Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Human Services Building Expansion Plans

May 5, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

In collaboration with LaBella Associates, Tompkins County Facilities Division is planning an expansion and renovation project for the Human Services Building, which houses the Department of Social Services (DSS). LaBella recently setup an Ithaca office located in the Bank Tower Building on the Commons (they’re originally out of Rochester, NY).

The plans were presented to members of the Tompkins County Legislature back on April 2nd, which included project scopes, elevations, floor plans, and projected costs. The expansion will take place so that the Tompkins County Department of Probation and Community Justice can make the move out of the Old Library, so that the property can be re-developed.

The Phase 1 project shows an expanded footprint at the northeast end of the building to include six interview rooms, a classroom space with 48 to 56 seats, and an existing interior renovation to build-out five interview rooms (for a total of 11), a bathroom, and a visitation room. Phase 2 includes a further renovation of the south end of the building, in order to accommodate room for three offices, an interview room, a multipurpose study lounge, classroom, computer workstation area, bathroom, and a secure entry for day reporting.


Human Services Building:

LaBella Project Presentation:







Historic Structures: Tompkins County Courthouse and Old Jail

January 22, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Excerpt from Ithaca and its Past:

“A particularly interesting case is that of J. Lakin Baldridge, who practiced from 1923 to 1937. Baldridge was born in Cincinnati in 1892 but grew up in Jersey City, N.J. He studied architecture at Cornell and graduated in 1915. After serving in the Navy, he returned to Cornell for his M.A., which he received in 1922, and then became an assistant professor. In 1924 he opened his own office. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Baldridge designed several handsome Neo-Georgian (Colonial Revival) buildings downtown, including the new county courthouse and the jail (both 1932); the Cayuga Apartments (1930), 100 W. Buffalo; and the Seneca Building (1928), 121 E. Seneca. He also did Thurston Court in Cornell Heights and several Cayuga Heights residences, including his own, which he named Robin Hill, at 511 Cayuga Heights Road [7 bedroom, 6.5 bath mansion]. After the courthouse was completed, however, Baldridge did little work. He had inherited a large amount of stock in 1931; with the worsening of the Depression, he apparently felt he shouldn’t take commissions away from those who needed the money more. He then built a home in Bermuda and spent much of his time deep-sea fishing [Baldridge commissioned Sparkman & Stephens to build a boat for him, the “Cleopatra”, which was finished and launched in 1959- you can see pictures and plans of it here]. He died in London in 1969.

Tompkins County Courthouse (1932) 320 North Tioga Street
This is the third and most recent courthouse in Tompkins County. (The second one is two buildings west on Court Street.) Designed by J. Lakin Baldridge in the Neo-Georgian style, it features a double staircase leading to the main entrance, bronze double doors in an elaborate entranceway, a central bay that is set forward slightly, tall pilasters, and a round window in the main pediment. Inside is a marble-lined lobby. Formed in 1817, Tompkins County was named after Daniel D. Tompkins, vice president elect of the United States at the time. Tompkins had been a lawyer, congressman, state supreme court justice, and governor of New York before serving as vice president during the two terms of James Monroe’s presidency.

Tompkins County Jail (1932) 125 East Court Street
You will not be surprised to learn that this jail was built at the same time, and designed by the same architect (J. Lakin Baldridge), as the new courthouse.”

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Court sits in the 6th Judicial District (basically the Southern Tier), serving as the main courthouse for prosecuting crimes within the county, with exclusive authority to prosecute felonies, and shared authority with the Towns, City and Villages for minor misdemeanors and minor violations. The Old Jail is now office space, housing the County Administration, Attorney’s Office, Finance Department, Purchasing Division, Personnel Office, Public Information, Training and Development, and the County Treasury.

The Tompkins County Courthouse:



The Tompkins County Old Jail:


Historic Structures: The Old Tompkins County Courthouse

January 2, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

The Old Tompkins County Courthouse (1854) – 121 East Court Street

Excerpt from Ithaca and its Past:

“The oldest Gothic Revival courthouse in the state, this building was the county’s second courthouse. Designed by John F. Maurice, a Union Springs architect, it replaced a small cheap wooden Greek Revival building that had been hastily built in 1818 to insure that Ithaca would become the county seat. Simeon DeWitt [arguably, the chief non-Native founder of Ithaca], who laid out the early village of Ithaca, gave the land to the county. When the new courthouse was built in 1932, the county exchanged the building for another lot. Public outcry forced the county to buy it back in 1934, however, and the building has housed county offices since then. The second-floor courtroom is especially handsome. The room originally featured an open timber (cathedral) roof, but an attic and the present ceiling were added during the Victorian period because of the high heating costs. The large brackets are part of the original roof trusses. The building was completely renovated in 1975-1976 as a Bicentennial project.”

