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In Making of a Difference

by Nasrin Parvizi

In early May of 1998, which was on the verge of the 21st century, I stepped onto the grounds of SUNY Cortland for the first time.  Coming from Wilmington, Delaware where I worked at the University of Delaware, you can only imagine how big of a change of scenery Cortland could be from the full bloom of spring in the Brandywine Valley Region (the Winterthur and Longwood Gardens with azaleas and rhododendron all in bloom) to the so-called mud season of Finger Lakes Region.

My husband and our one-year old daughter accompanied me on this trip. I looked around and said to my husband, so you think I can “make a difference” here if I get the job, and can we live here?

That was 20 years ago and time has proven that we could live here and become a part of the community.  My daughter considers herself a Cortlander. Moreover, future visitors to SUNY Cortland can judge for themselves if I “Made a Difference”!

I like to digress a bit and talk about my overall journey and background.  I was born in a small town in eastern part of Iran to a large family, the fifth of seven children to a Baha’i family in a Muslim country. My mom was an educator and had higher education degree in teaching and my dad work in the agriculture bank.  Education was the top priority in our household and my mom’s moto was that the government can take all of your belongings from you, but can never take your education!  Of seven siblings, they all got higher educations with four doctorate degrees and three masters in the family!  I earned a master in Architecture from Tehran University in 1978 when the revolution started.  The firm that I was working, as intern had to close since it was a Baha’i owned firm.  I left the country to visit my sisters in Germany and England with a small suitcase in hopes to be back and that was 40 years ago and to date, never got a chance to go back! I moved to United States in June of 1979 as a visitor and attended North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND for a Master in Community and Regional Planning.   During my journey from Tehran, Iran to Cortland, NY in a male dominated profession of construction, I encountered obstacles and doubts, but always relied on my faith, my education and belief that I can pursue my dreams in this country.  I am hoping that my contribution to SUNY Cortland can provide the same opportunity for younger generations, especially girls who have a similar path and doubts to walk in the same footsteps.

In any case, for any fruitful outcome, we cannot just rely on our own determination and vision, but we need an undivided support, great teamwork and of course, luck!  I found them all in SUNY Cortland!

My arrival in September of 1998 coincided with the re-opening of Studio West after renovation, which housed the Facilities Planning, as well as, Institutional Advancement. In addition, a BIG shift in New York State Capital Projects Funding from a yearly centralized distribution by State University Construction Fund(SUCF) to  a “Five Year Capital Plan “ distributed by SUBOA formula and controlled by the campus.  The other key element was the award of $10 mil to SUNY Cortland by the Legislature for a brand new Stadium. This tactfully was orchestrated by the diligent work of President Jud Taylor, the Hon. Senator Seward and the Chair of the College Council, Steven Hunt’ 72.

The Stadium was a great challenge. The $10mil proved not to be enough and the project had to be bid in two phases, and finally completed (app. $18mil) for hosting the Empire Games, partially with Syracuse University, in the summer of 2002. This was the first new construction since 1977 and a one of a kind facility with two artificial turf fields in SUNY and the Region.  This Facility since has provided tremendous opportunities and attracted entities such as the Summer Camp for the New York Jets.

The Campus already had its Facilities Master Plan updated under the leadership of President Taylor.  He to oversee the implementation of the Plan put a governance body, Facilities Master Plan Oversight Committee (FMPOC), in place.  The newly established five year capital plan brought app $20 mil to SUNY Cortland in 1998 (1998-2003).  This coupled with a rolling DIFR (Residence Hall) Capital plan was  put to work with a team of only a director and three project coordinators, and couple of clerical staff. 

Shortly after the construction of the stadium, other new upgrades were started including a major project to enhance the accessibility on campus buildings and grounds; elevators, bathrooms, drinking fountains and four miles of accessible sidewalks were constructed.

The first five year plan also provided means to upgrade the roof and fourth floor of the Miller Building enclosing of the Miller first floor plaza to create room for the Admission Offices, renovation of the upper level and roof at Dowd Fine Arts Building, the upgrade of the Alumni Ice Arena to hold indoor commencements, a new Sewage Treatment Plant at Raquette Lake, as well as Carlson Classroom and several study programs including the design of Brockway.  The first Plan included $15 mil Strategic Initiative for stadium and $5 mil as matching funds for purchase of West Campus Apartments (a.k.a Pine apartments).

It is important to mention that during this period, few major changes happened; in summer of 1999. The VP of Finance and Management Cheryl Groeneveld (who hired me) created a new office of Facilities Management (FM) to bring the three offices of Physical Plant, Facilities Planning and construction and Environmental Health and Safety under one unit. I assumed the role of AVP of FM.  The director at the Physical Plant Jim McChesney, retired and the director for the EH&S John Garofalo left the campus for another institution.  Masoom Ali, an engineer with much experience in quality control, joined the campus as new Physical Plant Director and Glenn Wright, an expert EH&S officer joined us as the director of for that office.  In 2002, VP Groeneveld left SUNY Cortland and Bill Shaut became the Interim VP.

