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Student Life Center FAQs

Student Life Center

What exactly is this project?

SUNY Cortland’s $56 million student life center will be the new focal point for student recreation, social interaction and experiential learning; a one-stop shop for a variety of healthy activities aimed at students with a wide range of abilities, backgrounds and interests.  It will be a recreation facility designed for informal, routine use, not large spectator events.

Amenities could include a recreational swimming pool, golf simulators, a climbing wall, racquetball and basketball courts, a suspended indoor track, combatives room, spinning room, a game room, an outdoor pursuits center, a multiple-activity gymnasium, and group exercise, cardiovascular, circuit-training and free-weight rooms The building will also include a classroom, social areas, locker facilities, food service and offices for SUNY Cortland’s Recreational Sports Department.

Preliminary plans envision a two-story, 148,000-square-foot structure on the site of the former “Chugger” Davis Field between Pashley Drive and Lusk Field House.  It would be 40 to 50 feet high at its tallest point.

Why is it so important for SUNY Cortland?

This unique facility will set SUNY Cortland apart from other colleges and SUNY schools, enhancing its competitive position in an era of decreasing numbers of high school graduates. The Center would continue the extensive capital renewal and renovation of campus facilities that began more than a decade ago and is credited with helping to reverse a downward trend in enrollment.

The center will improve the College’s ability to attract health-conscious, active, and high-achieving students and further its goal to become the healthiest college campus in the United States. It will greatly benefit SUNY Cortland’s Recreational Sports Program, expose students to potentially transformational recreational and educational activities and offer positive alternatives to the local bar or party scene.

The building will replace old, insufficient and non-contiguous recreational facilities scattered throughout the campus with a central, state-of-the-art center designed to create a sense of community among students, staff and faculty. 

Why is it important for the Cortland community?

SUNY Cortland is the county’s largest employer and primary economic engine. Each year the College generates about $278 million in economic activity for the region as thousands of students, hundreds of staff members and the school itself spends money in the community. Its positive relationship with the area – which remains strong after 143 years – is a major factor in that success. The economic well being of Cortland, in turn, is tied to the continued success of the College.

The project will create an estimated 230 construction jobs and add several full-time positions to the SUNY Cortland payroll. When completed, the student life center will help strengthen enrollment at the College while laying the foundation for economic vitality in the community. Similar capital investments in College facilities helped SUNY Cortland persuade the NY Jets to move their training camp to Cortland, attracting 41,000 visitors last year and generating an estimated $5.8 million in regional economic activity.

What are the benefits of building the center on Davis Field?

A facility built on that site would allow for a true centralization of campus recreation and social activities. In that location, it would connect the upper and lower sections of SUNY Cortland’s long and twisting footprint, making it convenient to visit from all parts of campus. It would also put the center in close proximity to SUNY Cortland’s residence halls, which house about 3,000 students.

It also represents a much higher and better use for Davis Field, which is relatively unused and needs extensive repairs. Because of that, there would be little displacement of current uses from the site.  It is an ideal construction site and no existing buildings would need to be removed. 

A preliminary environmental review indicated that there were no potential flooding or water quality issues related to this location that could not be mitigated or minimized. The entire site is located on property that has been owned and used by SUNY Cortland for decades.

Why is this site better than other campus sites for this project?

Of the six potential campus sites considered, Davis Field is by far the most accessible for students, faculty and staff. The convenient, centralized location would also be highly visible, making the structure an instant – and impressive – campus landmark.

All of the potential sites except one – a faculty parking lot near Bowers and Van Hoesen halls – were located above Cortland’s single source aquifer and raise similar concerns. The Bowers site, however, would require the relocation of a critical parking area. One site, located on Route 281, would be too distant from the center of campus to fulfill the project’s purpose. Other potential sites included the tennis courts adjacent to Davis Field and the parking lot between the tennis courts and the new Professional Studies Building, both of which would require existing uses to be relocated, while raising neighborhood and environmental issues similar to Davis Field.

If any of these options were selected, Davis Field would not remain unchanged. Since all of these sites have existing uses, Davis Field would likely be re-purposed as a parking lot to accommodate the shifted uses. That would likely mean more potential traffic and outdoor lighting issues than the student life center would create, as well as storm water and aquifer issues that would need to be mitigated.

The College also looked at building the student life center as an addition to Park Center, which would be less centralized, visible and accessible. Enlarging Park Center with a compatible, connected structure would be much more complicated and expensive than raising a stand-alone building.  As an addition to an existing structure, the new student life center would not have its own identity. It would not be able to effectively act as a recreational center for all students, regardless of ability or membership on a sports team.

What kind of environmental review will be done for this project?

SUNY Cortland has decided to complete the fullest, most comprehensive environmental review that could be required under state law. Although a preliminary outside review indicated that the project did not warrant that level of study, the College is willing to accept the additional expense and time required to make sure all potential environmental impacts of the project are considered and addressed.

How will the new building help manage flooding?