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Planning Department occupies the ground-level floor, and the second-level houses the newly-renovated Legislature Chambers. The chambers were relocated from the County Courthouse Building next door, which had housed the Legislature until mid-June 2013 for about 80 years. The New York State Court System forced the move in order to make space for a Supreme Courtroom, and had previously committed to fund renovations for the relocation, which it later declined to fund. The new chamber renovations cost $1.2 million (originally pegged at $100,000 to $200,000), which sparked public criticism in the newspapers, and has provided some political ammunition for Congressman Tom Reed’s face-off with Tompkins County Legislature Chair, Martha Robertson (whom just stepped down in January, 2014) for the 23rd NY Congressional District‘s 2014 election, with a constituency spanning 11 counties, of which, Tompkins County was redistricted from the former 24th & 22nd in the start of 2012 and into the new 23rd (formerly the 29th).

The 2012 to mid-2013 renovations added new interior wood trim, four private offices, fresh paint, lighting, audiovisual equipment (meetings are streamed online via the Meeting Portal), seating, legislature desks and chairs, the bench, gallery seating, and new flooring. HOLT Architects (the renovation designers) has some nice images here. The contractors for the project were McPherson Builders, Climate Control Technologies, and Richardson Brothers Electrical.






The photo above is part of a 1930s Watercolor Map by Walter Glenn Norris (1895-1969), a painter, author, Tompkins County Clerk, and Tompkins County’s first appointed Historian (the work is on display in the first level DeWitt-side entrance foyer of the Old Courthouse). He painted many wonderful watercolors of Central New York, and authored three history books: Early Explorers and Travelers in Tompkins County (1961), Old Indian Trails in Tompkins County (1969), and The Origin of Place Names in Tompkins County (1951). Gosh, if only it cost $415k to build all that today..

Tompkins County Draft RFEI for The Old Library

October 20, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Tompkins County administrators are set to release a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) this December on the Old Library property that has been largely vacant and under-utilized ever since the new library building was built at the corner of Cayuga Street and Green Street. The responses will be due the following April, at which point every proposed and submitted project application will be reviewed. Embedded below is the draft RFEI document that was presented in the context of a $1.5 million plan to renovate and expand the Human Services Building so that the Community Justice Center can move out of the Old Library’s lower level by the first quarter of 2015 (meeting minutes also embedded below).
The Old Library’s site is .88 acres, and the building is 38,630 square feet. As soon as the current library was completed back in 2000 on the former Woolworth Department Store site, there have been plans by various developers to re-configure the Old Library for private use. At this point however, it may be less desirable or even feasible to renovate the existing building. The parcel (along with two adjacent parcels) was actually re-zoned by the City of Ithaca back in May to CBD-50, meaning zero side yard and front yard setbacks, and any new structure could go up to a 50 foot height as of right. The rezoning with adjacent parcels seems like a sign that the current structure may not be deemed suitable for reuse, and the draft RFEI is clearly stating that the county prefers development plans that will create housing for the aging, so a proposal like a new CCRC facility (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) would make sense.




Psychedelic exterior upgrades from Spring 2013:




Tompkins County Selling Biggs Property to Ohio Development Group

September 26, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

The NRP Group LLC of Cleveland, Ohio partnered-up with Better Housing for Tompkins County to respond the the County’s July 2012 Request for Proposal (RFP) for acquisition and development of the former Biggs property, a 25.52-acre wooded site right across from Cayuga Medical Center, at the end of Harris B Dates Drive on the left (see tax map and google map below). The site is assessed at $340,000 and the purchase offer is set at $500,000 with proposed contingencies that the County will provide funds for off-site pedestrian and transit improvements.
The NRP group mainly focuses on multi-family development, senior housing, and LIHTC (low-income housing tax credit) projects, and Better Housing for Tompkins County is a local not-for-profit that promotes and incentivizes affordable housing in rural areas by offering purchase assistance, rental housing, and various home repair programs. Since this project will be next door to Cayuga Medical Center, I imagine that the target housing demographic is low-income seniors. Post-publish, there was an Ithaca Times article introducing the project as a 30-90% median income clustered townhouse project with 60 units of one to four bedrooms. The rents translate from $300 to $1300, some units single story and others two story.
If I had a bone to pick with this proposal, it’s this: I think incentivizing low-income housing and senior housing is appropriate, but this sort of development is exactly the kind of thing that gets municipalities into fiscal and transportation trouble. Single-use facilities beyond urban fringes without realistic walkable neighborhoods and amenities aren’t as desirable or fiscally-sustainable as urban mixed-use developments with walkability. Ithaca is a tough development scenario because there’s a shortage of flat, developable land in the urban core, but I think if land held by the public is being transferred to private hands for a specific project, there should be a public disclosure of the lifecycle public costs, as well as a fully-fleshed-out plan for development. (The Town of Ithaca Planning Board will be reviewing this Fall)
Given the new information in the article, I think mixed-income is a good move, and it will be interesting to see the actual proposal in Town Planning, and whether or not there is housing demand information from Cayuga Medical Center staff. The article references plans for walking paths and a neighborhood-style layout, but we’re still looking at a single-use facility 3 miles up West Hill from downtown.

Assessment report and Tompkins County Legislature minutes embedded below.