SUNY Upstate’s $122 Million Boondoggle (Part I)


In 2009 I moved into McCarthy Manor.  I was referred across the street for physical therapy at the Institute for Human Performance, which faces on 505 Irving Avenue, Syracuse NY.

The Institute was built by the State University of New York (SUNY), Upstate Medical University (Upstate), at a cost of $50 million and was opened in 2000.  It is a four-story building and, with its parking lot, took up a whole city block.  Upstate says that it is for patient care, research, and student education.

The first thing I noticed was how tight the security was.  I could not leave the lobby without being escorted by a security guard.  There were three security guards backing up two receptionists but there were only two or three patients.  Why did they need such tight security?

The second noticeable thing was that the Institute has a very large four- story atrium and an equally large three-story gymnasium.  In an eight-square-block area, there are SUNY Upstate, SUNY College of Forestry, Syracuse University, Crouse Hospital, the Veterans Administration Hospital and the state’s Hutchings Psychiatric Center:  it is the densest area of Syracuse and space is at a premium.  All of the aforementioned institutions are looking for room to expand and paying a high price for it, so how come SUNY Upstate’s Institute has walled in so much empty air space?  Who approved the plans?  Who decided the taxpayer’s money should be spent on empty space?  Who benefits from it?  Yes, it’s pretty, but since when can the taxpayer’s afford to pay for “pretty?”

Third, I was escorted to the gymnasium.  It is three stories tall, has a four-lane track, and about a hundred medical-quality exercise machines—and it is virtually empty.  In the four years that I have been visiting the Institute I never have seen more than two or three—or zero—patients in the space.  For thirteen years, the machines have been rusting out and the space has been virtually unused.  A medical school faculty member confirmed that the building is largely empty.

In March 2010 I wrote to Dr. David Smith, president of UpstateMedicalUniversity, and asked why they were building and buying so many other properties when the Institute building appeared to be so under-used.  I also asked why the citizens couldn’t use the gym since they’d paid for it and exercise is an essential component of good health, which one assumes the hospital is promoting.

In return, I got a letter from a vice president who said the gym had been built for a grant they never got, and the taxpayers who paid for it could not use it because if anyone was injured then the hospital would be liable.  (It’s a hospital, for Pete’s sake; they can strap a sprained ankle at cost.)  The space sits unused with the machines rusting out; at the very least, the machines should be sold for income.

In April 2011, they eliminated the Institute’s parking lot and SUNY Chancellor Zimpher, et al, broke ground for a $72 million addition to this virtually empty building.  Is the addition also being built on spec?  Will it, too, be sitting empty?  Why haven’t they re-purposed the largely empty existing Institute space?

In May, I was meeting with a vice president for Crouse Hospital, which is a community hospital two blocks up the street that annually serves 23,000 inpatients and 250,000 outpatients—and doesn’t get government freebies like the Institute for Human Performances.  He was also aware of—and disturbed by—the emptiness of the Institute so we helped ourselves to a tour of it.

  • The only occupants of the lobby were three men wearing security/maintenance uniforms.
  • The gym had one patient working with a therapist, and two people in the office.
  • The swimming pool (“. . . a 25-meter, four-lane temperature controlled pool. The 200-ton floor of this extraordinary pool adjusts from ground level to seven feet in depth . . .”) was occupied by one therapist and four patients.  A worker stated that the pool was the only one in the country with an adjustable floor.  The cost of the pool was probably astronomical.
  • A secretary who had worked there for six months shared some information with us, then shut down, saying, “Are you reporters?”
  • She said that the first two floors are committed to physical therapy and the top two floors are for research.
  • The research floors are locked—the elevators don’t go there and the stairwells are locked.  Employees working on the first two floors are denied access to the top two floors.
  • While the Vice President took photos with his cell phone, I sat in the atrium and counted forty office windows on the top two floors.  At 2:30 in the afternoon, there only were lights in six of the offices.
  • We did not see more than twenty people in offices or hallways in the entire $50 million building. (For a drawing of the building, see http://www.upstate.edu/news/article.php?title=2860 )  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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