Biology facility delayed

Construction on a new biology building on Whitney Avenue, originally slated to begin last summer, is now expected to begin in 2009, potentially delaying a series of Science Hill projects.

The building will be the first new facility for the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department since 1965. Its original design met with resistance from community leaders, leading Yale to go back to the drawing board. A new design from architect Cesar Pelli is currently in the planning stages, and the building is expected to be completed in 2011. But the delay is being felt throughout Science Hill, with other departments’ renovations at risk of being pushed back as a result.

The MCDB department is currently housed in two buildings: the 14-story Kline Biology Tower and Osborne Memorial Laboratories. The new 315,000 square foot building, tentatively named the Yale Biology Building, will include all of MCDB on only four floors, Project Manager Kari Nordstrom said.

Yet the delays mean some other departments must wait longer before they can have their own new homes.

Once MCDB leaves Kline Biology Tower, the older building will serve as the swing space for Science Hill, according to the University’s plans for development there, Nordstrom said. It will first house researchers from Sterling Chemistry Laboratory while that building is being renovated, he said. The renovations will turn SCL into a center for science teaching, particularly teaching laboratories for the Biology and Geology departments. At the same time, some science lecture halls may be relocated farther down Science Hill.

The new biology building is being designed by Pelli, the architect behind the Malone Engineering Center that opened in October 2005. That facility has been hailed for its glass curtain wall that acts as a mirror to reflect the surrounding Hillhouse neighborhood. Nordstrom said the Yale Biology Building will be similarly impressive.

The relatively horizontal layout of the four-story building is preferable because it will improve communication among faculty members, said MCDB professor Timothy Nelson, who chairs the building committee for the dpartment. In the new design, approximately 28 research groups will be spread over three floors of labs.

“I think if you ask any scientist, collaboration and interactions are the hardest things to accomplish,” Nelson said. “[The building] will encourage both intended and random interactions.”

Like the Malone Center, the YBB is being designed to meet LEED Gold environmental sustainability standards, he said. The minimum standard for new buildings on campus is LEED Silver.

Pelli and Nordstrom, who previously worked together on the Malone Center, were not originally slated to collaborate on the YBB project, however. The original design by a different architect was presented to community members last spring, but encountered resistance over concerns about the size of the building. University planners withdrew their application for zoning approval from the city, and brought in a new architect and project management team.

The Pelli building is completely new and not simply an evolution of the previous design, Nordstrom said. The older building also housed labs on four stories, but was taller than the current design, he said. The latest plans for the YBB will align it more with the neighboring Kline Geology Laboratory, Nelson said. It also boasts a more attractive layout than the original plans did, including some innovative ways to bring light into the building, he said.

Yale hopes to present the latest plans to the city by the fall, Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said. The plans are almost in the “design development” phase, Nordstrom said, the same phase during which the city reviewed the earlier design. University planners expect the community to be more receptive to the newer plans.

With the building now expected to open in 2011, it is well behind the original schedule that had construction beginning last summer. But the importance of creating a superior research building outweighed any delays, Nelson said.

Professors in other departments said the delays to their renovations are not that significant because they are relatively far in the future.

Chemistry professor John Tully said the delays matter only in the long run, as renovations to SCL and to Kline Chemistry Laboratory are dependent on additional constraints besides Kline Biology Tower emptying out.

The Astronomy Department also considers the problem to be too far off in the future to be of much concern now, department chair Jeffrey Kenney said. The latest estimate he has heard for when the department will move into the vacated Kline Biology Tower is five years from now, he said. For Kenney, the problem is not the delay in moving into Kline, but the move itself, which is currently expected to be permanent.

“I’m not convinced that is the best plan because of the increased number of astronomers we’ve had in recent years,” he said.

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