Making way for children

Yale is planning to expand a child-care facility in the Whitehall graduate apartments in the spring of 2010, despite residents’ protests that the expansion will disrupt their community and permanently alter the housing complex.

If the University’s plans come to fruition, 12 apartment units will be gutted to make room for the Edith B. Jackson Child Care Center. The center currently occupies a small section of the apartment complex, which is just north of Science Hill at the corner of Prospect and Canner streets. Although the relocation will increase the center’s capacity from 44 children to 96, it will also force the 12 families who live in the affected Whitehall units to move out, a reality that has caused an uproar among the apartment’s residents.

Current Whitehall residents enjoy the “tight-knit” feeling that has developed in the building, partly as a result of their children playing together. The students worry that the child-care center expansion will disrupt this community.
Eric Anderson
Current Whitehall residents enjoy the “tight-knit” feeling that has developed in the building, partly as a result of their children playing together. The students worry that the child-care center expansion will disrupt this community.

Furthering the outrage, all the parents of children enrolled at EBJ had received notification of the Whitehall expansion in early October — except for the parents who live in the affected units themselves, according to two Whitehall residents whose children attend EBJ.

Of the 44 children currently at EBJ, only five come from graduate student families, and only three of those live in Whitehall, resident Saskia Swenson-Moss said.

A growing group of about two dozen Whitehall residents led by Swenson-Moss, whose husband is a doctoral candidate in the Religious Studies Department, is mounting a vocal campaign to preserve what she calls Whitehall’s “tight-knit” community.

“We really share a lot of meals together, our kids play together,” Swenson-Moss said, adding, “It’s just such a community. For us to have to move … it will make it untenable to be a grad student family here.”

Whitehall residents voiced their concerns about the project in a meeting last Wednesday with Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, Deputy Director of Human Resources Nancy Creel-Gross, Deputy Provost for Biomedical and Health Affairs Stephanie Spangler and Director of Graduate and Professional Student Housing George Longyear.

But not only will the EBJ expansion displace a dozen families, it will also fence off a large portion of the grassy courtyard in front of the affected units and substantially increase noise and traffic levels around the apartments, eight residents interviewed said. By Connecticut state law, child care centers must have a certain amount of enclosed outdoor space for each child.

For the Whitehall residents, the additional noise and traffic are secondary problems compared to the loss of the courtyard, where families often gather to barbecue and watch each other’s children.

“Just picture [the courtyard] with a fence and everything like that,” said Randall Hardnock, a Whitehall resident whose child was formerly enrolled in EBJ. “That just pisses me off.”

Added Hardnock: “Just imagine studying with all that noise.”

Administrators declined to comment on whether the renovations would impact the courtyard.

Swenson-Moss said students had been hearing rumors that EBJ was moving in since early September, but until last Wednesday’s meeting Yale officials would say only that the units were undergoing renovations. In a Sept. 30 e-mail announcing the EBJ expansion, former University Provost Andrew Hamilton wrote that the new facility would open “at the north end of campus,” prompting 17 residents to send a letter of protest to Butler.

But before last Wednesday’s meeting, parents of EBJ children —except those living in Whitehall — were told that the childcare facility was expanding, those families said.

In interviews with the News, Butler and Spangler said they and the Yale officials in charge of the project were looking for ways to address residents’ concerns.

“We certainly take these concerns seriously and we are in the planning stages,” Spangler said. “We want to continue to include that community [in the planning].”

To that end, in a letter yesterday to the affected Whitehall residents, University Provost Peter Salovey wrote that he sympathized with the students’ concerns, but that Yale faces “a tremendous need and outpouring of desire to provide more childcare” to the University community. In the letter, Salovey invited six residents to join a “team” of University planners, child care administrators and graduate housing staff in planning the EBJ expansion, and promised that the displaced residents would be relocated within Whitehall at Yale’s expense.

“I am confident that, with your active participation, we can find solutions that protect the very special community at Whitehall while allowing more children to attend Yale-affiliated childcare programs,” Salovey wrote.

But residents interviewed said they were frustrated by the lack of communication surrounding the proposed expansion up until now.

“Yale sought zero input from the residents of Whitehall regarding this decision,” said Ben Zwickl GRD ’10, whose family is one of the 12 that will be displaced next spring. “I would say we feel marginalized and misled.”

“We really had to push, push, push, push to find out it was EBJ [expanding] … they’re being very secretive and weird about it,” Swenson-Moss said.

Only a small fraction of EBJ children come from graduate student families, mainly due to high costs and a long waiting list, residents said. That low number underlines what many residents see as the irony of their situation: The University is expanding the child care center to give families more day-care options here at Yale, but the expansion may actually undercut the Whitehall residents’ quality of life.

“It’s going to fundamentally change the way this community works,” said Susie Salazar, who has lived in Whitehall for five years. “That is probably not a positive thing.”

For now, Swenson-Moss and the other residents are continuing to push the University to find a different location for EBJ, despite administrator’s acknowledgment that plans for the EBJ expansion are going ahead. “We would be so supportive if [EBJ] was in another space and less expensive,” she said.

Calls and e-mails to the director of EBJ were not returned.

Comments