Students returned from Thanksgiving break to find two new flagstone paths under construction on Old Campus — one leading into the iron fence along High Street and another that seemed to lead to an unknown destination somewhere near Durfee Hall.
The new walkways are intended to facilitate safer, more efficient movement of ceremony participants during future Commencement ceremonies, Director of Facilities Operations Eric Uscinski said. In the past, he said, the events have been plagued by congestion and physical setups that have put students and family members at risk.
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The new artery near Durfee, which leads directly to the planned position of the Commencement stand, will replace the makeshift walkway that has been deployed at past ceremonies, “which made it very difficult to maneuver,” he said.
“In previous years, there had been mulch and heavy plastic that has been somewhat treacherous,” said Lauralee Field, a secretary in Woodbridge Hall who helps coordinate Commencement.
The new stone path, which will match the others in the courtyard, will provide commencement participants with a better surface on which to walk when approaching the stage, Uscinski said.
The second trail, next to Dwight Hall, connects the pathway that runs by the statue of Abraham Pierson to the fence a few yards away from the High Street gate, through which the Commencement processional passes each spring. The general public will enter through a secondary gate created by removing a section of the fence, to which the new stone path leads, Field said.
Uscinski said the new walkway is intended to provide better access to this provisional entryway, which had previously been serviced by another makeshift path of mulch and a plastic screen.
“We’ve had somewhat sodden Commencements, and it was very difficult to navigate, particularly for people in wheelchairs or high heels,” Field said.
The purpose of the new paths appears to be lost on many Old Campus residents, few of whom have ever been present for graduation.
“I have no idea why they’re here,” Matt Zuckerman ’11 said. “They look nice, but I think they’re kind of pointless.”
Most students interviewed said they think the new paths are useless but also “harmless,” but others said they are concerned about the depletion of Old Campus’s patches of lawn.
“If they put any more paths out here, there won’t be any more green space,” Sophie Quinton ’10 said.
The additional paths are among the few major changes to Old Campus landscaping since a major overhaul 12 years ago, when most of the current pathways were constructed, Uscinski said.
“It’s not like it’s been that way for 300 years,” he said.
Uscinski said the Office of Facilities constantly monitors students’ walking patterns on campus and aims to align the paved paths with the most traveled routes.
Yale Architecture professor and public-planning consultant Alexander Garvin ’62 ARC ’67 praised the University’s overall management and development of its campus and landscaping, especially in recent decades.
“Yale has been enormously effective in improving the character of its public realm — paths, open spaces, courtyards,” he said. “I first arrived on campus as a freshman in 1958, and the condition of the campus is infinitely better now than it was then.”
In addition to the construction of the paths, the University is also working on widening the walkway in front of Vanderbilt Hall, Uscinski said. Uscinski said he does not know how much the projects cost.