Univ. sees Prospect as only viable site

When a group of administrators, students and faculty first convened last winter to assess the possible impact of building two new residential colleges, there were plenty of issues on which they did not agree. But as far as the location of the proposed colleges was concerned, committee members shared a common sentiment.

“The doubters were many,” they recalled in their long-awaited report, released Monday. “Why, it was asked, did the colleges have to be located there?”

The answer, according to former and current University officials, is straightforward: The site in question, behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street, was the space closest to central campus that could accommodate two full residential colleges, which administrators said had to be built together for for the sake of cost and efficiency.

For students, however, that explanation does not appear to be sufficient.

With the Yale Corporation two days away from voting to approve continued planning for the expansion of the undergraduate enrollment by more than 10 percent and University President Richard Levin having professed his support for expansion, the issue of the new colleges’ proposed location remains the decisive factor in many students’ judgments about the wisdom of moving ahead with the construction.

Even after considering the committees’ wide-ranging suggestions for making the Prospect Street site seem less isolated, many students remain fiercely opposed to putting up two new colleges there. And they show little sign of changing their minds.

“The life of a Yale student can easily get stressful and emotionally draining,” Wonjae Lee ’10 said. “Living next to a cemetery wouldn’t really help the situation.”

Lee — who said he was worried students in the new colleges would feel cut off from the rest of campus — was not alone in his concern. In a poll conducted by the News earlier this month, more than 60 percent of students said they were dissatisfied with the site in question. And in a questionnaire circulated by the two committees in November, 70 percent of respondents said they opposed the proposed colleges’ location.

But according to current and former Yale officials involved in planning for the expansion, the University had little choice but to plan for the colleges on the Prospect Street site.

As much as students might complain, these officials said, there is simply no other viable option.

“This was felt to be the site that worked the best,” University Planner Laura Cruickshank said. “Two colleges take up a lot of space.”

The colleges, Levin said in a statement endorsing the expansion Monday, would each take up 235,000 square feet, about 10 percent less than Yale’s largest residential college, Silliman College, which takes up most of an entire city block.

While students at several open forums on expansion held in residential colleges last fall all but begged administrators to reconsider the location for the proposed colleges, the Prospect Street site had long been set aside for the colleges.

Their concerns were strong enough that they at least inspired doubts in the minds of members of the committee charged with examining the expansion’s effects on student life. At several points over the course of the fall, various members raised doubts about whether other sites might work better, said former Calhoun College Master William Sledge, the chair of the committee.

Indeed, the report released Monday revealed in a footnote that the committees did scrutinize at least three other sites — the Hall of Graduate Studies, Swing Space and the Lot 51 parking area behind the School of Music, just east of Cross Campus.

But none proved feasible. The site of Swing Space, said former University Planner Pamela Delphenich, could only fit one college, not two, and the building itself could be more effectively converted into graduate housing than into a residential college.

And HGS — which is in need of extensive renovation but has historic value — could only be retrofitted into one college, Cruickshank said.

Comandeering HGS for undergraduates also would likely inspire a public-relations brouhaha among graduate students, some of whom already complain about being second-class citizens at a school where the undergraduate residences are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations while some graduate students live in the sorrowful confines of Helen Hadley Hall.

As might be expected, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler was not a fan of the HGS idea.

“Many ideas come forward in thinking about new ventures,” Butler said. “This,” he added, “was not one of the good ones.”

Of most interest to committee members, it seems, was the Lot 51 space, a large parking lot behind Hendrie Hall that one former senior University official described as the most prized development site on the whole of the Yale campus.

But that site was not quite big enough. It could fit two three-year residential colleges, officials said, but not two colleges of the size Levin has described and in the mold of the existing 12 colleges. Erecting colleges with hi-rise towers is out of the question, according to the former senior University official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity?.

The other problem with Lot 51, officials said, is that the site is encumbered by a number of other buildings that could pose problems — several are new or newly renovated, like the 12 year-old Joseph Slifka Center, the building for the Yale University Press and others, like Hendrie Hall, are historic.

“It’s just not feasible,” Deputy Provost for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs Lloyd Suttle said.

What is feasible, however — at least according to administrators — is the Prospect Street site, and University planners have known as much for close to a decade now. It was first identified as the possible site of new colleges as early as 2000, when the University released its 185-page Framework for Campus Planning, produced by the New York firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners.

