Errors in Cornell’s 2016 Fine Arts Library Variance Request

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Links to all my articles and blog posts concerning the Fine Arts Library proposal can be found here.

Tim DeRuyscher of GHD’s fire & life safety services testified as Cornell’s fire-safety Code consultant

In a prior blog post, I described false testimony provided to the State Hearing Board by Cornell’s Code consultant as part of a 2016 Variance Hearing related to non-conforming aspects of the proposed Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall. As I described in an “update” to that post, Cornell actually brought this false testimony to the attention of the State of New York Division of Building Standards and Codes; the State, in turn, determined that the “transcript, Findings of Fact and Determination and it’s conditions do not mention nor rely on the language used in Exhibit A to describe the occupancy (publicly accessible vs. card access controlled entry) of the Fine Arts Library facility” and that therefore “no action is needed.”

I found it interesting that Cornell took it upon itself to ask forgiveness for this minor sin, while completely ignoring the more egregious false and misleading statements made at that same Variance Hearing. I therefore sent the following email to the Division of Building Standards and Codes on April 25, 2017, outlining these more serious transgressions:

Dear Mr. Collier,

RE: Petition No. 2016-0269

Hugh Bahar of Cornell has asked you to reconsider the 2016 Variance granted to Cornell’s Fine Arts Library proposal (Petition No. 2016-0269), in light of false testimony provided by Cornell’s fire-safety consultant, Tim DeRuyscher of GHD Consulting Services. I would like to bring to your attention several other instances of false or misleading testimony provided by DeRuyscher at that same Hearing. Unlike the instance you have just considered, the examples I provide below are extremely important, and have a direct impact on the Findings of Fact that form the basis of the Variance decision.  In light of this pattern of false testimony that affects the Findings of Fact, I believe it is appropriate for you to consider rescinding the granting of this Variance request.

Finding of Fact No. 1. “The petition pertains to the renovation to the existing Rand Hall Fine Arts Library, Type 2B, three story academic building, A3 second and third story occupancy, F1 first floor, Type 2b, four story Library space in Rand Hall, thus creating non-conforming space. Refer to previous variance 2015-0432.”

DeRuyscher statements at hearing relevant to Finding of Fact No. 1:

“The prior two variances [2013 and 2015] dealt specifically with the ability of this building to be treated as a separate building.”

“…this building currently, and as designed, is using Type 2B non-protected structural steel, concrete construction.”

“We wanted to make sure that the previously granted determinations in 2013 and the one in 2015 are not nullified, voided or having any kind of problems treating this building as a separate building.”

“..this project is a renovation of an existing building…”

Problems with Finding of Fact No. 1:

First, the Variances granted in 2013 and 2015 that are cited by DeRuyscher are not germane to this current project, since they both requested relief from the 2010 NYS Building Code, a Code that is applicable neither to the current proposal nor to the 2016 request for relief. DeRuyscher acknowledges this implicitly by asking that those prior determinations not be “nullified, voided or having any kind of problems treating this building as a separate building.” In other words, he seems to be requesting relief from the requirements for a fire wall to separate Rand Hall from Milstein-Sibley Hall in this latest Variance request (from 2016), and this request is reiterated, albeit ambiguously, in the Finding of Fact (“Refer to previous variance 2015-0432”). This is important in understanding why DeRuyscher’s statements about the results of the Performance Compliance Method are false (more on that later).

Second, DeRuyscher’s assertion that these two prior variances “dealt specifically with the ability of this building to be treated as a separate building” is false: the 2013 Variance permitted the height and area of the Fine Arts Library to exceed Code limits for the combined Rand-Milstein-Sibley Hall building, but neither requested, nor was granted, the right to consider Rand Hall as a separate building.

Third, the building is not Type IIB construction, as alleged by Cornell and reiterated in the Finding of Fact, but is Type VB construction. This construction type was confirmed by the Hearing Board in their Findings under the original 2013 Variance for this project. The Board wrote at that time: “Due to the connection with Sibley Hall, the aggregate building is downgraded to a Type VB construction. The three buildings are considered one building under the Code.”

It is not possible to use the 2015 Variance as a basis for considering Rand Hall a separate building with Type IIB construction, as this Variance was granted under the 2010 NYS Building Code, which is no longer applicable. Had the project been built under the 2010 Code, then the 2015 Variance would, of course, be “grandfathered”; but since the project has not been built—a building permit has not even been issued (and the project has not even entered the construction document phase)—any variance request must be made with respect to the current, 2015 NYS Code. For that reason, Cornell has requested that relief from the requirements for a fire wall—no longer valid on the basis of the 2015 Variance—be granted (reaffirmed) as part of the 2016 Variance request.

Fourth, this project is characterized as a “renovation” by DeRuyscher and that characterization is reiterated in the Finding of Fact (“The petition pertains to the renovation to the existing Rand Hall Fine Arts Library…”). This characterization is false. In fact, the proposal is both a Level 3 Alteration and an addition to the existing building, as defined in the 2015 NYS Existing Building Code. The Code defines an alteration as any “construction or renovation to an existing structure other than a repair or addition.” An addition is therefore not an alteration, but rather is defined separately as an “extension or increase in floor area, number of stories, or height of a building or structure.” This mischaracterization is crucial in understanding why DeRuyscher’s testimony about the Performance Compliance Method is entirely false (more about that later).

