Dwight Hall, the 80-year-old Old Campus mainstay that houses most of Yale’s community service and social justice groups, will move to a new building in 2010, the group announced Friday.
Dwight Hall’s Board of Directors voted Friday to move the organization to 143 Elm St. at the corner of Elm and Temple Streets rather than continue with plans to renovate its existing location. Board members said that while there were several factors that influenced their decision, space constraints and disagreements about the planned renovations with other organizations that use the building were catalysts for the move. In addition to Dwight Hall, the Institute of Sacred Music and the Chaplain’s Office use the building.
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Though board officials said that a strong majority of the board supported the move, vice-chair Deborah Rose ’72 said there was dissent among some members who were concerned about how an off-campus location would affect the organization.
“[They were concerned with] the centrality of the existing location, as well as the access to freshmen [the location provides],” she said.
The vote came nearly two months after Yale President Richard Levin approached the Board about the possibility of moving and offered to pick up the majority of the $9.5 million tab for the Elm Street building’s renovation. In addition, members of the Board said, Levin offered to create a new fund that would provide Dwight Hall with an additional $500,000 over the next five years.
Dwight Hall’s future address currently houses offices for the Department of Music. The department will move to Stoeckel Hall, at the corner of College and Wall Streets, when its ongoing renovation is complete in August 2009. Once the Department of Music has vacated 143 Elm St., the Dwight Hall renovations will begin.
Levin said he is unsure how the building in which Dwight Hall is currently housed will be used after it is vacated by Dwight Hall, but said it would likely be renamed Dwight Chapel and might serve as the future home of the Chaplain’s Office. The Chaplain’s Office is currently headquartered in the basement of Bingham Hall.
Dwight Hall Co-coordinator Amy Wojnarwsky ’07 said before Levin offered them the new plan, the organization wanted to add a balcony to the chapel space to connect the upper floors of the two wings of the building that Dwight Hall uses and provide increased handicap accessibility. But the Institute of Sacred Music objected to this idea, she said, saying it would change the acoustics of the chapel.
These differences of opinion, along with limited space, convinced Levin to offer Dwight Hall its own building.
“It occurred to me that given some of the complexities of renovating the building Dwight Hall is currently in, it might be better to move,” Levin said. “They had a fund-raising campaign going on to raise money for renovation of the existing building. I told them that [the $3.8 million they raised in their capital campaign] would be a reasonable share [of the renovation] for them to cover.”
Dwight Hall Co-coordinator Helena Herring ’07 said Levin’s offer came before the annual retreat of the Dwight Hall Board of Directors. During that retreat, the board decided to set up a fact-finding committee to explore the ramifications of such a change, including safety concerns associated with the location of the new building and the challenges it would pose in maintaining student participation.
Historically, Dwight Hall’s central location on Old Campus has helped the group attract freshman volunteers, students said. Ted Everhart ’09, who works with Amnesty International, said while he thinks the move will benefit Dwight Hall, it might pose challenges for student recruitment.
“It’s going to be a little more difficult to get more people to Dwight Hall,” he said.
But overall reaction to the move was positive among several of the student groups affiliated with Dwight Hall.
Jared Malsin ’07, a board member representing student groups associated with Dwight Hall and a columnist for the News, said his decision to vote for the move was an easy one because of the financial benefits of the move along with an expansion of the facilities. The organization will have 3,000 more square feet than in its current location, with three meeting rooms for the over 80 groups that are run out of Dwight Hall.
Moving, Malsin said, was the most logical choice.
“Some decisions are painful but not difficult,” he said.
Like Malsin, Roger Maldonado ’09, a coordinator with the PALS tutoring program, said he thought the move was a positive one, saying the new location at the edge of Yale’s campus would make the organization more accessible to the New Haven community.
“Some people outside of Yale who work with Dwight Hall feel uncomfortable coming on to campus,” he said. “This way, we’re close to Yale but we’re actually in the New Haven community.”
The physical shift will happen in 2010, but members of the board said they are trying to think of ways they can make the transition as smoothly as possible.
Wojnarwsky said the history of the building was important, but not as important as the continued success of Dwight Hall.
“We’re committed to Dwight Hall as an institution,” she said. “When you imagine Dwight Hall, you imagine this building. But it’s about looking at the past, and then seeing what you take from the past into the future.”