Looking Ahead: Future Goals
Even after all this work, we STILL have much remaining to complete. In addition to some parking lot and landscaping improvements, the two big projects for the summer of 2019 are the renovation of the 1st and 3rd floor bathrooms of the men’s house and the construction of a new set of steps facilitating the increased flow of traffic from the men’s kitchen to and from the patio.
Pictures of the current kitchen stairs and 3rd and 1st floor men’s bathrooms:
Last but not least, we aspire to one last burst of building and renovation at the women’s residence in the summer of 2020. This will include the renovation of the media room, the enlargement and complete renovation of the kitchen, and—if funds are available—the addition of four bedrooms where the current garage is located. The designed addition, already approved by the City of Ithaca, will accommodate six additional residents. At long last, all of the women will be housed under one roof rather than divided among multiple houses. And exactly ten years after a small group of men from our community first inhabited the Knoll, all of our residents will make their home on our two-acre campus.
Pictures of the current garage and media room at the women’s house:
Safety First: Sprinkler System at the Women’s House
A sprinkler system was installed throughout the whole house over the existing ceilings in order to pass code for occupation. No small project! On the To-Do List: painting the pipes so they blend in a bit better.
Showering in the Attic: The Women’s Bathrooms
Over at the women’s house, bathrooms on all three floors required renovations. The upstairs bathrooms received all new floors, cabinetry, countertops, and plumbing fixtures.
The first floor half bath also received new fixtures.
The second floor bathroom was given doors to separate the spaces for the shower, sink and toilet, allowing for more efficiency and privacy.
The third floor attic required especially creative design solutions to adapt it to use as a shared bathroom. A shower room replaced the tub, sinks were added along the wall and the ceiling was adjusted to allow people to stand at the sinks.
In the future, we hope to renovate the in-room shower pictured below as well.
A Sweet Surprise: The Men’s 2nd Floor Bathroom
Did we say some rooms were in desperate need of renovation? Fortunately, not many guests had to endure this space, but the residents did on a daily basis. This was yet another complete tear-out and remodel.
The walls were taken down to the lathing so the plumbing could be fortified and the entire toilet and shower area gutted. Three new showers, 2 new trough sinks, 2 new toilets and new fans were installed. And of course new lighting—just to make sure the transformation could be appreciated.
This project was also completed under a very ambitious timeframe with no margin for error—winter break! The tear out started just as finals finished. The work crew took Christmas Day off and not much more. Once again the space was ready just in time. We pulled this off without informing the residents and actually filmed their responses upon their return from vacation.
An Ambitious Project: The Men’s Kitchen
This kitchen had not been remodeled in half a century, and its most notable feature was large holes in the floor. The project got off to an auspicious start when we discovered that the doors were built after the very large old refrigerator had been installed. The door frame had to be dismantled, and even then we had to use a come-along to squeeze the antique appliance out of the space.
The tear-out was further complicated by the discovery of asbestos. The remediation process was extensive, but once complete, we continued gutting the entire space. A wall separating the kitchen from the butler’s pantry was removed to make a single, larger space.
The timeframe for this project was very ambitious–it ran all summer (2018) and was completed just 12 hours before students returned for the fall semester! What matters most, however, is that the transformation is extraordinary. There is more storage space and counter space and everything is new–granite counters, tile floor, additional prep sink, fire suppression system, and all new appliances were installed (range, dishwasher, two refrigerators, etc.). And the transformation is all highlighted by the bright new lights.
Still in the works is a new set of steps from the kitchen to the patio to replace the current set of cracked concrete steps.
Unexpected Issues: Plumbing
We knew we would have to install a new, designated water main to the new house for the sprinkler system we were putting in. What we didn’t know was that the old water main was so corroded that it would require replacement as well. Then, not long after the first cohort of students moved into the house, we discovered that the sewer line was insufficient for ten residents, causing quite a mess backing up into the basement! As a result, the hillside behind the house required emergency excavation coordinated by our contractors and the City of Ithaca. Fortunately, the men at the house next door graciously extended hospitality to the women in the community during the time they were without water and sewer service. In very short order, all was well.
Let There Be Light: The Parking Lot
The old parking lot was full of problems—lots of erosion, no drainage, and very dark at night. We dug it all up and installed a new drainage system. We also expanded the parking lot to include more spots and have plans to paint the stripes, including handicap spots, in summer 2019.
We installed conduit to bury electrical wires, which will also be completed in summer 2019. Lampposts were installed to create a well-lit and safe entrance for our residents, and the new bike racks are already well-used. The new trees that were planted will grow to provide shade and we have goals to further beautify the space.
A New Vision: Landscaping
When it came to landscaping, the challenges we faced were extraordinary. Fortunately, so too are the results!
Our purchase of 111 The Knoll, located right next door to the men’s house, finally made our vision for a unified living-learning community possible. But first, the space between the houses had to be totally reimagined in order to unite them. Formerly the properties were divided by large trees, a solid wooden fence, a couple of sheds and even the trash and recycle bins of both houses—overall, an eyesore if ever there was one.
The trees were removed (as were the sheds and trash cans), and truckloads of fill brought in to level the grade. All of this opened up the gorgeous view of downtown and Cayuga lake and created a blank canvas for the creation of the shared patio. The patio includes landscaping and pathways to the doors of both houses, offering residents and guests a beautiful place to gather. We have begun to furnish the space, and hope to install a more permanent fire pit!
The First Hurdle: Red Tape
The first hurdle in the process of acquiring and renovating 111 The Knoll was securing the requisite approvals. Because it only made sense for us to purchase the property if we could enlarge it, the purchase contract was contingent on these approvals. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Committee (ILPC), charged with maintaining the historic character of the neighborhood, loved our design and approved it unanimously.
But because there is a bias against converting family housing to student housing, the project still required a variance. In the words of one person we met with at City Hall, a recent ordinance was passed precisely to “prevent people from doing what you are trying to do.” We knocked on doors in the neighborhood to explain what we were doing and fortunately found nothing but support.
So it all came down to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting on June 6th, 2017. Our architect was clear with us that we should not get our hopes up, and in fact it was clear from the beginning that the proposal did not have unanimous support. And with only four members of the board present, we could only afford to lose one vote! To the entertainment of the large crowd present, many of whom were waiting for their turn on the agenda, the debate went on for almost an hour. To contribute to the drama, the first vote was opposed. By God’s grace, the other three votes were in favor of the project, and the variance was secured.
Pictured above is a very old hitching post that we discovered early in the process and have preserved. Previously obscured by overgrowth, it is now one of the first things that visitors to the Knoll see upon arrival.