milstein: the debate continues…

I emailed a copy of the Milstein post dated 15 January 2009 to John Shipe, Senior Code Inspector for the City of Ithaca Building Department. Mr. Shipe responded to me (and others) via email today: I reprint his email, followed by my email reply.

  • John Shipe wrote:

You are incorrect that you will not be able to do any work after the building receives a Certificate of Occupancy due to height and area concerns. Once a building has a C of O it is in compliance with the Building code under which it was built, after that time you would use the Existing building code of NY, as you mentioned, to do any additional work in an existing building. The Existing Building code only talks about the height and area when there is a change of occupancy within the building and it only becomes an issue if you plan to go to a higher hazard occupancy based on table 812.4.2. In the case of Milstein which is being permitted as an Assembly (A-3) and a Business (B) occupancy the only higher hazard than the A-3 is an Hazardous occupancy (H)  with would not be allowed within this building for many other reasons.All new work in the building would have to be done in compliance to the new code, but height and area will not come into play in this case unless an addition to it is ever proposed.

  • I replied:

Thanks for the clarification. However, I still believe that my analysis is correct, for the following reason. The building code allows for mixed occupancies, as you suggest, but each portion of the building must still be individually classified as to use. If portions of Milstein are occupied for educational use (above grade 12), i.e., as a group B, then any change of that occupancy in the future to a library use (group A-3) falls under the Existing Building Code, and the logic of my argument remains valid.

An entire building cannot be classified as both group B and group A3, but rather must be broken down into individual portions, each of which falls under a specific and appropriate occupancy classification. And it is not appropriate to simply call the entire building A3 when, in fact, much of it is planned to be occupied as group B.

  • John Shipe then wrote back:

It is an unseperated A-3, B occupancy

  • I then responded:

Doesn’t matter: each portion of the building must still be classified as to use. My argument remains valid.

All that the nonseparated status does is make the most restrictive occupancy govern the buiding design; it does not change the fact that there are still separate (mixed) occupancies. The whole point of having this status “grandfathered” is that changes in the specific arrangments of occupancy WILL trigger a re-evaluation under the current code: the grandfathered status does NOT permit Cornell to claim that every potential future occupancy change is covered under an old code.  Occupancy is a different category than is construction type. All you can say is that an A-3 occupancy is permitted under the current permit; if Cornell decides to make new A-3 occupancies in the future in portions of the building that are currently group B, they would need to demonstrate compliance under the current Existing Building Code, as I stated in my initial email.

  • John Shipe then wrote back:

you are not correct, but you have refused to hear anyone side of this discussion unless it suits your purpose. The upper level and several other areas are being considered as an A-3 occupancy so there will be no need for a change in occupancy so that section will not apply in the future. If they were to change a B occ. to an A-3 then you would be correct, but it would have to be larger than 750 sq ft and over 50 people to make it an A occ. and i see no place they could do that without large scale modifications and that’s where your argument will come into play and a file note will provide direction for anyone review the file in the future to this situation.

Good luck with your campaign. Please remove me from your email list.

  • I then responded:

I wouldn’t have thought that the upper level of Milstein would be classified as an A-3 occupancy. The Building Code requires that structures “be classified in the group which the occupancy most nearly resembles, according to the fire safety and relative hazard involved.”  Given the choice between group B (specifically including “Educational occupancies above the 12th grade”) and group A-3 (“Assembly uses intended for worship, recreation or amusement and other assembly uses not classified elsewhere…”), it seems to me that Group B is a better fit for the proposed occupancy, which consists primarily of open classrooms (design studios) and related educational functions. However, I can see that the choice is not absolutely clear-cut.

If A-3 is the appropriate classification, I would assume that all other large studio spaces at Cornell have similarly been classified as A-3 (e.g., the Landscape Architecture studios in Kennedy-Roberts Hall, and the 2nd- and 3rd-floors spaces in Rand Hall), and not as group B. Could you confirm whether or not this is the case?

I am sending emails to you in your capacity as Senior Code Inspector for the City of Ithaca Building Department. You are not on a “list.” However, if there is another person in you department who would prefer to receive my questions and comments concerning building code issues, please let me know, and I will be happy to make the switch.

  • John Shipe then wrote back:

In the case of Milstein Hall the lecture room on the lower floor is being considered an A-3 based on the description in NYSBC 303.1 as is the upper floor area (libraries)  by the same section of the code. I cannot comment on the rooms at Kennedy- Roberts since that is under the jurisdiction of the State, nor can i comment on the designers intent for the spaces in Rand , but if was to do an evaluation of Rand i would say that the spaces in the upper floors are more of a B occupancy due to the fact that they are more “lab” spaces than an assembly space. That is my read on this. Code is a lot of interpretation and a person will typically interpret it in the way that best suits there needs , yours is to see to it that it does not get built, mine is to see to it that a proposed set of plans is in compliance with the applicable codes of the time and that  i have nothing to gain from it.  Your many point on it have been noted and in some case have caused the designs to be modified so that they are in compliance when or if this building gets built, so credit to you. But, at the same time I am the AHJ and i have a few things to say about it and i am the one who has to approve or not approve  the design based on the codes in front of me and its clear that we are interpreting the code a little differently in some respects.

As far as the emails, I have no problem with receiving them, but your constant refusal to hear my (or anyone else’s)  point on any matter concerning Milstein Hall gets a little hard to deal with. I am the point of contact for all Cornell buildings within the city of Ithaca and will continue to be.

  • I then responded:

I listen very closely to other’s viewpoints, including yours: I just sometimes disagree.

I understand that the Milstein auditorium is unambiguously an A-3 space, but where on the upper floor areas of Milstein is there any mention of a library? Cornell’s own Milstein Hall website describes the upper-level floor as being “a large flexible space for studios that are conducive to improvisational interaction among the AAP programs. A variety of zones within the upper plate supports the college’s physical and programmatic vision for innovative and collaborative learning: AAP Forum, Flexible studio modules, Pin up/Crit, Seminar, Research, Technology bar, Study, Lounge.” ( ) This sounds very much like Rand Hall’s studio floors, which you stated in your email are perhaps more consistent with a Group B classification. If Cornell were really putting a library in Milstein, I would withdraw my complaint, but if they are simply calling the upper level a “library” in order to circumvent the intention of the Building Code, then I think that would be problemmatic.

Also, for the record, I am not opposed to Milstein Hall being built: I would prefer if a more rational and less extravagent revision was proposed, but I agree with many others here that the added space for our department is sorely needed. On the other hand, I do have a problem with Cornell proposing a building when they knew from the start that it was nonconforming with model building codes, as well as with the soon-to-be-adopted 2007 NYS Buidling Code, and I feel that if they wish to continue down this path (which seems to be their legal right), they should at least meet Code standards in a rigorous manner.

[Update: the discussion continues here]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.