cornell engineers are ongoing as how to best maximize energy efficiency and comfort of building occupants with the funds available for renovation.

Will labs that are not scheduled to be renovated, but are in the Plant Science building, be able to tap into new features such as house vacuum or back up power?

Chris is discussing options with facilities and hopes to identify strategies for faculty that would like these options in their lab. It may not be possible to connect to the new systems, but if not we may be able to identify alternate strategies to enable these features.

Will my steam autoclave still work during and after renovation?

Yes, it will still work. If/when the Plant Science building is able to connect to earth source heat, steam will no longer be available. However, I was told by facilities that can’t happen until the entire building is renovated, and there is currently no plan for completion.

Will friezes over entry doors to Plant Science be preserved?

Yes absolutely, they will remain where they are.

Will the office used by Barbara McClintock (220 PS) be honored?

We are working with AAD/CALS on options for honoring this space.

Will the historic staircase remain?


Additional historical elements of interest

Room 260 PS used to be a small common room named the Knudson Room after Lewis Knudson, an orchid tissue culture pioneer. There is a plaque on the wall commemorating Knudson which should be saved and ideally mounted in a more visible location

Cornice repair - Fall 2020

Southeast corner

The white tent has been constructed around the tree located at that corner. Plywood over the roof of the conservatory is in place to prevent any damage from falling debris

Cornice repair - Fall 2020

High Priority Areas

Cornice stabilization is most urgent at the corners of the Plant Science Building

Cornice repair - Fall 2020

Cornice repair in process

A worker dismantles the southwest cornice over the conservatory in preparation for stabilization of the structure

building with construction machinery
floor plan of the plant science building
worker dismantles the cornice masonry


Plant Science Building renovation is a state funded and state managed project. The eventual renovation scope includes the entire building with the exception of some recently renovated areas like the auditorium and teaching labs. The construction will be completed in three phases with Phase I and II being conducted in the nearer term and Phase III at a yet-to-be-specified future time. Kimberly Conant is the SUNY Construction Fund (SUCF) Project Coordinator. Davies Orinda is the Cornell Project Manager (formerly Ram Venkat). Other members of the Cornell team include Brad Newhouse, Brian Fish, and Andy Vail.

Project Goals:

  • Support SIPS mission to remain at the forefront of plant science research and teaching, with flexible, modern laboratories and classrooms
  • Design for appropriate transparency and for informal collaboration to maximize positive interactions among the occupants
  • Organize, design, and engineer the project to maximize energy conservation and meet Cornell and SUCF Deep Energy Retrofit goals
  • Maintain and enhance the historic character of the building
  • Upgrade building safety and code-compliance to current standards

Parameters for renovation

Budget - $85.6 million

  • This is not sufficient to fund renovation of the entire building, although the university administration has requested that a whole building design be generated
  • Spaces that will not have significant interior renovation as part of Phases I & II include much of the 4th floor and the east end of the building (east of the men’s bathroom) including the 3rd floor bridge. The end of the building which will not be renovated as part of Phases I and II is being referred to as the annex.
  • Tentative timing: Earliest possible construction start date is projected at summer 2021

Space constraints

  • Increase in research programs: The Cornell administration has mandated that the number of research programs housed in the building be increased to ~40, assuming an average of 6 persons/program. The building is being designed to meet the necessary bench, office, and support spaces for this number of people.
  • Teaching space requirement: The renovated building will include a predetermined number of classrooms and teaching labs.
  • Existing footprint/structural columns/historic facade: mandates from Cornell require retention of the current footprint and historic facade. In addition, the original building was constructed with a grid of weight-bearing columns, locations of which dictate hallway placement and configuration of larger spaces

Design consequences

Note that these were agreed upon by a SIPS-wide building committee during the 2018 Payette study and discussed at SIPS-wide town halls following that study. Many have expressed enthusiasm for integrated lab spaces where greater interaction between groups can occur.

  • Classrooms in the building “backbone” and research lab placement in the arms of the “E” best addresses research and teaching space requirements in the existing footprint
  • Open lab design: maximizes space use efficiency and flexibility during routine expansion and contraction of lab group size
  • Shared support space to minimize unnecessary duplication

Energy upgrades

The Deep Energy Retrofit mandated by Cornell/SUNY encompasses the building envelope, structural upgrades, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing upgrades. These are a major driver and significant part of the cost for the renovation

Design consequences:

  • Different air handling requirements drive segregation of labs, support spaces, and office/write-up spaces
  • Limits locations of operable windows though operable windows in offices may be a possibility

June 2020 Questions & Needs

provided by Ram Venkat – Cornell project manager

Suggestion: Concern that modularity is preferable for certain specialty labs

A. For some specialty lab types, where modularity is necessary, open labs with 1-2 PIs are included in the design for the annex portion of the building.  In the shorter term, these labs could be potentially housed in the annex space prior to eventual renovation

Suggestion: Stack all labs on the “E” backbone and make longer, more modular labs with independent access to shared spaces

A. This was explored by Payette during the 2018 space study and concluded that the narrow width of the lab will result in small cellular labs service 1-2 PIs. It was also concluded that this is highly energy inefficient due to lack of segregation between spaces like lab, support and writeup. It was also concluded that this approach does not work in a phased construction approach and will require the full building to be vacated which is cost prohibitive. Finally, the desire to keep teaching functions in the heart of the building, necessitated the placement of classrooms, teaching labs and faculty offices in the center and main bar of the building; and pushing the research spaces to the wings

Suggestion: Create alternate egresses from lab wings (specific suggestions include a hallway to the side of the modular lab or an egress window or stairway on the south end)

A. Upgrading the overall safety and code compliance of Plant Science is a major goal of the renovation. Planned improvements include installation of a sprinkler system and fire alarm throughout the building for enhanced fire detection/control, elimination of dead-end corridors, and replacement of elevators and bathrooms for improved access. Design of the lab wings, including egress, complies with the Existing Building Code of NYS and has been reviewed by code officials from SUNY, Cornell and design team.

Fire escape stairs, escape windows, and the proposed dead-end hallway alongside the modular lab space are not code compliant per current building code requirements for a higher education facility.

Suggestion:  Make windows operable

A. The State mandate to reduce energy use does not support operable windows in labs. Operable windows in offices maybe a possibility

Suggestion:  Open up/eliminate some/all of the support rooms

A. The State mandate to reduce energy use requires segregation of lab spaces

Suggestion: Convert graduate student office space to shared/core lab space

A. Per feedback received at the last meeting, design team is exploring ways of adding shared/core lab spaces on every floor

Suggestion: Desire for desk-type landing space in the lab

A. Lab design standards have moved away from this model and encourages segregation of write-up activity from labs. This also helps drive lab area down and as a result overall energy use


Autoclaves are a universal need for plant pathology in particular

Design team is exploring options to distribute and relocate autoclaves

Concerns about whether centralized glassware will work for all (different types of work mean different standards of cleanliness

Design team is exploring options to distribute glassware

The following needs are also being taken into consideration:

Need a ground-floor soil/field sample lab in Phase I With soil traps in drains & a BSC

Need showers (not safety showers) in bathrooms for after field work/planting

Academic office space should be very close to labs