“It was like, ‘If it’s going to happen, then this is where it makes sense,’ ” the former senior University official said of the Framework’s treatment of possible new colleges.

The biggest advantage of the Prospect Street site was its size, officials said. By 2006, when the city of New Haven ceded three streets in the area to Yale in return for $10 million in University-sponsored infrastructure improvements, the University had finally assembled a plot large enough for two colleges.

The primary reason for wanting to build the two colleges together has to do with money, according to former and current Yale officials.

“The primary reason is one of efficiency and unnecessary cost avoidance,” Deputy Provost Charles Long said. “It has proved very valuable to have colleges share certain facilities, especially kitchen and food-preparation areas, where labor costs are disproportionately high for small facilities.”

And so the Prospect Street site was the clear choice for the colleges. It also had the benefit of contributing to another University goal: helping bridge the gap between the “day campus” of Science Hill and the rest of central campus.

Indeed, despite student qualms about the site, administrators told the two committees it was not up for negotiation.

Levin said Monday that he plans to ask the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, to direct the Provost’s Office to prepare a preliminary capital budget and operating budget for the new colleges. The Prospect Street site will be the only one his office will examine, Provost Andrew Hamilton said.

Still, committee members admit there is no shortage of doubt about the site.

“It’s hard to imagine it,” one senior University official, said. “You walk that block — it’s pretty unwelcoming.”

But the report also cited a number of redeeming qualities in the Prospect Street location. For one, it is large enough to accommodate a much-discussed “third building,” which could house a lecture hall, rehearsal space and offices for student organizations and is seen as a significant means of luring more students to Science Hill at all times of day.

Other proposals for improving the site include sprucing up Prospect Street by adding a fast-food establishment on the first floor of the Becton Center, turning the Farmington Canal Greenway into a pedestrian-friendly path and improving campuswide transportation overall, according to the report.

“There is a certain amount of confidence that the location, its isolation and relative inaccessibility — that these can be solved by enhancing a variety of physical pathways and having a transportation system that’s equally responsive and effective,” Sledge said.

But students remain skeptical. Asked their opinions of the proposed location, many responded with palpable angst Tuesday. Others were more discreet, but they expressed the same concern: Students in the new colleges would feel imprisoned in the bleak wilderness of Science Hill.

“It is too far from central campus,” Ari Evans ’09 said. “I can foresee a situation where the new colleges will be much more insular than the current colleges.”

Ariel Baker-Gibbs ’11, too, said she sees the proposed location as inconvenient.

“The cemetery would definitely add an interesting ambience, though,” she added.

— Paul Needham contributed reporting.

Comments

  • anon

    The new location is a total disaster. The colleges could have been accommodated in the central campus precinct if Yale had been willing to spend more. Unfortunately, Yale's planners don't understand how undergraduate life at Yale works. Unfortunately, Levin's move will effectively turn Yale 2015 into the equivalent of a Duke, Harvard, Cornell or Stanford -- a bland campus without the 24/7 vibrancy that Yalies currently experience.

  • Joshua

    The administration's insistence on putting the colleges on Prospect Street is blatantly irresponsible. They want the colleges to be 'cost effective' in terms of what? I realize that, despite the huge endowment, the university has limited funds. But surely, with a decision this huge, that will change the nature of campus and the social interactions of the student body so greatly, they could have found the extra money to build the colleges separately. How much would it really be, an extra 15%? This is the biggest change to happen to the university in 50 years and if they are going to do it at all they should do it right. Also, regarading their claim about sites being too small: makes your colleges taller! 6-7 stories isn't a problem. Not everything has to be 3-4 stories like the existing colleges. Really, it would not make anything worse.

    The administration is proceeding is just about the worst possible way: arrogantly destroying the nature of campus to save money. These colleges are going to be here for 300 years. Find the money. Do it right or don't do it.

  • Anonymous

    To me, if you're going to spend $600 million on a new venture, having the attitude "Well this sucks, but it's our only option and maybe if we try really hard it won't hurt us too badly" makes no logical sense.

    Even the Yale Corporation acknowledges that this isn't ideal. How could any responsible company go ahead with a project that they themselves don't wholeheartedly believe in?

