Dozens of student and community groups affiliated with the Afro-American Cultural Center moved back into their revamped facility on Park Street this weekend, seven months after the building was closed for renovations.
The Af-Am House, known to its student patrons simply as “the House,” reopened Friday evening to members of the Yale and New Haven community, marking the successful completion of a $3 million, five-year restoration project. The facility — which underwent significant infrastructural transformations, including a complete overhaul of its electrical and heating systems as well as sizeable changes in its layout — had been closed off to student use since it entered the most intensive phase of construction in June of 2006. Most attendees at the housewarming reception Friday expressed approval of the newly revamped building.
Afro-American Cultural Center Director and Associate Dean Pamela George said students involved in the center faced challenges last semester because of the building’s closure, but the improvements to the facility will be invaluable to student life.
“It serves as a bridge to the greater riches and resources at Yale,” she said. “It is a place that seeks to provide consciousness, competence and confidence, and it is open to all who respect us.”
The extensive renovations, which cost a total of $3 million for five years of gradual construction work, were made possible by the fundraising efforts of alumni from the center and Yale President Richard Levin’s support, George said.
Some of the most dramatic changes to the house include the extensive remodeling of the basement into a facility that will be used by the tutoring organization Urban Improvement Corps and the makeover of the largest room in the building to better suit performing arts groups. Improvements were also made to the interior of the building, including the installation of new wall panels, projection screens, key-card access doors and new bathrooms.
Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, who attended the housewarming reception, said he thinks the improvements are “fantastic” and emblematic of the University’s dedication to improving the quality of student life.
“I think symbolically [the renovation] represents a real investment by the Yale institution and alumni because they have recognized the house as a valuable resource on campus,” he said.
The center is currently home to 12 organizations including the Black Student Alliance at Yale, the Yale Gospel Choir and the dance group, Steppin’ Out. Members of these organizations, along with members of a myriad of other student-run and New Haven community organizations, said despite the University’s generosity in providing space for meetings while the Af-Am House was closed, many of the displaced groups were seriously hampered by the absence of a large and easily accessible facility.
“It’s a different dynamic for sure when there isn’t a central location where people can meet,” said Noah Hood ’08, a member of the House staff.
But Crystal Paul-Laughinghouse ’08, the center’s editor of publications, said the loss of the House was beneficial in some ways. She said the construction obliged the cultural center to hold many of its events in Davenport College, which proved a more popular venue for freshmen due to its proximity to Old Campus.
“We usually have to try the hardest to get freshmen to come to activities here because they think it is so far away,” she said.
The Afro-American Cultural Center moved from its original site on Chapel Street to its present location in 1970 during a period of increasing enrollment of black students at Yale. The building was originally erected in 1929 by the Chi Psi fraternity and sold to Yale University in 1960. It was also used as an operating facility for the Yale International Center for many years before it became the Afro-American Cultural Center.
Other events marking the center’s reopening included a performance by the Yale Gospel Choir on Saturday and a Black Church at Yale anniversary and brunch event Sunday. On Monday evening, the center will host a lecture on leadership development and multiracial education led by Tommy Woon, dean of multicultural life at Macalester College.