Cornell Tech Town Hall March 29, 2017

Cornell Tech: Blue Sky to Feet on the Ground

Updated 4 weeks ago David Stone
Roosevelt Islanders, Cornell Tech Employees and Contractors Wait for the Town Hall to Begin
Roosevelt Islanders, Cornell Tech Employees and Contractors Wait for the Town Hall to Begin
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Nearly six years ago, City Council Member Jessica Lappin called a press conference under the Tram on 2nd Avenue where she announced a blue sky project to bring a pioneering university campus to New York City. Today, Cornell Tech, which fought hard for the right to build it, moves closer to becoming the fascinating fact of life it promises for Roosevelt Island.

In a grace note of continuity, Jane Swanson, who worked as a top aide for Council Member Lappin when the RFP was announced, presided over last night’s Town Hall. These days, Swanson’s a steady presence on Roosevelt Island, heading up community relations for Cornell Tech, the soon to be opened, freestyle nexus of business and academic enterprise.

When Cornell Tech held its first Town Hall shortly after winning the hotly contested award to pioneer New York City into an innovative future, the talk was alive with emerging ideas about the task of converting the grounds of aging, still occupied Goldwater Hospital to make way for a world class graduate university center. Architect drawings barely made the project tangible.

Five years later, ideas have coalesced into graduate programs and newly minted businesses, under Google’s Chelsea umbrella as temporary home, allowing this Town Hall to be a down to earth demonstration of practical realities to come. Main presentations were all about getting feet on the ground, public spaces open and security integrated.

Viewed together, the presented programs gave a sense of how Cornell Tech’s blending in along contours of both the immediate and larger New York communities.

What’s Happening at Cornell Tech?

Prefacing a brief overview of academics, Chief Administrative Officer Juliet Weissman added perspective with the school’s mission statement: “Cornell Tech develops pioneering leaders and technologies for the digital age.” 

Short, sweet and potentially world changing.

They fulfill the mission over eleven programs, seven of them Masters, four PhDs.

A familiar face on Roosevelt Island, after five years planning and building, Andrew Winter, Director of Capital Projects, described the status of the physical campus.

“We really are in the homestretch,” he said.

Among the “final touches” to be completed before this summer’s opening are tree plantings (Fifty-nine new cherry trees will align the reopened East Esplanade.) and final landscaping.

Prime among landscaped areas will be the Main Lawn, a 30,000 square foot space that is, according to Winter, “about the same size as Bryant Park.” An “outdoor classroom” will help add to a total of 130,000 square feet of opens space, triple what was promised during the ULURP reviews.

The ground floor of the Bloomberg Building, southernmost in the first phase, adjacent to the Main Lawn, will be home to “the café,” much anticipated as an eatery that, open to the public, adds a fresh option for casual eats on Roosevelt Island. 

Starr Catering’s Guy Kellner gave a lighthearted presentation of the venue his company will manage. He pledged that it will be heavy on healthy foods, although those of us with weaker wills will find things to like too. Options include dining indoors or on plentiful seating outside, both enhanced by open views of the East River and Turtle Bay across the water in Manhattan.

A detailed outline of facilities and operations was delivered by Director Floyd Young. He has solicited bids and expects to have a contractor in place to provide the core needs of building maintenance and groundskeeping before June and has already hired an experienced Assistant Director for Safety and Security. Jon Benson’s career includes twenty years with the NYPD and ten more working with, among others, Columbia University.

As a deep example of how Cornell Tech has worked at integrating, Young has developed a working relationship with RIOC’s Public Safety chief  Jack McManus as well as first responders in the Fire and Police Departments.

A low key commitment to safety means numerous access stations around the campus that allow visitors to call for immediate assistance, each equipped with 365 degree cameras. There will be “no arms on campus.” Even the security force will be unarmed. 

Young reiterated his commitment “to hire as many people as possible from Roosevelt Island,” a sentiment echoed by Senior Director of Human Resources, Julie Delay. 

Cornell Tech is “committed to HireNYC,” Delay said. HireNYC “is a free program that connects the city's workforce development services to economic development projects.”

In addition, ads have been posted in local media that specifically direct Roosevelt Islanders to jobs with both Cornell Tech and its contractors. (See a related article here.)

This time around, presentations Swanson introduced to an audience of about 100 residents, plus employees and contractors, were more informative than inspirational. A future reality is taking shape, picking up gravity. 

Blue skies and feet on the ground will soon accent the campus in creative unison.

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