  • Anonymous

    Well, I'm certainly not giving my money to Yale. I'll just give it to a worthier cause.

  • Alum

    The undergraduate concern about the location of the new colleges isn't wrong but it surely is overstated. Is it really a 'disaster' that will somehow make Yale 'bland?' Hard to see. The location does have the plus of bringing undergraduate life closer to Science Hill, which should make Science Hill seem livelier and perhaps encourage more science majors. Hard to see retrofitting Becton successfully, as outlined in the report, but the concept is right, to bring stores and other interactive features to that side of Prospect. And perhaps the location of the colleges can also get Yale to look at better transit options (a train from Science Hill to the Med School and on to the new West Campus?).

  • Y'05

    Seriously!?! Take off your shower shoes, put on some walking boots, and move! The proposed site on Prospect is not "far-away." Certainly, it will cause a shift in campus centrality but it is not Siberia. In fact, it is close to Swing and Payne-Whitney and will probably create greater circulation to TD and Silliman. You want far? Walk to East Rock.

  • Old Blue '73

    The report considered HGS and the Swing Dorm sites but did not consider, apparently, the Law School site. Build a new grad school building and a new law school at the Prospect Place site and the new colleges could be on the south side of the cemetary. If the grad school and the law school get first rate new buildings (including modern technology courtrooms) the sting of losing old traditions would disappear for those two groups.

    By the way, many law schools are profit centers on an operational basis, although I don't know if Yale's is because it is so small. But a new building could allow a larger law school population, too. Such an expansion of the law school would not have to be an operational cost drain on the university.

  • anon

    Maybe this will encourage Yale to work with the city on getting better bicycle lanes from East Rock to downtown and throughout. I heard that Yale wants to completely block access for bicyclists that currently come from East Rock through Science Hill, because of the new building they are putting there. That would force people to ride on Whitney Avenue, which unless it is traffic-calmed, just sucks. Yale really needs to encourage more cycling, not less, because it is a major quality of life issue for graduate students and staff.

  • Anonymous

    To #4: You only now came to the realization that there are causes worthier of your money than Yale?

  • Brendan B

    Actually, maybe it's not so bad. It's not really that far away. I mean, the campus is going to expand gradually over the next 50 to 1000 years anyway, right? Even if the student body stays the same size, surely facilities (i.e. science buildings) will need great expansions. Why are we scrambling to find the last buildable plots of land in the existing center campus when it will all be for naught when the campus expands further in 40 years?

    Yale needs a place to grow and science hill needs some more activity on it. It's such a dead zone after dark. With some more residential life up there it could really be a great north end to campus.

  • Anonymous

    600 million dollars to accomodate 400 undergrads? 600 million dollars!!!! And you whine about the distance you'll have to walk? A train? Why not a monorail, or each undergrad gets issued a personal car and driver? This is college people, how many other colleges will give you a ride around the corner or to the hair stylist because you're too lazy to walk there? 600 million that could be used for so many other, much more worthy causes. This is an outrage, and shows Yale's elitist excess at it's worst.

  • Anonymous

    Two important aspects of these new colleges which have not been stated yet:

    Will they be 4 year residents like Silliman and TD? If the University can figure out a way to get the freshmen on Old Campus (by doing away with annexes), then I have no problem with the new colleges!

    Also, what are Yale's plans for Swing Space? Once all the colleges are redone…wouldn't that make an ideal location for a new real residential college?

  • bobwhite67

    I have not seen a genuinely convincing case for building(I read Levin's report about this that was distributed 2/18). Lots of downsides, and little real upsides, if any. #2 and #3 are dead on.

    I suspect what is going on is that Levin wants to leave a big tangible legacy, and this is the way to do it. Empire or legacy building is not a good enough reason to (1) mess up the campus (2) give the students living in the new places a lower quality of life (even in newer digs) and (3) create this much distraction.

    My daughter is a Yalie now, and she has a few years to go. She won't be there when they are done in 2013, but this will be a HUGE distraction for faculty starting very soon and for the next few years (How much will our department grow? Why not more? Why is the X department geting more new faculty? We are just as good as them if not better. Where are the new faculty going to have offices? etc,etc=a million and one details and politicing that will be a momentous distraction, and that makes the quality of my daughter's experience at Yale much less. So I am very opposed.

