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Warren Hall's renovation blends the old with the new

Cornell's 80-year-old Warren Hall is ready for a $32 million revitalization.

Construction on the Beaux Arts-style building at the northeast corner of the Ag Quad has begun and is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Modular units are being erected next to the Plant Sciences Building to house the Department of Development Sociology during the renovation. The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management will move to East Warren Hall during Phase 1 (until 2013) of construction and will then reoccupy the west portion of the building while East Warren is renovated in Phase 2 (2013-15). The total cost of the project -- including design, relocation and surge facilities -- is expected to be $51 million.

When Warren Hall fully re-opens in four years, students will find that the basement and first floor will accommodate most of their activities, including classrooms and student support areas. All classrooms will be enhanced with full audio-visual capabilities, with some original instruction spaces being converted to case study rooms, according to renovation plans created by New York City-based FXFOWLE Architects. Lounges and social spaces will also be disbursed throughout the building to allow easy conversation and partnership between students and faculty members.

Faculty and staff will be accommodated on the upper floors, where office suites will permit a more quiet and community-oriented environment.

Peter Schrempf, program manager for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said it will be a great improvement over current conditions, as Warren Hall has not kept up with the times and no longer meets the needs of the departments it houses.

Often highly trafficked and noisy, each floor currently mixes busy classrooms with faculty and staff offices, yielding what the architectural report called a "culture of closed doors." It also lacks collaborative workspace and modern ventilation and does not meet ADA accessibility standards.

"We are most excited about improved teaching facilities," said David Brown, chair of the Department of Development Sociology.

While academic functions of the 128,355-square-foot, four-floor building will benefit from the modernization of the facility's infrastructure, other elements of the building will be preserved and enhanced to maintain the character and style of the original design. Built in 1932 for $500,000, the brick and stone exterior, as well as the distinctive entry lobby and the B-45 lecture hall, will undergo complete restoration. Plans even include conservation of the marble partitions in bathrooms that will be taken out in renovations and repurposed as flooring in the re-opened building.

This example of reuse is one of several sustainable design considerations being implemented by the design and construction team. The new Warren Hall is expected to be LEED certified, thanks to such features as operable windows for ventilation, carpeting made from recycled materials (which can later be recycled) and a possible green roof. Green considerations have extended to the moving process: Furniture will be reused and recycled, and older books will be donated to the Friends of the Library.

One of the biggest challenges of the project has been the logistics of nearly 300 moves involving faculty, graduate students and staff -- many faculty have been in Warren "forever" and have never had to downsize, according to Schrempf and project coordinator Susan Drew.

Despite such challenges, there are reasons to remain positive while Warren Hall is revitalized, said Professor Loren Tauer, director of the Dyson School.

"We plan to continue business as usual," he said. "Many of us will be even closer to Manndibles for coffee."

Molly Cronin '11 is a writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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Joe Schwartz