Trumbull lacks renovation funds

New Haven officials have already approved the zoning requirements and this past weekend the Yale Corporation gave final construction plans for Trumbull College the go-ahead, Yale Senior Architect Laura Cruickshank said Tuesday. But the renovations are still missing one key element — a hefty alumni donation.

Residential college renovations typically rely on one principal donor to fund a substantial portion of the project. But it has been difficult to find such a person for the Trumbull renovations, because there is a relatively short list of donors for the college, Acting Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said. Even without major alumni gifts, the renovations will begin as scheduled in late May, relying instead on University capital funds to make cranes and conveyor belts a 15-month addition to the Trumbull landscape.

“I do think it’s going to be hard to raise a lot of money in Trumbull,” O’Neill said. “I think it’s just the way the chips fall.”

O’Neill said the absence of a major donor for Trumbull is not alarming, because donors often prefer to see how renovation plans develop before they open their wallets. Major alumni gifts for residential colleges are usually at least $1–2 million, she said, and earn donors naming rights for college landmarks such as dining halls and courtyards.

“It’s nice to have a donor way up front, but sometimes they like to know a little it more about what’s happening in the plans,” she said.

Regardless of how successful University fundraisers are in the upcoming months, renovations on Trumbull will begin this spring as scheduled, Yale President Richard Levin said in an e-mail. Yale officials will deduct a fraction of the value of the Trumbull renovations each year from the capital budget rather than the University’s $1.8 billion yearly operating budget because the University views the college renovations as a long-term investment, he said.

Yale officials said they expect to fund a significant part of renovations in Trumbull and future colleges in this manner. When University officials began formulating plans to renovate the colleges in 1996, they set a “realistic” goal to raise $20 million per college, but have not been able to reach that goal, O’Neill said.

Fund raising for both completed and forthcoming residential college renovations falls under the scope of the Yale capital campaign scheduled to officially begin next year. Levin and other top Yale administrators are currently in the “quiet phase” of campaigning, a time for officials to draw in large contributions such as lead residential college gifts, from a select group of donors.

Cruickshank said the plans for Trumbull are in line with the renovations of the other residential colleges, but she said Trumbull’s architecture and its “small footprint” will make the project more challenging than renovations to the other colleges.

“There’s very little access to the interior site,” Cruickshank said. “We have three gates, and they’re all small, so it’s hard to move materials in and out. There’ll be a huge crane set up on the exterior on the street that lifts smaller pieces over and into the courtyard, and there’s a conveyor belt that’s being set up to take materials out of the courtyard out to York Street.”

Even accounting for Trumbull’s smaller enrollment, O’Neill said the list of select alumni from that residential college is smaller than the development lists for Davenport and Silliman. She suggested that the shortfall in select donors from Trumbull might stem from a time when students could choose their residential college, a practice that lasted until 1963. Very few students chose Trumbull as their first-choice college because it is located on a noisy street corner, relatively small, and in the shadow of Sterling Memorial Library, Yale historian Gaddis Smith said.

“The theory that this has something to do with the failure to find big donors for Trumbull is speculative, but there may be something to it,” Smith said

Silliman is the next residential college slated for renovation, starting June 2006, followed by Jonathan Edwards, Cruickshank said. Administrators also plan to renovate Calhoun, Morse, and Ezra Stiles colleges in the near future.

Trumbull College's renovation plans were approved by the Yale Corporation this week, but Trumbull is struggling to find a primary donor to fund the improvements.
Sophie Perl
Trumbull College's renovation plans were approved by the Yale Corporation this week, but Trumbull is struggling to find a primary donor to fund the improvements.

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