Weather is key for plaza completion

Safety concerns nixed a planned student passage through Beinecke Plaza, but if renovations are completed this spring as now scheduled, students will again be able to take the shortcut through Commons on their way to Science Hill.

While the plaza’s finish date was originally slated for last fall and then this March, Yale project management director Steve Brown said the project is now set for completion by May 1. Renovations have been held to a near standstill in recent weeks because of low temperatures and frequent snowstorms, but the primary reconstruction work is already nearly complete, Brown said. Most of the paving stones in front of Woodbridge Hall and the Commons Dining Hall are already in place, he said, and the bulk of the remaining work lies in the area of the plaza immediately adjacent to High Street.

But since the laying of porous mortar constitutes much of the project’s final phase, Brown said inclement weather may still pose problems.

“The mortar has to be at 40 or 45 degrees when it sets, so there’s really no work that can happen during a snowstorm or even a cold day,” Brown said. “It’s not like an interior project where you can just move the workers around to other jobs. That’s about all there’s left to do.”

University Provost Andrew Hamilton said the finished plaza will be worth the wait.

“I know it is frustrating for everyone who walks through Woolsey Hall,” Hamilton said. “However, it is more important that the renovations be done thoroughly than quickly.”

Finishing the paving stone layout will constitute much of the plaza renovations in March, Brown said, with most of the mortar work scheduled for the warmer month of April. But contrary to a previously stated plan, students will not be allowed access through the plaza until construction is complete, he said.

At the beginning of the semester, project managers planned to complete a segment of the plaza leading from Wall Street to Memorial Hall, the central domed area of Woolsey Hall. But Brown said that plan was abandoned because of safety concerns.

“When the work was actually planned out, it seemed to be too much of a hazard to have pedestrians and construction crews in the same area,” Brown said. “We’re waiting until the project is completely finished.”

The repeated delays continue to push project costs higher, but Brown said the project’s budget is “still on track.” Both Brown and Hamilton declined to comment on total project costs.

Brown said the delays have forced construction crews to work odd hours and overtime during the past several weeks in order to maintain the current pace.

“We’ve tried to work around the good days,” he said. “Within that cold snap, there were a couple of good days at the tail end, so we made use of them, putting in overtime at night and on Saturdays. Despite the cold weather, we’re making good headway.”

Although the particularly weather-sensitive mortar has been among the major causes of delays on the plaza project, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library director Frank Turner said the material will play a key role in the plaza’s new Snowmelt system.

The Snowmelt system, made up of several miles of tubing newly installed beneath the plaza, heats the paving stones by means of a glycol solution when temperatures drop below freezing, Turner said. The solution melts the surface snow, which he said drains through the porous mortar in the paving joints down to a drainage system that carries the water away.

Turner said the new system is a welcome change from the snow plows that have damaged the surface of the plaza and threatened parts of the library beneath the plaza’s surface.

“It’s a fairly seamless operation,” Turner said. “We’ve tested it over the past few snowstorms, and it’s worked quite well.”

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