SUNY-ESF's Illick Hall to receive new roof and greenhouse complex in 2012

After being deemed a "critical maintenance project," Illick Hall is set to receive major environmentally-friendly renovations starting in May 2012.

A few green thumbs and a dire need for repair pushed the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to start the renovation process on one of its campus highlights: Illick Hall. Deemed a “critical maintenance project” by campus administration, a new roof and greenhouse complex will replace the original roof system starting in May 2012.

“It really is a top dollar program identified by senior administration that this was what we needed to be done,” said Terry Ettinger, greenhouse manager and overseer in the renovation process. “This building was built in 1968, which means that the roof is going on 50 years old. To put it mildly, it leaks like a sieve.”

Located just across the street from Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome at 1 Forestry Dr., Illick Hall contains some of SUNY-ESF’s finest resources. In addition to the greenhouses, it is home to the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, various collections such as the fungi collection in Room 440 and the animal display in Room 231 and a TV studio. Students also take classes in laboratories, classrooms and a small lecture hall, and faculty occupy several offices in the building.

Though the renovation will take place on the top of Illick Hall, it will fix increasing problems caused by damages throughout the building.

“The roof has gotten so bad that it’s been damaging the laboratories on lower floors and it really got to the point where the roof needed to be replaced,” said Ettinger.

Due to the configuration of the roof, the greenhouses will also benefit from the renovation.

“The roof and the greenhouses are a system,” said Ettinger. “You couldn’t do something to the roof without doing something with the greenhouses, and so while replacing the roof is driving the bus, so to speak, simultaneously we are getting new greenhouses.

The new greenhouse structure will have three external faces, as well as numerous compartments that section off different rooms. As opposed to the original structure of individual greenhouses with over 25 external faces, the new design will be about 25 percent more energy efficient, with updated heating and cooling, including radiant floor heat. These updates will save between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, according to Ettinger.

“We’re going to have a much more energy efficient facility,” said Ettinger. “It should be much easier to manage operationally because the systems will all be new and we shouldn’t have to replace valves, lose heat, or have pipes break all the time.”

Aside from the cost improvements, the new design is intended to improve visitors’ experiences, as well.

 “With the new configuration, it’ll be more like going to a conservatory where you can walk through one side and out the other,” said project manager Kyle Gregory, who works at the firm hired to design and build the roof system.

With help from the College’s landscape architecture club, LAND|scape, the new facility is set to transform into a naturalized setting, displaying the plants in their natural environments.

“Hopefully people will be able to better appreciate exactly how plants grow in their native habitat by seeing how something is a native groundcover in a dry, wonky hillside in South Africa rather than in a hanging basket, for example,” said Ettinger.

The greenhouses aren’t getting attention unfairly, though, according to Ettinger and others.

“It’s all really outdated,” said SUNY-ESF freshman Tom Decker, a work-study student accustomed to the condition of the greenhouses. “There are windows missing out of some of the greenhouses from windstorms and heat differences, the water systems aren’t top notch, all the benches are starting to rot since they’re made out of wood and all the years of watering. There are cockroaches everywhere, too.”

But soon a brand new roof system will sit atop Illick Hall, with help from Syracuse architecture firm Ashley McGraw Architects. They designed and will build the new structure, while SUNY-ESF’s LAND|scape Club, works on interior design plans.

“The new design is really, really exciting,” said Gregory, who works at Ashley McGraw coordinating projects with various consultants. “It should really provide them with a much needed, much improved teaching facility that is heads and tails above anything they have right now. It’s been a challenging, but rewarding project to work on.”

Also challenging will be the pre-construction process, where the greenhouses will need to be deconstructed for the renovation. During this process, over 4,000 plants will be moved in order to make way for the new facility—most of which trucked to the College’s Lafayette Road Experiment Station, a greenhouse facility located at the south boundary of Syracuse. Though some plants won’t make it back into the collection at the renovated facility, Ettinger says he’ll spend time away from Illick Hall propagating, repotting and getting the plants ready to come back to the new facility.

However, it’ll be a long year and a half before the greenhouses are functional and ready to be reoccupied in the fall of 2013. Even longer will it be—two years—before the main facet of the greenhouses, the teaching collection, is moved back to Illick Hall. To preserve the collection’s tropical plants, Ettinger says he’ll wait until after the end of the academic year in the spring of 2014 before he moves the teaching collection into the greenhouses.

The renovation will come at a price, though. The new roof system will cost about $7 million, with the greenhouse renovation alone costing $3 million, according to Ettinger. The project received funds from the State University Construction Fund, which comes from the state budget for the construction and maintenance of campus facilities.

Despite the price tag, Ettinger stays positive about the renovation. “Other than simple disruptions to the status quo, there’s really only an upside,” said Ettinger. “Assuming we can get through the construction process in tact, once we’re back in the main facility, it should be a much better home for our collection and more enjoyable for people to visit.”


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