Af-Am house undergoes facelift

When inclement weather hits New Haven, assistant dean Pamela George — like many Yale employees — is used to sloshing through puddle-filled sidewalks on her way to work. But unlike many Yale employees, George’s battle with the elements does not end when she steps into her office building.

George’s office is in the Afro-American Cultural Center, a four-story Park Street building with a crumbling brick facade and a roof so leaky that any weather worse than light rain has soaked the interior walls and left large ponds of water on the floors. But last May, Yale began renovations on the center to eradicate this problem, and if all goes according to plan, George and her colleagues will begin non-amphibious commutes before Thanksgiving.

“Our goal is to seal this building off from the elements,” Noble Salerno of project management said.

The $1.5 million effort is centered chiefly on replacing almost all of the building’s rapidly deteriorating slate roof and installing new windows which offer more protection from water seepage than do the current ones.

In addition to office space, the Afro-American Cultural Center provides meeting areas primarily for African-American student groups.

The center’s outside walls are in dire need of maintenance, Salerno said. Over the years, much of the venerable stonework — both decorative and functional — has eroded such that small gaps have formed between the stone window border and the caulk connecting the window to that border.

“The rain can get in there, as well as the roof, and ruin the inside walls,” Salerno said. “It’s one opportunity too many for the elements to get to this building.”

Salerno and his team plan to replace whatever stonework they can and add more mortar to seal gaps where it is currently infeasible to remove the stone cleanly.

Though George views the current renovation as a step in the right direction, she said she wishes Yale would have started the project earlier. The center has been in ill-repair for the past three or four years, George said. And though the New York City engineering firm SuperStructures surveyed the center in 1998 and recommended the roof and outer wall repairs, Yale did not begin renovations until the very end of the last school year.

“It was disappointing because we [those who frequent the center] knew there was a problem, and the engineering firm knew there was a problem, but nothing was done about it for a long time,” George said.

Internal renovations on the order of $3.5 million are also planned for the center, Director of Project Management Arch Currie said, but that work cannot begin until after the external renovations are complete. Alumni groups are still actively raising money for the internal improvements.

Though the details of these renovations are not entirely known, center public relations director John K. Johnson ’03 said the work is in part aimed at accommodating the increased number of student groups that wish to use the center’s facilities.

“I just hope the outside work gets done so this can get started,” Johnson said.

George added that the internal renovations will make the center “a more technological place.”

She said that office space in particular will be reallocated to support more computers and network connections.

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