Like a party planner rushing to get everything done before the first guests arrive, Cornell Tech is in the process of putting finishing touches on its state-of-the-art graduate-school campus, scheduled to open this summer. In a March 29 Town Hall meeting at the Manhattan Park Theatre Club, speakers outlined the final stages of preparation, including landscaping, security, hiring, and the school’s role as Roosevelt Island’s newest tenant.
“This is a big year for Cornell Tech. We move to Roosevelt Island in July, just a few short months away and we are eager to be a part of this community,” Jane Swanson, Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations for Cornell Tech told a crowd of 175 attendees. “We held our first meeting in October of 2013, and we’ve been meeting quarterly ever since.”
Crews have begun preparing the grounds for landscaping.
Most of the buildings scheduled for Phase One of construction are nearing completion – with the exception of a 16- to 17-story hotel and 4-story executive education center, which are slated for a 2019 opening.
“Right now we are working on the structural steel to hold [the solar panels] up, and in the next three or four weeks you’ll see them start to go up on the Bridge building first, and then on the Bloomberg Center,” said Andrew Winters, the school’s director of capital projects and planning.
This means crews will start turning their attention to landscaping next. “If you look into the fence, you’ll see most of the campus is dirt,” Winters said. “We’ve been focused on the construction of the buildings but the landscape is the piece we now have to fill in. So, in the summer of 2017, we will be completing the public open space, and reopening the loop road.”
In addition to repairing the road, workers have laid new sidewalks and will plant additional trees – including many of the Island’s iconic cherry trees. “We’ve been working with RIOC and members of the community to propose a tree-planting plan. What we’ve developed is a plan to plant 59 cherry trees along the east esplanade. Because of the quirks of tree planting season, that will happen within the next 30 days or so. That’s a key piece of what we want to deliver before we open the roadway. We also need to repair the seawall where we created the barging area.”
59 cherry trees (top) will be planted along the Queens esplanade, as shown in the map (bottom).
Winters described the northern portion of the campus, which contains all of the buildings in phase one of construction, as a series of open spaces, including lighting, seating, and amenities. One of those amenities will include free Wi-Fi access in some outdoor areas.
The main campus lawn will be 30,000 square feet, which is roughly the size of the central green in Bryant Park. It will be the only irrigated lawn on campus and will offer fixed, as well as moveable seating, said Winters.
Additionally, there is a large plaza in the center of the space, a small alcove intended as an outdoor classroom on the Queens side, picnic tables, ping pong tables, and areas for working.
“We are providing 130,000 feet of open space,” he said. “That is three times the amount of open space that’s required. It’s very important to us. And that’s only the open space in phase one.”
Phase two of construction at the southern end of the campus is not expected to be finished until 2043. In the meantime, Winters says the land will be turned into a meadow, with a series of mounds. When completed, the entire campus will serve an academic community of nearly 2,500.
The campus will feature 13,00 square feet of open space in Phase One
Winters emphasized that all of the campus’ open space will be accessible to the public. “We succeed as a campus when we invite the public to our campus.”
When it opens, Cornell Tech will have its own security force, which will be staffed by security firm Allied Universal. John Benson, the assistant director of safety and security for the campus, said his team has spent the last six months developing relationships with the Island’s Public Safety Department and the 114th precinct of the NYPD, “our first responders.”
Allied Universal was hired to help to protect and secure the campus. According to Kevin Francis of Allied Universal, the company has extensive experience with security at campuses and research facilities. With 150,000 employees across the country, Allied Universal is the largest security provider in North America. “We are one of the leaders in the higher education space,” he said. “By us working with some of these campuses, we can take a lot of our experience and take it to Cornell Tech.”
He also highlighted their work in Battery Park City, saying, “there are a lot of similarities between what we provide there and what we will provide here.”
Stephen Sacchetti, Vice President of Business Development for Allied Universal, described security officers as more like ambassadors. “It’s an open campus. We are here to protect, preserve, observe, and report. We are the eyes and ears of RIOC and the 114th. We are here to be customer service, friendly ambassadors of Cornell Tech. We are the smiling face that is there to direct people in the right direction. We have to make the folks on campus feel welcome or we’re not sustaining the vision of Cornell Tech and we’re not doing our job.”
The campus will be open between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.; the rules and regulations are still in development. Officers will not carry firearms. “We will leave that to the 114th,” said Floyd Young, senior director of facilities operations.
Like many campuses, this one will have strategically placed blue lights, offering two-way communication to Cornell Tech security and will be manned 24/7. Anyone, Cornell Tech student or community member, can hit that button and get help immediately. The lights also have a 360-degree camera.
Islanders will be welcome to dine at the school’s café, named The Café, which will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week.
According to Guy Kellner, chief operations officer for Starr Catering Group, the café overlooks the river and includes an espresso bar and a cafeteria. “We are going to cook good food. Coffee is a big part of this equation. We brew coffee pretty well. We make great cappuccinos.” Kellner said they purchase their coffee straight from the farmer. “His name is Henry, he lives in Nicaragua.”
For the cafeteria, Keller said, “You stand in the line, we serve you, and you take a seat, inside or outside. We try very hard to cook food that’s healthy but, if you want to eat unhealthy, you’ll have some options.”
Because of the sustainability principle, Kellner said they won’t be cooking the food on campus so there won’t be a lot of garbage. Instead it will be cooked in the Bronx and delivered early every morning.” The food will be made with local ingredients from a local farm. Starr Catering also has a presence at the Bronx Botanical Gardens, the Rubin Museum and Carnegie Hall.
“We’re not going to fly to the moon,” said Kellner, “but we’ll serve decent food at a decent price. We hope to serve the community, not just the campus.”