SUNY Cortland launched a very aggressive and unique renovation program for its residence Halls.  Each year during winter break, we took a residence hall out of service and renovated each building by August of the next year.  I had an opportunity to test this method at University of Delaware and when proposed, was openly accepted by Mike Holland the Director of the Residential Life.  This method assured that each fall the number of beds offered remained the same.  This aggressive method was very successful for project delivery and could have not been done without the great teamwork between the Facilities Management and Residence Life.

A new term contract method of project bidding and delivery was initiated that was unique to the SUNY and State of New York.  This method helped the campus to move forward on the small projects without advertising and bidding for each small project for under $100k, and reduced the delivery time by at least three months.  The process of approval was very involved since we had to bring on board both the campus Purchasing Office, as well as, the Office of State Comptroller (OSC).  Talking about a perfect team and luck, at the time my assistant, Marianne Evangelista, was very knowledgeable of state purchasing requirements and knew contacts in SUNY and State offices. The Director of Purchasing, Mary Buttino, was very eager when it came to new ideas and methods. She assisted me and put me in touch with the right contact at Office State Comptroller.  The contact (she also was person in charge) was extremely cooperative, helpful, and provided guidance.  In less than few months, the dream came through and we bid our first time term contract.    Today, SUNY Cortland and several other campuses utilize this method heavily in the SUNY system.

The unit also initiated few other programs.  The Facilities Design Standards were created to capture the wisdom of over 10 seasoned staff retiring from Facilities Operation and Services (a.k.a Physical Plant).  The new electronic Work Order system (TMA) replaced the old multi hard copy system; and a new Call for Alteration (CFA) was created to provide an equitable venue for all campus offices to request projects to be funded from the reserve.

During this period (1998-2003), Clark Hall was fully renovated in 2000; Higgins Hall in 2001 and plans were made to build a new residence Hall in place of Shea- Bishop Annex (later named Glass Tower).  As well as the Alger Hall Renovation.  The West Campus Apartments were acquired and completely renovated for opening in fall of 1999.     

Also a study was done in 2001 in order to identify the critical Maintenance and Plant Adaptation projects for the next five year Plan.  This critical maintenance was based on a conditional survey, and the Plant Adaptation was based on the campus academic vision, as well as the Facilities Master Plan.  The total need was estimated at over $131 million, of which over $50 million was Critical Maintenance. The high light of our need was identified as a new Student Recreation Center.

The second plan which was to be in 2003-08  postponed to 2004-08 due to state budget, and plan brought Cortland app $43 mil in Critical Maintenance (CM) coupled with another $45 mil as Strategic Initiatives earmarked for the Education building and Bowers Science I renovation and the School Professional Studies.  In addition, there was about $30 mil for the Residence Hall (DIFR) projects, including a brand new residence hall, Glass Tower.  This residence hall was the first on campus to have AC and was very instrumental in hosting the New York Jets on campus from 2009 to 2014.

During the second Five Year Capital Plan;  Brockway Hall and Sperry Hall were completely renovated, as well as, Dowd Fine Arts steps and site, a major steam line (C line) was replaced, various roofs replaced, Old Main windows replaced, Moffett Phase I Renovation and Cornish Hall renovation in conjunction with the New Education Building and Child Care Center were completed.  Although the funds for the Bowers and Professional Studies building were received at the end of this plan, however, were completed in following five-year plan.

By the end of this plan our 1996 Master Plan was obsolete which meant that we had completed the Plan ahead of time therefore we developed a new Master Plan in 2006. This Plan put SUNY Cortland in best position for future State Strategic Initiatives funding.

My husband and our one-year old daughter accompanied me on this trip. I looked around and said to my husband, so you think I can “make a difference” here if I get the job, and can we live here?

That was 20 years ago and time has proven that we could live here and become a part of the community. My daughter considers herself a Cortlander. Moreover, future visitors to SUNY Cortland can judge for themselves if I “Made a Difference”!

