ITHACA – As the construction crew works behind tall, chain-linked fences through the middle of downtown Ithaca, college student Peter Westacott finds that the construction makes it complicated to browse the stores and enjoy the Commons.
Construction work on the Ithaca Commons began over two years ago with the original completion date of July 31, 2014. It has since been pushed back multiple times to the current completion estimate of Summer 2015.
Westacott said he only visits the Commons about once per month, only when he needs to.
“Right now with all the construction going on, the Commons is not a very inviting area to shop and hang out, and it’s just really difficult to navigate,” Westacott said.
Former Ithaca resident, Larissa Yost, said she continues to also visit the Commons at least once a month since she moved, and she is still waiting to see the old Commons come back to Ithaca.
“Before construction started the Commons was really pretty and had nice trees, a playground and an area for events, then they started tearing everything up and it just seems like it’s been an endless cycle of construction,” Yost said.
Delays, delays, delays
Currently a year behind schedule, problems arose with the construction that could not have been foreseen.
Since the beginning of construction, things have not always gone as planned, according to project manager Michael Kuo.
Kuo oversees the design and construction on the Commons, making sure the drawings are coherent for contractors, but noted the difficulty of development.
“It’s been complicated; at the start, architects drew one way, and the actual conditions would work another, making it difficult for crews to complete their work,” Kuo said.
Then in March 2014, the project had already been off to a slow start of replacing the electrical lines when New York State Electric & Gas Corp. decided the old gas pipes needed replacement as well.
The company had just started their work on the utility lines when on June 20, a tractor-trailer truck driving down the hill on East State-Martin Luther King Jr. Street veered through the area where they were working, and crashed into Simeon’s restaurant.
The cleanup and damage done to the building caused even further delays, and postponed the gas company’s work until September.
“We’ve lost a lot of productivity because of that, so we’ve had some catching up to do,” Kuo said.
Will it ever end?
Due to many long months of no viewable progress, community members of Ithaca are questioning the completion estimate.
“I really think it’ll get pushed back again, they just keep changing the date and it always seems like they have more things to do,” Westacott said.
Yost also agrees that the completion will not come as soon as they say.
“Naturally, things will come up and go wrong, and especially with Ithaca’s unpredictable weather you never know what could happen,” Yost said.
In an anonymous survey conducted by Ithaca College students, many students expressed concern over the construction taking so long.
“I just want to know when it will be finished. The Commons is such a beautiful area, and the construction makes it lose some of its beauty. Plus it doesn’t seem like anything is being done to finish the construction in a quick or timely manner,” one student said.
Some students expressed disappointment that the Commons was under construction for the majority of their time in Ithaca, saying the Commons used to be a great area to spend time before construction.
“I understand that the pipes needed to be replaced, but I’m graduating in December and it sucks that I only got one year with the commons as a place that was actually nice to hang out and I feel like huge amounts of time go by that not much has gotten done,” another student said.
Getting Back on Track
Fifteen months after construction began and things are truly starting to come together, according to Kuo.
Now that most of the underground utility work is complete, the crew is focusing on walkways and aesthetics.
“The project is now generally on schedule, but we still have a few things left that need to be done,” Kuo said.
Many of the existing walkways still need to be replaced with concrete slabs, which Kuo said should be complete sometime in June.
He said within the next few weeks the crews will finish setting the pavers, begin landscaping, placing furniture and finish assembling the new Bernie Milton Pavilion.
“We are still waiting on the glass for the pavilion, but when it arrives we will put it together.”
Members of the community like Westacott remain still have some hope through all the delays.
“It’ll be nice when the construction is finally complete without all the fences and rubble, and finally have the return of the area that is central to one of the best college towns in the country,” Westacott said.
This is part of a 2015 group project at https://ithacacommonsconstruction.wordpress.com/