At forums, Elis focus on location of proposed site

Location, location, location. Such is the adage of students and administrators charged with evaluating the possibility of expanding Yale College and constructing two new residential colleges.

The colleges, if approved, would be built on Prospect Street behind the Grove Street Cemetery, and that much is non-negotiable. But less certain is what Yale can do to enliven that area at night and on the weekends, when much of Science Hill stands deserted.

The mysterious “third building” to be constructed alongside the new colleges could help toward that end. The space may become a de facto student center, administrators said.

Members of the two committees reviewing the expansion proposal implored students for suggestions at forums held Thursday night in the Pierson College dining hall and on Wednesday night in Calhoun College. Some of the most passionate discussion came not on the question of whether, but where to build the colleges.

“I’m afraid of putting people this far away from campus … on the other side of the cemetery,” Micah Ziegler ’08 said to the four committee members on hand last night. “Is it really that space, and that’s it?”

Former Calhoun College Master William Sledge, the chair of the student life committee, wasted no time in his response.

“Yes,” he said. But, Sledge added, the new colleges would not be any farther from Woolsey Hall than Old Campus is, even if the Prospect Street site seems much more out of the way.

“Psychologically, it’s clearly a country away,” he said. But, Sledge said, “We’re trying to develop ideas about how to integrate it [with the rest of campus].”

Developing those ideas has, apparently, been a goal of the first two forums. On Wednesday night, after a few minutes of discussion about the colleges’ location, a student asked an unrelated question and tried to steer discussion to another matter. Committee members pushed back and asked for more input on what the University might be able to do to lure more non-science students to Science Hill at different hours of the day.

One of those ideas is the “third building” — its exact purpose still undetermined — to be erected along with the two new colleges just to the north of the cemetery. The purpose of that building has not yet been determined, and committee members made it clear they were wide open to suggestions on how to best make use of the new space.

The working concept for the building, Sledge said, is to create a student center. The building would contain much-needed classrooms; performance and practice space for theater, music and dance, offices for student organizations and some variety of food offering.

That new building could work well in conjunction with a new shuttle system, said Lauren Russell ‘09, a member of the academics committee.

“I do think improving transportation will help a lot,” Russell said Thursday night. “Imagine if you can just count on a bus being outside of your door,” she said.

At both forums, students questioned why the Prospect Street site was the only option. But the University’s 2000 Framework for Campus Planning designated that space as destined for “residential” use, and committee members said no other property closer to central campus could accommodate two colleges.

Building the two colleges in different locations is not an option, they said, because it would be too expensive. The two colleges are budgeted to cost almost $600 million.

That did not convince all students.

“It feels very far away,” one attendee said last night. Added another, “Putting another Davenport up Science Hill, in my opinion, is going to be a total disaster in the long run.”

The discussion on Thursday was livelier than that at the inaugural forum on Wednesday, and again committee members lingered after the forum to brainstorm ideas with students. Such is the goal of the forums, Russell said.

“We’re looking for input,” she said. “We can’t come up with a final decision about what we think until we have student input.”

Again, though, the forum was lightly-attended. At 9 p.m., when it was scheduled to begin, three students sat in the Pierson dining hall, an improvement from the lone student who was on time Wednesday night. About a dozen students eventually trickled in, and the high-tech sound system set up for the occasion proved unnecessary. This time, however, no refreshments were to be left uneaten.

The committees are expected to report their recommendations in January, and the Yale Corporation is scheduled to vote in February whether to build the new colleges. The expansion would be Yale’s largest in 50 years.

The remaining forums, all at 9 p.m., will be held Tuesday in the Saybrook College common room, Thursday in the Morse College dining hall and Nov. 5 in the Silliman College master’s house.

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