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Hal Craft, not just a bricks and mortar guy, looks back fondly at CU people

ITHACA, N.Y. -- It would be easy to sum up Harold D. "Hal" Craft's career at Cornell as a series of building and facilities projects. During his 34 years here, he has led close to $1 billion in campus construction, from the Sage Hall renovation to Lake Source Cooling.

But as Craft enters retirement and looks back at his three decades at Cornell, he doesn't talk about buildings or projects, business matters or finance. He talks about people.

"One of the things that always impressed me about Cornell -- I've seen it so much I almost take it for granted, and I shouldn't -- is that faculty and staff here will just do what's necessary for the benefit of the university no matter what," he said in a recent interview. "If they have to come here when it's freezing at two in the morning, they will do it."

His colleagues respond to Craft with equal appreciation. Says Philip Cox, director of facilities management, "Hal's legacy will be in the organization, not so much the bricks and mortar, in my estimation."

Craft has had an extraordinary career, beginning with earning his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at Cornell in 1961. His first Cornell job, after earning his Ph.D. in radio astronomy at Cornell in 1970, was as one of two lead project engineers on a team undertaking the first major upgrade of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, which is managed for the National Science Foundation by the Cornell-based National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC). After two years, he was named director of the observatory and led its reorganization and reorientation as a national research center. Later, he became director of NAIC in Ithaca and an adjunct professor of astronomy.

Craft admits to a special affection for the observatory. "The people there are just really special; I really enjoyed my nine years as director, and ironically it feels like home even though I haven't been back there much for nearly 25 years."

After NAIC, he became director of university telecommunications, which, under his leadership, installed a new campus telephone system and an infrastructure for the campus network that is still in use. After serving as associate vice president, in 1993 he was appointed vice president of facilities and campus services by President Frank H.T. Rhodes. In 2000 President Hunter Rawlings named him chief financial officer, as well.

The last two decades have seen a dramatic increase in facility construction on campus. For much of that time, Craft was responsible for the entirety of these projects -- siting, design and construction. Under his watch, the Mews and Court halls and the Appel Commons on North Campus were built, as were Ho Plaza, the Belkin Courtyard, the Friedman Wrestling Center, the Cook and Becker houses on West Campus, the new home of the Laboratory of Ornithology and the state-of-the-art Duffield Hall. In addition, Sage Chapel was delicately refurbished, and historic Sage, Lincoln, White and Tjaden halls and the iconic McGraw Tower were preserved through extensive renovations, as were the slightly more contemporary Ives Hall, Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and Mann Library. Similar work on Bailey Hall is currently in progress, and the dramatic new Life Science Technology Building is now beginning construction.

The $60 million Lake Source Cooling (LSC) project, the largest environmental effort ever undertaken by a university, went online in July 2000 after more than two years of testing and construction. "Fortunately we were able to describe lake-source cooling as an option for cooling the campus that would potentially cost us no more than cooling it with conventional chillers," Craft says. "We asked, do you want to do an old boring environmentally unfriendly thing or an environmentally responsible project? There was no hesitation in the response."

While seeing all these projects through to completion, Craft has managed a division of more than 1,500 people who keep the campus operational, safe and beautiful -- maintenance staff, electricians, groundskeepers, plumbers, designers, business services staff, auditors, cash and debt managers, accountants, planners, project engineers and campus police, among others.

Around 1991, concerned about the need to train supervisors in their roles as leaders, he launched the Leadership Development Program (LDP). Facilities management director Cox calls it a "cultural transformation." But it was quickly realized that important concepts, skills and training of LDP were not reaching frontline employees. So a second program called "Turning Point" was established for all of the division's employees. For many staff members, Cox says, this program has provided "a significant turning point in their lives."

Craft's dealings with students have been both warm and challenging, particularly when some aren't in agreement with university policies or practices.

"With students, we get in the middle of it in a couple of ways," Craft says. "One, from the perspective of law enforcement and keeping the peace, where we try to strike a balance between giving protesting students a lot of leeway and ability to express their points of view, but not to the point of causing hazard to participants, others or facilities."

But, Craft says, it has been "gratifying" to work with students on environmental issues. The Kyoto Now group, which has conducted sit-ins and aggressively pushed for Cornell to commit itself to the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, "was and continues to be helpful," Craft comments. "They made a good point and are now partners with the university in energy conservation."

Craft's years at Cornell were glory days for space sciences. "When I think of all the discoveries in my lifetime …" he reminisces. Famed astronomer Carl Sagan observed at Arecibo when Craft was director there; earlier, when in Ithaca, he had acted as Sagan's "informal postdoc," doing calculations to support the search for places to land Mars landers. Craft looks back fondly on his time working in research and working closely with faculty members Tommy Gold, Frank Drake, Yervant Terzian, Ed Salpeter, Bill Gordon -- the creator of the Arecibo radio telescope -- and many others.

Craft is not completely retiring from Cornell. He will remain in Ithaca and will continue as an adviser to President Jeff Lehman and handle special projects. He has complete confidence in his successor. "President Lehman attracted to Cornell a very strong person in Steve Golding, the new executive vice president for finance and administration," he says, "and I know he's got a phenomenal staff that will support him wherever he wants to go."

This summer will find Craft cruising his 22-year-old sailboat, Talisman, along the coast of Maine, with his wife, Holly. Craft is an accomplished sailor as well as a pilot. He loves the beauty of the Maine coast and the "zillion islands" where you can anchor in uncrowded or deserted coves. Eventually, Talisman may find itself in the Caribbean, Craft said. He also hopes to spend more time with his family, including two sons and four granddaughters.

His plans include settling into a new home in Ithaca, which will remain his base, although he thinks he may spend some of the winter in warmer climes.

"The new house has a huge organic garden," he says. "I have no experience with that so I'll have fun for a while learning the potential there. We also have 10 acres of woods that I'd like to learn to manage.

"My neighbor down the road is off the grid," he continues. "Intriguing. I'll see how he does that and, maybe, give it a try."

Acknowledging that sounds pretty busy for a retired guy, he smiles. "I'm not ready to go to sleep yet."

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