Ithaca Buddhist monastery plans $850K expansion

By ANNE JU, The Ithaca Journal, Jan 11, 2006

Construction could be complete within 2 years

ITHACA, New York (USA) -- An ambitious expansion of the local Tibetan Buddhist monastery could happen within two years, project officials said, assuming all approvals by the Town of Ithaca Planning Board fall into place.

A proposed 13,000-square-foot monastery, which would house the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies, received preliminary site plan approval from the Town of Ithaca earlier this month.

To be located on the east side of State Route 96B (Danby Road) across from Sesame Street, on a 27-acre site, the estimated $850,000 construction project would comprise multiple buildings, including a main building, monks' residence and student dormitories, according to planning board documents. Parking for 66 vehicles is included in the plans, as well as five seasonal cabins, a bath house, a maintenance building, lighting, trails and new stormwater facilities.

Construction manager Scott Tobey said the architecture would follow traditional Tibetan style, yet comply with modern building codes and other requirements. After receiving the preliminary approval at the town planning board meeting Jan. 3, Tobey said it could be about two years before construction is completed. Project officials must still request final site plan approval from the planning board, which will involve producing further landscaping plans and more details of exterior finishes, according to Tobey. At the planning board meeting, members also asked for color samples of the yellow roof material.

Ideally, Namgyal leaders would like to break ground on the project by this spring, said board of directors member Ted Arnold. A fund-raising effort to begin later this year could then lead to completion as early as the following spring.

The local Namgyal branch is currently housed in a converted house on North Aurora Street in the City of Ithaca, a property the monastery plans to retain.

The local branch of the original, centuries-old Namgyal Monastery in Tibet was founded in Ithaca in 1992, Arnold said. As it happened, the founding was just after the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize ? ?fortunate, in that regard,? Arnold said, to coincide with budding international attention to Tibetan Buddhism. Another branch, Zen Buddhism, may be equally as popular as Tibetan Buddhism in western culture, Arnold said.

The Namgyal expansion will nurture the growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism locally, and to maintain ?exchanges with other religions and philosophies,? Arnold said.

?It seems like we can usefully make a hub here,? Arnold said.

The existing space on Aurora Street will continue to house the monastery's five monks-in-residence and classes for the public will still be offered there.

The new facilities will primarily be used for larger events, such as summer or weekend retreats, Arnold said.

?For topics that would be of a broad interest to people, we could accommodate more,? he said of the facility expansion.

The only Namgyal Monastery branch outside of India, Ithaca's monastery serves a mailing list of about 1,400 people, and a core local group of between 50 and 60 who regularly attend classes and meditation, according to Arnold. The local Tibetan community of about 45 people also uses the center as a cultural setting for holidays and other traditional gatherings, Arnold said.

The preliminary site plan review submitted to the planning board included an overview of the types of programming offered by the Namgyal Institute. A three-year curriculum taught by resident monks, including Buddhist Dharma classes and Tibetan language, are taught by semester and are offered on weeknights, the document said. The institute also gives free monthly meditation classes, which cover basic meditation skills.