Findings of Fact No. 2 and No. 3.

Finding of Fact No. 2. “The existing Building Code, Chapter 14, allows for a compliance method evaluation to access code compliance. When a code compliance method review has been performed, the design professional has provided proof that the structure meets the requirements, then that section is deemed compliant. As provided, GHD has provided such a review.”

Finding of Fact No. 3. “The Board finds that the assessment of the Chapter 14 review offered by the architect GHD, along with the alternatives provided with smoke control and elevator size and distance of travel pertaining thereto; the Board finds the Authority Having Jurisdiction/Fire Department supports the granting of the petition.”

DeRuyscher statements at hearing relevant to Findings of Fact No. 2 and No. 3:

“The second page of Exhibit D shows that we do indeed have positive results down at the bottom [based on the Performance Compliance Method], which in fact is quite high for a lot of the ratings. We have plus 14 for fire safety, 1.3 for means of egress. And general safety I think is the last one, is 3.3. So we’re all positive above zero. Zero or above. That by itself is the basis for code compliance.”

Problems with Findings of Fact No. 2 and No. 3:

First, the Performance Compliance Method cannot even be used for this project, since the Fine Arts Library building proposal contains an addition and, under the Chapter 14 Performance Compliance regulations, additions to existing buildings must “comply with the requirements of the International Building Code… The combined height and area of the existing building and the new addition shall not exceed the height and area allowed by Chapter 5 of the International Building Code…” In other words, all of the so-called scores that consultant DeRuyscher calculated under Chapter 14 (Performance Compliance Methods) of the 2015 NYS Existing Building Code are irrelevant. This is because under Chapter 5 of the Code for new construction, invoked under the Performance Compliance rules, an A-3 occupancy in Type VB construction cannot be built above the 2nd story; and the maximum floor area cannot exceed about 21,420 square feet. Both of these values are not met in the proposal, so the Performance Compliance Method fails. It is important to note that the Construction Type for this method must be VB, since this is the actual construction type of the building.

Second, the values used by Deruyscher in his calculations are incorrect, since they are based on the assumption that the construction type for the building is Type IIB. However, as demonstrated above, the two prior Variances granted in 2013 and 2015 are no longer applicable to this project, since they were based on relief requested from the 2010 NYS Building Code. The 2013 Variance Findings confirmed that the construction type for the combined buildings is VB, and not IIB.

It is highly inappropriate, and a form of circular reasoning, to use values in the Performance Compliance Method based on having applied for a 2016 Code variance that would effectively make Rand Hall a separate building with a IIB construction type, since the results of the Performance Compliance calculations are supposed to support that Variance, not to presuppose that it already has been granted. It would be like claiming that a 50-calorie cookie is really the same as (equivalent to) a 100-calorie cookie by applying for a “cookie variance” that allows you to label the 100-calorie cookie as a 50-calorie cookie, and then citing the lower number based on the variance to “prove” its equivalency. As I have shown in my Performance Compliance Method calculator [scroll down to bottom of webpage], the Performance Compliance Method fails when the correct construction type is used. But even if the Method “worked,” it would not apply to this proposal, since the proposal contains an addition, and the addition exceeds the height and area allowed by Chapter 5 of the International Building Code.

Finding of Fact No. 4. “The City of Ithaca has determined that the alteration constitutes the addition of a fourth floor or story, triggering the requirement for the elevator car to accommodate an ambulance stretcher.”

DeRuyscher statements at hearing relevant to Finding of Fact No. 4:

“So therefore the 2A versus 2B construction we don’t consider an issue, because effectively we met the requirements using the compliance performance method.”

“We are 2B construction, but in reality we’re a lot closer to Type 2A construction. But we can’t call it Type 2A because we don’t have every single member traditionally done.”

Problems with Finding of Fact No. 4:

First, the Findings of Fact make no mention of any evidence supporting the request for relief from the requirement to use Type IIA, rather than Type IIB, construction for a 4-story sprinklered building with an A-3 occupancy.

Second, as already shown, the Performance Compliance Method cannot be invoked to justify reductions in fire safety since the proposal has an addition which does not conform to Chapter 5 of the Code for new construction.

Third, Deruyscher’s contention that “we’re a lot closer to Type 2A construction” is false: the entire floor area for all the library stacks is made of, and supported by, non-fireproofed steel elements, including floor beams for the stacks, cables to suspend them, and transfer girders above them—none of which have any fire-resistive ratings. In other words, this proposal [is] not even close to being Type 2A construction, but is correctly classified as Type IIB construction [if Rand Hall were considered as a separate building; otherwise, the correct construction type would be VB].

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. A more detailed description of these and other errors in the Variance applications can be found here.

One thought on “Errors in Cornell’s 2016 Fine Arts Library Variance Request

  1. Pingback: Cornell Fine Arts Library proposal to prevent public access | Impatient Search

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