    Too bad Levin is doing this, as otherwise from what I can tell he is doing an excellent job.

  • Arturo

    Imprisoned two whole blocks from Silliman and around the corner from Morse/Stiles and Swing. And you want stores and everything else in the area to entertain you. Arrogantly destroying the nature of campus? How about Yale arrogantly destroying New Haven to satisfy a handful of transient students. Yes, you are transients. You want trains to the Med School, light rail to Tweed, and everything right next door. Do you even care how much of New Haven will be changed? Do you even care how many more homeowners will be pushed out? Do you think New Haven residents sit around saying " anything to make the overpriveledged Yalies happy". We should be arguing about the huge cost of this project. At this price, how can we honestly look any residents of New Haven in the face and say we know how you feel. No wonder they consider us whining rich kids.

  • Hieronymus

    One could have, I suppose, built a tower in the Silliman courtyard… or commandeered SSS?

    “The life of a Yale student can easily get stressful and emotionally draining,” Wonjae Lee ’10 said. “Living next to a cemetery wouldn’t really help the situation.”

    I dunno: I would find it peaceful. Indeed, I am more worried FOR the cemetery than BY the cemetery.

    As for fear of a brouhaha from second-class grad-skoolers: message to GRD: you ARE second classers (especially if you are, indeed, part of GRD versus, say, SOM, MED, or, well, most any other school). Not being mean, just "keepin' it real."

  • Old Blue '73

    Arturo #13 said:
    "Do you think New Haven residents sit around saying 'anything to make the overpriveledged Yalies happy' ".

    No, but they might be saying, "I wonder how many jobs for New Haven will be created by this construction project and how many jobs will be created by an expansion of our already largest employer."

    Giving out more scholarships or funding more study abroad programs does nothing for New Haven. Spending money building, which creates jobs for locals on the 2-3 year short term, and employing more people on a long term basis to support a larger student body and associated faculty does improve the economy of the home town. I'll bet the guys in the building trades wish ground would break next week (well, maybe in April when the ground is softer).

  • KT

    @12: Yes, they will be four year colleges, and Swing Space is being given to the Law School after Morse and Stiles are renovated, even though YLS has yet to announce plans to expand its student body; they just want more student housing.

    They wouldn't change their minds about whether or not to build the colleges, so they're sure as hell not going to change them about where to build them. Right now the best we can do is to try to make sure the transformation of campus is done as smoothly, and in the best manner possible. 600 million dollars is only a starting point, because hundreds of millions more need to be spent to upgrade and expand classrooms (been to Mason Lab lately?), administrative space, facilities staff offices, power generation, etc. They still haven't said what will be done with the old DUH building, though.

  • Britt

    #15: That's an incredibly rude thing to say about grad students. What do you even mean by that? Get a life.

    #14: Yale is, if anything, making New Haven a better, safer, more prosperous place. Yale is the only decent economy generator your city has.

  • Recent Alum

    Can someone explain why the colleges are not built on the New Haven green? There is absolutely nothing there at the moment, and this is immediately next to Old Campus, so ideal location. I am aware that Yale would need to purchase the property but how expensive can it be?

  • alum '01

    Sure the location isn't ideal, but the sky is not about to fall. It is an opportunity to finally bridge the gap between Sci Hill and the rest of campus. And the colleges aren't THAT far away. Building the "third building" will be key to bridging the gap, by giving other students not housed in those colleges a reason to venture over there.

    I will assume the NH Green comment is sarcasm (rather than ignornace)? Sometimes hard to tell over the internet.

  • Grad Student

    I am very confused by the anger many undergrads are expressing about the location of the new colleges. I'm looking at a Yale map, and the distance between the most eastward and westward colleges will be almost identical to the distance between the new northern colleges and the most southward college.

    Sure: this will expand the total area over which there are Yale undergrads. But the distance between the most distant pair of colleges remains very similar.

    So what is causing the anger? Here are the explanations I can come up with: 1) Undergrads are so happy with the current set up, they are showing some out of character conservatism and are scared of change. 2) Undergrads are showing some in character liberalism, and exhibiting a knee-jerk reaction against the machinations of "the man." 3) Undergrads are so accustomed to the shape of their current bubble, that they have developed an extreme ingroup/outgroup geography bias that makes any location outside of the current bubble seem much farther away than it really is.

    -Mark