As part of the student life center project, we will be required to develop a detailed Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) for controlling storm runoff and preventing contamination. That plan will be reviewed by the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Flooding has been a longstanding problem in Cortland, and is of great concern to the College. Although the Davis Field site is not a major contributor to that flooding, the College currently has little ability to manage its runoff. Construction of the student life center will change that.

The new building could use a variety of methods to slow the flow of storm water from the site.  They could include creating some type of retention and treatment facility, installing curbing on the existing road and surrounding paved areas to capture and direct flows, and adding a “green” roof with plants that capture, retain and filter rainwater.

As a result, the project will – at a minimum – produce no more runoff than is currently associated with Davis Field. Because of SUNY Cortland’s increased management of storm water, the amount of runoff from the site into Otter Creek is likely to decrease and help prevent flooding.

How will this project protect the aquifer?

This project is intended to be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified building in Cortland County and will be designed and built to the highest practical environmental standards. In addition to dramatically reducing the building’s potential carbon footprint, the LEED designation requires that any potentially hazardous runoff from the site be minimized and managed to protect wells in the aquifer recharge area.

No industrial chemicals will be used in the student life center’s operation. No fuel tanks will be on site, no toxic pesticides will be applied and no large parking area with potential vehicle fuel leaks is planned.  

The College and the State University Construction Fund will continue to work with the appropriate city, county and state officials to make sure that all environmental regulations are satisfied or surpassed, and that recommended safeguards are put in place.

As part of the project, the College will replace a 60-year-old, clay sanitary sewer line running beneath Davis Field with stronger, modern piping.

What is the College already doing to protect the water supply?

SUNY Cortland has long had an active and extensive environmental health and safety program. Its current director, a respected expert in chemical safety management, had two decades of experience before coming to the College. 

All relevant staff with SUNY Cortland’s Facilities, Planning, Design and Construction Office are certified code enforcement officers and attend annual New York State building code training. All campus staff are trained to follow an Integrated Contingency Plan to manage potentially hazardous chemical spills, which allows the College to react quickly and effectively to potential environmental issues. 

How will the College minimize new vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood?

The vast majority of Student life center users will be students who either live on campus or live nearby and will walk to the facility, minimizing the amount of vehicle traffic that would be generated.  

The primary entrance to the new building will be aligned with the intersection of Pashley Drive and Broadway, creating a convenient pass-through between upper and lower campus and funneling most of the pedestrian traffic away from residential areas. There would be no entrance directly on Pashley Drive.

The College estimates about between 2,000 to 3,000 students will use the facility each day. That use, however, would be spread throughout the day.

The Student life center would be a recreational facility, not an athletic venue like a stadium. No significant spectator events will be held there, minimizing potential traffic, parking, noise and trash problems. It should continue to create less traffic and parking congestion than it did prior to 2003, when the site served as the primary campus venue for major athletic events.

How will noise, trash, odors or light pollution be managed?

The primary entrance to the center will be aligned with the Broadway intersection, with only emergency exits located on Pashley Drive near residential areas. This will focus student traffic away from surrounding neighborhoods.

As a certified LEED building, the Student life center will be designed to minimize light pollution. Exterior and interior fixtures will direct light only to surfaces needing illumination, and not skyward or toward other buildings, roads or walkways. In designing the building, windows on the eastern side of the structure will be limited to reduce light emissions.

Prior to the opening of the center, the College plans to relocate the University Police Department into Whitaker Hall, which is adjacent to the Davis Field site. That would give the police a permanent, round-the-clock presence next door to the new facility. This will maximize monitoring of the new building to minimize traffic, noise and trash. It would also pose a deterrent to speeding cars.

The project is not expected to produce any offensive odors. It will include a dining facility similar to other campus dining facilities, which do not produce significant cooking odors. The College’s goal is to promote healthy eating, which minimizes the type of frying that creates smells often associated with “fast food” restaurants.  Unlike many of those restaurants, which encourage the production of cooking odors to encourage customers, the College seeks to reduce odors.

How will this building fit into the character of the existing neighborhood?

The student life center would fit perfectly in its neighborhood, which is the SUNY Cortland campus. It would enhance the experience of students living nearby as well as staff and faculty who work there. The building will be designed to fit in with surrounding campus structures.

The student life center, and the sections of campus surrounding it, is separated from the residential area centered on Pearl Street by Pashley Drive and a chain link fence along the rear of many Pearl Street properties. Those residences are in a separate neighborhood with a unique identity from the SUNY Cortland campus. 

Will the building use geothermal energy?

Although the College has had great success using safe, environmentally friendly geothermal wells to heat and cool its Professional Studies Building, a recent cost-benefit analysis showed that a similar geothermal system would be cost-prohibitive for the student life center. 

SUNY Cortland, however, is committed to designing the new center to have as small a carbon footprint as the project’s budget will allow. The College intends to make the structure Cortland County’s first gold-certified LEED building, and will pursue a variety of measures to minimize energy usage, maximize efficiency, and use alternative power sources whenever practical.