Sept. 13, 2006

Coming back home to a rebuilt Bailey Hall

The newly refurbished and renovated Bailey Hall is ready for prime time, the building itself having been inaugurated with classes, symposiums and a concert since reopening in August. To an entire generation of incoming students, Cornell's new faculty and for one new president and his wife, this is how Bailey Hall will always be: a handsome state-of-the-art auditorium with comfortable seating, climate control and superb acoustics.

The the 94-year-old hall's main level and balcony offer seating for 1,324 people. And every one of those seats is filled for Psych 101, the legendary Cornell course led by Professor James Maas, the S.H. Weiss Presidential Fellow of Psychology. That sounds like a lot of students, but Maas' course filled the hall when Bailey held 1,948 seats. The reduced seating was necessary to accommodate substantial improvements throughout. The new chairs are luxurious compared to the hard, wood-paneled seats of yore and the once-severe pitch of the main section is now a gentler, less slippery slope. Among other additions are a handicapped-accessible elevator, improved restroom facilities and a reception area.

Designed by Edward Green, a prominent Buffalo architect and an 1878 Cornell graduate, Bailey Hall is a historic landmark. It is considered a fine example of early 20th century classical revival architecture, with a colonnaded portico, monumental stairs and 11-foot doors restored to their original stature.

A three-story addition has been built into the back of Bailey to accommodate mechanical systems as well as guests and performers. New green rooms have been added, and performers who exit stage left will no longer have to run downstairs and through the basement to enter from stage right. The entire addition is a self-enclosed unit preventing ambient noise or warm-up drills from reaching the hall during a performance.

Bailey is a state building, but Cornell and New York state shared the cost of the $17.3 million project. The state share of the project was $12.2 million. The additional $5.1 million came through a gift from George and the late Harriet Cornell, the Empire State Development Corp. and the university. The renovations were designed by Mitchell/Giurgola Architects of New York City.

In a less ceremonial exchange, the state presented Cornell with a certificate of occupancy. And now, it's on with the show.