At the back of a construction zone with backhoes and piles of dirt surrounded by a chain-link fence, a gray wall is built into Comstock Knoll. Next year, the site will house Cornell Plantations' new sustainably designed welcome center.
On a drizzly gray day, visitors were cheered Oct. 23 by a groundbreaking ceremony for the Cornell Plantations Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center at the Mullestein Winter garden, next to Plantations Road.
"Plantations has long needed a single site where we can greet visitors, provide them with orientation and interpretation about our history and collections, and meet visitor amenity needs," said Don Rakow, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations, at the ceremony.
The building, planned for completion by Trustee/Council Weekend next October, will comply with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification standards. The first floor will be bermed into Comstock Knoll in the heart of the botanical garden. The contractor is using partly reused materials and is recycling its construction waste. And the building will use 30 percent less energy than industry standards require and will include both a green roof and solar panels.
The center will feature a bright two-story atrium and lobby, interpretive exhibits about Cornell Plantations, a reception desk, restrooms, a gift shop and a small café. To better serve Plantations' education and outreach programs, the second floor will include a 100-seat classroom/lecture hall and a 10-seat conference room.
The new center is intended as the capstone project of a long series of capital improvements at Plantations that began a dozen years ago, said Rakow. In addition to the new center, upgrades will include a new parking area with a tour-bus drop-off zone, partly built with Cornell structural soil designed by Cornell's Urban Horticultural Institute to safely bear pavement loads after compaction and still allow root penetration and vigorous tree growth.
Also, a new "bioswale" adjacent to the parking lot will be designed to bio-remediate runoff from the parking area.
"The Plantations is a model for all the world to look to for its sustainable gardening and land management practices, native plant conservation and habitat preservation and restoration," said Susan Henry, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, at the event.
Cornell Project, Design and Construction Director John Kiefer, who also spoke at the event, took part in the ceremonial groundbreaking with Henry, Rakow and Glenn Dallas '58 (representing Maddi Dallas '58, co-chair of the Plantations 21st Century Committee).
The welcome center is named for Brian Nevin '50, at the request of C. Sherwood Southwick, his partner and the new center's major donor. Nevin and Southwick co-owned Briarwood Antiques on State Street in Ithaca for 32 years.