ROOSEVELT ISLAND — As Cornell University gears up to build its $2 billion, 11-acre campus on Roosevelt Island, the Ivy League school is "in listening mode," its president David Skorton told a standing room crowd at a town hall meeting Thursday night.
Many Roosevelt Islanders supported the bid from Cornell and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology come to the 2-mile-long sliver of land in the East River, winning the city's high-profile tech campus contest that came with free land and $100 million for infrastructure upgrades.
But they still had concerns, especially about traffic. Getting on and off the island is already a challenge, many said, and islanders worry about traffic during construction and once the school is home to 2,500 students and nearly 300 faculty. Some asked if construction materials can be barged in and if the school could help the island get ferry service.
"We're here to work with you," Skorton said. "We're here to listen. We are early in the process. We are in listening mode."
Cornell NYC Tech Vice President Cathy Dove told residents the team was hiring a construction manager to tackle traffic concerns, and the school, too, wanted ferry service and other transportation solutions.
"We want to respect the island and do it proud," Dove said.
Cornell is just 90 days into planning for the tech campus that will take shape over the next three decades.
Cornell is currently finalizing plans for a temporary campus — most likely in Manhattan — that will house the program starting in the fall and will operate for the next five years as eco-friendly buildings rise on the island.
The school's initial conceptual renderings will change after Cornell selects an architect from among six finalists to build the first building, a net zero academic building — consuming less energy over the year than it generates — due to be completed in 2017. A second building for research and design is also slated for that year.
By 2024, Cornell will add a residence hall for faculty, staff and students, and an academic conference center and hotel, which will help the campus host conferences with world renowned guests — which will be open to all, Dove noted.
Another academic building and perhaps two more residences are expected to be built by 2037, officials said.
Dove emphasized that one element will remain a constant: ample open space that will be accessible to the community.
"Open space is incredibly important," she said.
The school is considering various ides for this space, such as starting a tree nursery for plants that can be used in later phases of construction, Dove mentioned.
The school is also going to work with public schools on the island and elsewhere in the city, she said.
The tech campus's founding dean Daniel Huttenlocher emphasized that the graduate program's focus will remain on creating jobs for the city and connecting the tech sector with such industries as advertising/media, healthcare, insurance and the built environment. Each student, for instance, will not only have a faculty advisor from the ivory tower but also an advisor from the tech industry in the real world.
"We view the F train as a technology corridor," Huttenlocher said, connecting tech companies from Dumbo, the Flatiron/Union Square area and the emerging sector in Long Island City with Roosevelt Island — all along the F train.
Many Roosevelt Islanders said were excited for the new "town and gown" relationship.
"I'm looking forward to the interaction and the brainpower they bring to the island," said 8-year resident Ellen Polivy, who also co-chairs Community Board 8's Health, Seniors and Social Services Committee and hopes the tech campus can help the island's aging population.
"As the island's population is getting old, they'll be able to study our needs," she suggested.