Construction of Yale Biology Building to begin

For the Yale Biology Building, the second time is the charm.

Three years after its original starting date, the 180,000-square-foot complex will begin to take shape in January when excavation begins, Yale officials say. Site preparation work is already underway in Lot 22 on 230 Whitney Ave., and faculty from the Kline Biology Tower and the Osborn Memorial Laboratory are scheduled to move into the building beginning in August 2011.

“There aren’t any major hurdles to overcome,” said Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs. “The major milestones in terms of the design process have been achieved.”

But even as construction commences, there is still much left to do before Yale biologists can make full use of the building. For instance, the Science Park chiller plant, which provides cold water for research purposes, must first be completed before the YBB can be occupied. Construction for the plant will begin next year, Morand said. Yale must also seek more funds — possibly from a donor — to purchase up-to-date laboratory equipment to furnish the YBB, a Yale official briefed on construction details said last week.

The new YBB and its requisite utilities will cost about $200 million, said Timothy Nelson, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and a member of the committee overseeing the project. Nelson and MCDB Chair Thomas Pollard said that since the building itself has already been budgeted, the economic downturn is not expected to affect its schedule.

THE FINAL PIECE

The City Plan Commission unanimously approved the site plan of the YBB on June 20 — many months later than originally promised. Morand told the News in 2006 that officials wanted to have plans ready by last fall.

And now with construction about to start, many science professors are saying: Finally.

MCDB professor Michael Snyder said the department’s current space is “woefully inadequate.” For example, several researchers have to keep their animals at the medical school for a lack of space at the MCDB animal facility — clearly a huge inconvenience, Snyder said.

“Just having a brand new, state-of-the-art building not only helps you attract new professors, but the best new students and post-docs,” he said. “It helps all the way around.”

University President Richard Levin officially announced plans in Jan. 20, 2000 for a new MCDB building — later named the Yale Biology Building – as part of a larger Science Hill expansion package. At the time, Levin said the plan, which included four other science buildings, would be “ambitious.”

But three of the five buildings proposed in the 20-year, $500-million plan have already been constructed: the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building, the Class of 1954 Environmental Sciences Center and the Malone Engineering Center. And the fourth building, Kroon Hall, the new home of the School Forestry and Environmental Studies, will open this coming January.

The YBB remains the last large-scale project prophesied in Levin’s 2000 Science Hill initiative.

TAKE TWO

The latest YBB design is new and improved from its earlier conception, officials say.

Yale officials scrapped the original building design, created by the Boston-based Payette Associates and Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, because local community leaders had reservations over its overbearing size and lack of pedestrian-friendly organization.

At the time, some Yale officials told the News they were worried the delay, which also pushed back other projects, put them behind rival universities like Columbia and Harvard in science development.

Famed architect Cesar Pelli was hired for the second attempt. Pelli originally conceived of the building to be larger but eventually pared it down to 180,000 square feet.

But what Pelli’s design lost in space, it made up for in eco-friendliness: Under the new building plan, the YBB will shoot for LEED Platinum environmental standards, up one level from Gold in the original schematic.

The YBB, which will connect to the Gibbs Research Laboratory, will be the first new facility for the MCDB department since 1965.

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