Payne Whitney: History masked

Yale students and the New Haven community have become accustomed to Payne Whitney Gymnasium’s foreboding Gothic architecture over the years, but current freshmen may never know anything but the shroud of blue that has emerged all around the campus landmark.

Described as a “repair project” by Payne Whitney Gym Director Ed Mockus, the building’s restoration is set to be completed in five phases. Although discussions and preliminary investigations have been underway for three years, physical restoration has not yet started. Renovations will begin on the 240-foot tower and continue to the John J. Lee Amphitheater and the Robert J. H. Kiphuth Exhibition Pool on either side of the main tower. The project is expected to take five to six years to complete, Mockus said. According to 2007 capital budget projections obtained by the News, the estimated cost of the renovation is $92.9 million.

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Han Xu
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Restoration will include repairing the entire exterior surface of the gym, which includes six acres of wall space and 105,000 square feet of roofing, and replacing all 2,560 windows.

“The volume of what needs to be done is absolutely staggering,” Mockus said.

Plans for restoration were first suggested three years ago when the Yale Physical Plant —an office that maintains all campus buildings— was exploring energy savings opportunities in the gym through replacing windows. In addition to discovering numerous windows that could not be closed and were causing interior damage through water leakage, the Physical Plant also found a significant amount of wear and tear to the gym’s exterior.

To begin preliminary plans for repair, Yale hired architecture and design firm RMJM Hillier, which has since studied the buildings for the past two-and-a-half years. Hillier began working on site last April with Fusco Corporation, which is managing construction for the project, on more detailed studies of the extent of damage.

Joe LaPera, project superintendent from Fusco Corporation, said a large part of the project will be a complete cleanup of the exterior stone and replacement of badly damaged or cracked stone.

The exterior has accrued significant carbon deposits from pollution, which has darkened the stone with a layer on the outer surface and caused deterioration. The first order of business will be to clean the stone and wash it down, LaPera said. He added that he was hopeful that phase one of physical restorations will be underway by late December 2008.

Fusco Corporation has had experiences renovating other college and high school buildings, but LaPera said the company has never dealt with anything comparable to this project in terms of physical scope and complexity.

“The damage is similar to other buildings of this age that haven’t had complete renovations, but what makes this building unique is the size of it,” he said. “It looks simple from the tower, but there are many different roofs and elevation points that make it complicated.”

Despite the complexity and large scope of the project, Payne Whitney Gym administrators said they hope the space will remain fully operational.

“What’s great is that the impact on programming for activities is relatively minimal,” Mockus said. “We won’t need to close the inside of the building; we may need to re-direct people to different entrances.”

Yale gymnastics head coach Barbara Tonry, who holds practice on the eighth floor of the main tower, said she has not had any issues with the construction yet and is not expecting any in the future.

“It’s not going to impact us until they come and fix our windows, which won’t be done for a while,” Tonry said.

With respect to the gym’s exterior appearance and its impact on prospective recruits, Tonry said she thinks the blue scaffolding would not affect the University’s ability to attract top athletes during the recruiting process. Most recruits see the maintenance as an investment in their program, she said.

Tonry said she has had concerns about issues such as chipped plaster on the walls and leaks.

“All [the renovation] does is make us weatherproof, and there’s been no talk about what happens after the exterior’s done,” Mockus said. “It’s a lot of money for a new coat for the building, but hopefully it’ll drive work inside, and maybe we’ll be able to repair things that we couldn’t before because of weather elements.”

Payne Whitney has not seen exterior renovations and repairs on this large a scale since original construction finished in 1932.

Comments

  • PWG

    Great story!

  • Roland

    can't we please raze this decrepit monster and get a new gym that actually suits the needs of the student body, is in a safe location, and looks beautiful? payne-whitney is none of these.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, cool story.