Renovation Updates

January 2021: Plant Science Building Cornice Repair

Work is ongoing to brace the cornices and parapet walls along the roof line of the Plant Science Building, with stabilization of the corners being the top priority. The current plan is to revise the cornice anchoring detail to reinstall existing cornice. Unexpected issues with the condition of the cornice detail delayed construction, with completion now expected in mid-February.

Cornice repair

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

High Priority Areas

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

Cornice repair

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. Ram Venkat is the Cornell Project Manager. 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 - $50 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 Jan 2022* with an optimistic time frame of 6 years (Phase I & II).
    *Projected by SIPS administration - timeframes to be updated as more information becomes available.

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

Answers to frequently asked questions

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

Specific needs

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