Leveling up: Graduate School, GPSA Provide New Air Conditioning, Other Improvements at the Big Red Barn

Picnic tables with red umbrellas in the grass outside a large barn

New picnic tables and solar umbrellas funded by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly grace the lawn outside the Big Red Barn.

September 5, 2023

By Merry Buckley

The Big Red Barn Graduate and Professional Student Center is getting a host of modern updates thanks to funding provided by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) and the Graduate School. Among other projects, energy-efficient heat pump air conditioning units were installed over the summer to keep the Barn cool on warm days, a big relief for students who participate in activities on a regular basis.

Lauren San Diego, a master’s student in food and nutritional sciences and a 2022-23 Thomas Wyatt Turner Fellow, walked to the Barn for TGIF on a recent evening and felt the difference right away. “I just realized walking in that having that nice breeze felt very relaxing,” she said. “I’m really happy with the air conditioning.”

Students enjoy drinks around a table inside the Big Red Barn Graduate and Professional Student Center
Graduate and professional students enjoy a cool drink and camaraderie in the air-conditioned Barn at a recent Tell Grads It’s Friday (TGIF).

With flagstone floors dating back decades, heavily varnished wooden walls, and antique farm implements as decor, the Big Red Barn has always had a rustic atmosphere, but the lack of air conditioning made the inside spaces steamy and uncomfortable many days in the summer. Recognizing the need for air conditioning and other upgrades, the Graduate School dedicated funding for projects to make the Barn a more welcoming and accessible space.

“The Barn is a wonderful place for our graduate and professional students to connect with one another and to enrich their Cornell experience, and these upgrades will make it even better,” said Kathryn J. Boor, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education.

In addition, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) stepped in this spring with $19,000 in funding for an array of new features to make the Barn more comfortable, including new picnic tables, solar umbrellas, lawn games, charging stations, and planters.

Melia Matthews scoops ice cream at an event at the Big Red Barn
GPSA president and doctoral candidate in biomedical and biological sciences, Melia Matthews, dishes up free ice cream on the patio at at a recent Tell Grads It’s Friday (TGIF).

“The GPSA wants to help make Cornell the best it can be for graduate and professional students,” said Melia Matthews, GPSA president and a doctoral candidate in biomedical and biological sciences. “We were happy to provide funds to improve one of the most utilized grad spaces on campus. We hope that the addition of extra shade and lights will make the outdoor areas of the Barn user friendly for more of the year.”

While enjoying the cool air with a refreshment at a recent TGIF, doctoral student Stephanie B. said in her first year at Cornell her life was a little too busy to fit in much of the Barn programming.

“I’m excited to go to more of the activities this year,” said Stephanie. “It’s always nice and relaxed, and the air conditioning’s great.”

Students sit in the now air conditioned greenhouse section of the Big Red Barn
One of the new air conditioning units in the “greenhouse” space at the Barn, positioned above the exit door.

Other updates lie ahead. Later this year, workers will install a new electric push button opener, enabling easier access in and out of the front door. And in 2024, the Barn will open a new gender-inclusive restroom to provide a facility that corresponds to the internal sense of gender identity of each member of the graduate community.

“A gender-inclusive restroom will increase the accessibility of the Barn for all graduate and professional students,” said Dean Boor. It also helps communicate that inclusivity is an important value for our graduate community and for Cornell, she added.

Restroom renovations will impact the Barn schedule during certain weeks, so students should keep an eye on the weekly Big Red Barn newsletter for information in the weeks ahead.