The third five-year Capital Plan 2008-13, provided $84.5 mil in CM, $51.2 mil in Strategic Initiative for Student Life Center and $43.5 mil on Residence Life side including Dragon Hall. A total of over $185 mil including the Reserve and Auxiliary Service Corp., for dining facilities, funded projects, as well as, two major projects of Professional Studies Building and Bowers Science Building from previous plan for a total of $210 mil were under design and construction during this period.  To date, this was the largest Capital Plan we ever received.  Therefore, we went to work vigorously.  At some point, in 2012 there were eight academic departments in surge, which was 25% of our academic department mainly Arts and Science with most specialized needs.  To just mention a few of these projects:

  • Education Building & Child Care Center; the existing Cornish Building (a.k.a. CVH-D wing) was completely renovated.  An addition was added to accommodate the School of Education including the Dean’s office, as well as, relocating the Child Care Center from first floor of Smith/Casey Tower to a “state of the art” center with a playground and closed caption TV for educational purposes. This project was completed in fall 2009. As part of this project, the CVH-A wing also was demolished to create parking for the Child Care Center and new monumental entrance to the Van Hoesen Building to enhance its identity.
  • School of Professional Studies (a.k.a Studio West): Complete renovation and addition to accommodate four academic departments of; Kinesiology; Sport Management; Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies; Communication Disorders and Sciences, as well as, Dean of School of Professional Studies. This project was completed in spring of 2011.  
  • Fitzgerald Hall Renovation: Complete renovation of interior as well as new insulated windows and landscaping.   Project was completed in eight months and re-opened for fall of 2009.
  • Randall Hall Renovation: similar to Fitzgerald, a complete renovation of interior, as well as, new insulated windows and landscaping. Project was completed in eight months and re-opened for fall of 2010.
  • Casey/Smith first floor: Although this was not a large project, it was pivotal in the implementation of the master plan.  First by relocating the Child Care Center to the new Education Building, this provided the first two floors of Case/Smith to be renovated to more bedrooms.   The vision at the time was to convert Whitaker Hall, which was a small residence hall, into the new headquarters for University Police Department (UPD was located at the lower level of CVH- C wing with very poor visibility and access for emergencies). The number of added bedrooms at Case/Smith matched the beds lost at Whitaker Hall. It also provided entrance to the towers at the first level which had not existed before.  This project was completed in fall of 2010.
  • Cheney Hall renovation: similar to other residence halls, a complete renovation of interior as well as, new elevator, insulated windows and landscaping.  Project was completed in eight months and re-opened in fall of 2011.
  • Lusk Field House renovation: complete renovation of the field house, as well as, the locker rooms. It provided a new athletic floor and track, windows/doors, added skylights, new heating and energy efficient lighting as well as new equipment.  This project also received a grant from federal/state on Recovery Act. The building was re-opened in fall of 2010.
  • In summer of 2012, Miller was completely surged to get new windows systems to include operable and insulated windows as well as new HVAC system.  This project was very aggressive on time and enhance both air quality and sustainability/energy reduction of the building.
  • Satellite Boilers: This projected marked the dismantling of the central heating plant on the upper campus and removal of six boilers and three underground oil tanks. This was the end to 80 years of steam operation for SUNY Cortland. 2013 the work was completed.  This project proved to save approximately 30% of the campus natural gas use for heating and enhanced the reliability of the system.
  • Dragon Hall:  the new Master Plan indicated in order to reduce the triple in the residence halls; we need to build a new residence hall on the main campus with app 200 beds. Therefore, similar to Glass Tower, the two annexes to the Hayes/Hendricks were demolished and replaced with a five-story state of the art sustainable residence hall.  This was a very fast track project using the Construction Manager at risk delivery method.  It was opened in fall of 2013, and that summer hosted the NY Jets coaches.   The project received the highest LEED certification of Platinum, which is first of its kind in the State System or higher Education in New York State.
  • Dowd Fine Arts:  Along with the Bowers Science I, a complete renovation and consolidation of arts departments including renovation of the gallery and theatre. In addition, similar to Bowers, this was very complex in surge and execution. There were buildings around the campus and the city that were renovated, leased or negotiated to house all specialized functions such as theatre, photography , music, dance studios, etc. This work was done in spring 2014 and today is providing a state of the art, gallery, theatre, fiber art, music, ancillary instructional spaces and shops.
  • Bowers Sciences I: Complete renovation with the state of the arts teaching and research laboratories, including a Science Museum, a planetarium and standalone Greenhouse. This project was very complex in both design and execution and took about ten years from design to the completion with several changes of the sciences chairs! The project re-opened in spring of   2014.   Finally, in 2017, the Museum and Greenhouse were dedicated as well.
  • Student Life Center: since my arrival in Cortland, there was a vision by the Student Affairs to provide a place for students to gather, socialize and exercise in order to create an alternative to the bars especially during weekend. Finally, in 2008, $51.2 mil was earmarked in the state capital budget for this and immediately the selection of consultant with the programing started.  This building provides a state of the arts dining facilities as well as several  fitness and recreation venues such as heated pool and whirlpool, suspended track, golf simulator, rock climbing, multi athletic court and three courts gym, etc., and outdoor pursuit center.
  • The design and implementation duration were complex and lengthy including negotiation with the city and neighbors for State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Process. Today this facility is one of the most significant structures on campus as a recruitment tool.  The project was opened to students in early spring of 2015.
  • The campus also received $2mil later as Strategic Initiative to renovate the deteriorated tennis courts, as well as, creating basketball courts and parking for the New Student Life Center.  This project completed the Life Center and improved the site.  The project also, has a large underground water reservoir to hold the rainwater and prevent flooding of the waterworks. This project was competed in summer of 2016.
  • DeGroat Hall Renovation: similar to the other residence halls and as the last of the low-rise, a complete renovation of interior, as well as, new elevator/addition, insulated windows and landscaping.  This project started the new way of including the new single use restroom for both more privacy and inclusion.  This building was renovated to keep its Georgian character in fullest.  Project was completed in eight months and re-opened for fall of 2016.
  • Electrical and Data Upgrade for entire campus: This marked removing of the overhead line at Water Works from the south substation to the north substation to change the entire campus to 13.2 KV and removed the north substation – 2017 the final work was completed.  Although this project is not a visible, it has provided a new backbone for the future progress of the campus.

