Four months after Yale told them they would have to move out of their homes in the Whitehall apartment complex to make way for a child care center, 12 graduate student families have won the right to stay put.
The University had planned to expand the popular Yale-affiliated Edith B. Jackson Child Care Center, which currently occupies a unit in the Whitehall apartments north of Science Hill, into another section of Whitehall this spring. Expansion of the center would have allowed the EBJ to move more children from its two-year waiting list and into daycare, but it would also have gutted three units containing four apartments each in the process — thereby disrupting the Whitehall community, residents said.
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After petitioning Provost Peter Salovey and other officials involved with the project, a group of residents managed to obtain a series of meetings with administrators. On Jan. 20, the residents were told they would not have to move out.
“Whitehall really came together,” said Susie Salazar, a five-year resident of the apartments who helped spearhead the families’ campaign. “Ultimately they heard us and we got the decision we were hoping for, which is really amazing.”
Concerned that the opening of EBJ in Whitehall would create parking and noise problems, as well as fence off a large portion of the community’s grassy courtyard, Salazar and other residents submitted a petition with over 300 names to Salovey and University President Richard Levin. A few days later, on Oct. 15, Salovey sent a letter to the affected residents inviting them to meet with officials and help plan the EBJ expansion.
Salazar, who attended three of the five meetings held between residents and University officials, said the discussions took two “tracks.” University officials involved promised to look for alternate sites for EBJ and residents collaborated to plan the Whitehall expansion so that if it did happen, “the impact would be minimal,” Salazar said. The new plan called for redirecting the facility’s parking lot and preserving the grass courtyard, where residents often gather to have barbecues and watch their children play together.
“Once they realized how serious we were, they really wanted to consider the needs of grad students,” said resident Saskia Swenson-Moss.
Representatives from the Graduate Student Assembly praised the administrators’ willingness to listen to the residents’ concerns, but said the provost’s office should have included the residents in the planning process from the outset.
“They shouldn’t have had to go through all of these steps,” GSA public relations chair Sloan Warren said. “It seems like the school was making decisions that were impacting all of their lives and [University administrators] weren’t including them.”
Instead, Warren said, the students were treated almost as an “afterthought,” with no official, accountable role in the decision-making process.
In response, deputy provost for biomedical and health affairs Stephanie Spangler said University planners had not finalized architectural plans for the Whitehall site expansion when residents were notified. She said the Whitehall students were involved in much of the planning.
“It was not a fully developed renovation plan yet,” Spangler said. “I hope they found there was plenty of time to contribute to the process and, indeed, impact the process.”
The announcement that EBJ will no longer be expanding into Whitehall came as a disappointment, if not a surprise, to EBJ director Donna Bella. For over 20 years, the popular child care center has been trying to accommodate more children beyond its current capacity of 44, Bella said. Expanding into the apartments would have allowed EBJ to increase enrollment to 96 children and admit many off its waiting list. At the moment, the list is so long that parents must wait two years before their son or daughter can enroll at the day care center.
Bella explained that any potential sites need to have a drop-off area, playground space and offices for teachers, making it difficult to find an acceptable location.
“Sure it’s frustrating and it’s discouraging,” Bella said. “But in order to have a really high quality center and in order to make the move worthwhile, we need to be patient.”
Spangler and Bella said the University would continue to search for a new site for EBJ, but could not name any specific locations.