cornell’s fine arts library in Rand Hall

There are plans to move Cornell’s Fine Arts Library from Sibley Hall, where it has existed as a nonconforming (”grandfathered”) occupancy for quite a few years, to Rand Hall, which is now connected to Sibley Hall through newly-constructed Milstein Hall. Because the addition of Milstein Hall was, and is, nonconforming with respect to the current New York State Building Code, it may not be possible to put a library occupancy in Rand Hall. I made a similar argument about placing so-called Group A occupancies in Sibley Hall. This same explanation applies to Group A occupancies in Rand.

A future change to an A-3 (library or lecture hall) occupancy in Rand Hall should not be permitted, because such a change would be replacing an existing occupancy with one of a higher hazard. The relevant code language is as follows: Section 812.4.2.1 of the Existing Building Code of New York State says: “When a change of occupancy group is made to a higher hazard category as shown in Table 812.4.2, heights and areas of buildings and structures shall comply with the requirements of Chapter 5 of the Building Code of New York State for the new occupancy group.” Table 812.4.2 classifies group A-3 spaces as having a “relative hazard” of 2 (with 1 being the highest hazard), and group B spaces (the current occupation of Rand’s 2nd and 3rd floor, per email from City of Ithaca Senior Code Inspector John Shipe) as having a relative hazard of 4 (lowest hazard). Therefore, it is clear that a change from group B to group A-3 constitutes an alteration to a higher hazard occupancy.

With such a change, the building — which under the current building code is defined as Rand-Sibley-Milstein — must conform to the requirements of Chapter 5 of the current Building Code of New York State. What are those requirements? Chapter 5 regulates the allowable heights and areas of buildings, based on construction type and occupancy. Since the fire barrier separating Milstein and Sibley Halls is nonconforming with respect to the current code, it [i.e., the fire barrier — clarification added 10/2/11] cannot be invoked to consider Rand-Milstein Hall as a separate building, as would be the case with a fire wall. Therefore, Rand-Sibley-Milstein must be treated as a single building under the current code, and the height/area limits are as follows: the maximum height is 60 feet; the maximum number of stories is two; and the maximum area on a single floor is at most 22,500 sq.ft. The combined second-floor area for Rand-Sibley-Milstein greatly exceeds this limit of 22,500 sq.ft., and the number of stories in Rand-Sibley-Milstein similarly exceeds the Code limit of two. Based on either of these criteria (floor area or number of stories), any alteration to a higher hazard occupancy should not be permitted, as the requirements of Chapter 5 would not be met, and cannot be met.

In other words, putting the library on the 3rd floor of Rand would violate the Code limit of two stories; putting the library on the 2nd floor of Rand would violate the floor area limit.

[Update: Oct. 13, 2011] The move of the Fine Arts Library into Rand Hall has taken place this past week, in spite of the objections I have raised. Here are a few additional points, for the record:

1. On Oct. 7, 2011, I sent an email to the Milstein Hall project director which included this clarification:

“I didn’t mention this to GW at today’s meeting, but my notes that I gave him on Code issues (attached) state that: ‘the exception [to Section 912.5.1 of the Existing Building Code of NYS] only permits a fire barrier, if used in lieu of a fire wall, to meet area limitations for the new occupancy — NOT height limitations. Only a fire wall can meet both height and area limitations for the new occupancy.’ In other words, the library move to the 3rd floor of Rand will not be in compliance even if the fire barrier between Rand and Milstein is upgraded. Only a fire wall would make such a move compliant. On the other hand, an upgraded fire barrier would appear to allow such a move to the second floor of Rand Hall. In either case, the current fire barrier is noncompliant.”

2. The contention that a library (A-3 occupancy) constitutes a higher hazard occupancy compared to the current use in the Rand Hall space is the underlying reason why such a move is noncompliant. The Code is unambiguous about the occupancy of libraries as A-3. Design studios are not specifically mentioned in the Code; rather, they fall under the Group B definition for educational occupancies above the 12th grade. If there was any doubt about the legitimacy of this classification, the Ithaca Building Department files for Rand Hall contain numerous documents, all confirming that the Group B designation was actually used for the studio spaces in Rand Hall. Older documents in the file show a C5.5 designation; this was the old New York State Code subcategory for Educational occupancies within the “Commercial” category — exactly equivalent to the modern Group B designation. See this document copied from the Rand Hall Building Department file.

3. Even if a fire wall were built between Rand and Milstein Halls, it would still be necessary to upgrade the two egress stairs in Rand Hall, which are noncompliant once the occupancy on the third floor changes to a higher hazard. For details, see my email to the Milstein Hall project director.

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  1. Pingback: Cornell’s Fine Arts Library | Jon Ochshorn

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