Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Residents To Weather Storms on $2B Tech Campus

After Roosevelt Island flooded last month during Superstorm Sandy, community leaders brainstormed how to protect 14,000 residents from future natural disasters if evacuation proved impossible. Their solution: turn Cornell NYC Tech, the $2 billion technology and applied sciences campus, whose first buildings are expected to open in 2015, into a self-sustaining city—a place where residents could live for days without aid from the outside world.

"We have a high disabled population and if we need to evacuate and it's not possible, people on respirators need to go somewhere where it's safe," said Ellen Polivy, president of the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition, a group of 33 member organizations that banded together to ease the town/gown relations.

 "Someplace where there is water for three days, electricity, food. If there's a storm, we want to figure out a way we can be at the Cornell campus."

The city's Office of Emergency Management often recommends residents "shelter in place" during a disaster if evacuating is impossible. Being stranded is perhaps more likely to happen on the low-lying island than anywhere else in the city. It is accessible only by one subway line, one tram and one bridge to Queens.

Ms. Polivy said islanders want Cornell's construction to incorporate amenities that would make it the go-to "shelter in place" for the community—a safe, enclosed place to weather a storm.

Cornell officials said they were reviewing the request and also looking into expanding transportation options with ferries to and from the island.

The university is already being designed with future storms in mind. Even before Sandy, plans were underway to raise the site above the floodplain by six or seven feet with materials from the demolished Goldwater Hospital, said Andrew Winters, director of capital projects and planning for Cornell NYC Tech.

"Based on the 100-year-flood plain, storm surges, global warming, it all leads to the conclusion that the required height is about 16 feet for elevation," Mr. Winters said. "We were already going to 20 or 21 feet pre-Sandy."

The remaining question is whether the university can take on island residents in a crisis—a population that would dwarf the 2,500 students and 300 faculty members who will eventually inhabit the two-million square foot campus.

"One thing that Sandy has done for us is that it put these sorts of issues in the forefront," Mr. Winters said.