New Facilities Master Plan:  In preparation of the new capital funding cycle in 2013, the SUCF provided funding and engaged consultants to develop a new master plan to be aligned with the campus strategic goals.  Cortland also added the Residence Hall Master Plan, as well as, sustainability master plan to this.  This was a great but lengthy project and was completed in spring of 2011. It provided a great road map for the next 25 years. Unfortunately the five-year plan funding by the state in 2013 did not continue.

Although the completion of the Master Plan put SUNY Cortland in a good position, the State Budget Crisis coupled with a series of natural disasters shifted legislatures to fund the roads and prisons, meaning less for SUNY.  In 2013, there was no funding and since then funding is on a yearly and not five year plan.  Therefore, new projects are mainly very small or in phases.  We, however, managed to borrow funds from other campuses though the SUCF loan program and renovate Whitaker Hall in 2017 to house the University Police and Facilities Management Offices.  

Therefore in 2017/18 the campus hired the same firm and updated the priorities based on the new funding pattern

 During my time at Cortland, there were two interesting events or activities happened, which although not directly initiated by me, but vastly affected my job.

One was the use of our campus by New York Jets as summer camp in 2009-2010 and 2012-2014. Although this was very highly intense preparation operation, it was a great experience for our campus, the city and our staff.  I was very proud of our unit to provide such an excellent service.

Nonetheless, the accomplishment that I am most proud of since 2007 is carrying the banner for the Sustainability on behalf of Facilities Management and action taken to improve our energy consumption in order to reduce our carbon footprint.  Since, SUNY Cortland has been a leader in sustainability both within the SUNY System and nationwide for nearly a decade. Major achievements include:

  • 2007- one of first institutional signatories of the Presidents Climate Commitment  (ACUPCC)
  • 2008 - Campus Climate Action Committee established
  • 2009 - Baseline GHG levels established and monitored continuously thereafter
  • 2010 - Sustainability identified as one of campus priority goals
  • 2011 - Sustainability master plan developed; energy manager and sustainability coordinator hired; first geothermal project initiated on campus
  • 2012 - Achieved SILVER ranking on STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System);
  • 2013 - First SUNY campus to purchase 100% renewable energy- renewed in 2016
  • 2013 - Built first LEED platinum residence hall in SUNY system
  • 2013 - Aging central boiler system replaced with efficient satellite boilers
  • 2014 - Received Innovator Award, BuildSmart NY program
  • 2015 - Achieved GOLD ranking on STARS and named one of the Rising STARS nationwide
  • 2015 - Identified as one of nation’s Greenest Universities by
  • 2015 - Pledged on United Nations Climate Negotiations in Paris
  • 2016 - Applied for LEAD Gold for SLC, still in progress
  • 2017 - Funding and development for two additional solar projects for Whitaker Hall and Raquette Lake.

Today, as I am writing this, I am getting ready for new chapter of my life.  I am so proud to be part of last 20 years of SUNY Cortland physical growth and have contributed to this great institution for students of past and future generations to come.


  “In any case, for any fruitful outcome, we cannot just rely on our own determination and vision, but we need an undivided support, great teamwork and of course, luck!  I found them all in SUNY Cortland!” 

It is important to acknowledge that under the Presidency of Dr.  Bitterbaum and his efforts to receive strategic funding for major projects such as; Education Building, Bowers Science I, Professional Study  Building and Student Life Center to name few this journey would not be as fruitful.  In addition dedication, vision and hard work by Directors of FPD&C, Jeff Lallas 2004-2014 and  Rob Shutts since 2014; Directors of FO&S; Tim Slack 2005-2014 and Zach Newswanger since 2014; Director of EH&S , Glenn Wright since 2003 as well as administrative support by Marianne Evangelist 1998-2010 and Teresa Ripley since 2010  made this journey smoother and a joy.