Divinity School housing renovations delayed

As the economic recession deepens, the residents of the Yale Divinity School’s Canner Street apartments are increasingly doubtful that their residences will be replaced, much less renovated in the near future.

The apartments — which were built in the 1950s and serve as on-campus housing for over a quarter of Divinity School students — have been slated to be replaced by more modern housing facilities for years, but Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge announced in December that any construction on the apartments would be delayed until the current economic downturn passes. And while non-essential renovations to the buildings were put on hold in anticipation of the demolition, Divinity School Facilities Manager Brian Vinci said, incessant maintenance problems continue to eat up the Divinity School’s budget and frustrate residents.

Not only are the three Canner Street buildings old, Vinci said, which makes maintenance costly, but they also lack most of the facilities Yale undergraduates take for granted, such as common rooms, weight rooms and basements with student amenities.

“The Canner Street apartments don’t have anything at all,” he said. “They’re falling apart.”

While the management installed a new hot water tank last winter after residents complained that their water was brown, most major maintenance jobs outside of re-painting and cleaning have been put on hold. Vinci said minor issues with the buildings, which come up once a day on average, incur upkeep costs that are “not sustainable.”

A recent window replacement job cost $250,000, Attridge said. The buildings have also undergone water piping replacement and asbestos abatement. Slightly over $1 million has been spent on building maintenance charges in the Divinity School complex this past year, Attridge said, amounting to nearly 5 percent of the $22 million Divinity School operating budget.

“They are quite livable,” Attridge said of the apartments. But, he added, “We spend a lot of money keeping them up to speed.”

Two years ago, Attridge said, the Divinity School estimated that replacing the Canner Street apartments with buildings of comparable size w0uld cost about $18 million. The apartments contain 84 units that can house about 100 students, over a quarter of the 372 Divinity School’s students.

Replacing the buildings with larger structures would improve efficiency, by allowing the school to house more students on campus and earn more revenue, Vinci said.

“We still get more [students] who want to live here than we have space for,” Vinci said. “The proximity’s great. Even though it doesn’t have any more amenities, it’s a very good deal.”

The five Divinity School students interviewed agreed the apartments need to be replaced.

Rebecca Dohn DIV ’10, who pays about $525 per month to share an unfurnished double, said she chose to live in the apartments because of their affordability. Still, Dohn — a native of the Dominican Republic who said her housing standards are fairly low — said she thinks the apartments need to be replaced.

“They’ve been putting [the demolition] off for decades,” she said. “The economy is the latest reason.”

Peeling paint lines the stairwell of 350 Canner St. and closets are missing doors.

“It looks like a warehouse,” Dohn said.

Yoon Jung Kim DIV ’11, who pays about $1,000 a month for a furnished single in 350 Canner St., said because her air conditioning system does not cool the room efficiently and her windows don’t open, living in New Haven in the summer is “horrid.” Her water constantly changes temperature, she said, and was even brown for a while.

“I cannot pick just one thing for improvement,” she said.

In February, University President Richard Levin announced in a letter to faculty and staff that almost all planned construction projects would be delayed in an effort to save $2 billion in capital spending.

Comments

  • Rebecca Dohn

    Aw Shoot! I'll never talk to the press again. May I add some corrections and nuances? First I'm not a native of the Dominican Republic, though I grew up there. And the particular phrasing here succeeds in trashing the Divinity School apartments (Which I don't mind in the least) and the Dominican Republic (which cannot be held to blame for my standards), painting in quite broad, quite negative strokes.

    Second, the apartments really aren't as bad as they are made out to be. I enjoy living here and resent the negative tone with which I am above represented. It is noted that the Divinity apartments lack the amenities and frills of undergraduate dorms, which is understandable because they aren't dorms but apartment buildings. Perhaps 19-year olds and 26-year-olds look for different things in their housing. I offer no strong feelings about the demolition of these buildings as I believe they do a fine job of housing students currently. (And not just because I am some provincial Dominican with low standards who knows no better.)

    I understand that "Divinity School Housing Not That Bad" doesn't make for a great headline, and that sensationalism may be more interesting to read. But I challenge writers and reporters (especially when writing for a college paper) to value accuracy both in their presentation of "facts" and in their representation of those they interview.

    Rebecca

  • Brian Vinci

    I thought I conveyed a similar sentiment in my interview - that yes, the buildings are old and in need of replacement, but they are definitely still liveable and the students do a good job of making a community here. So I would agree with you Rebecca, I thought the tone of my comments was more "Divinity Housing Not That Bad" and less "they are falling apart". Interesting to see such a negative spin on the situation.

    Brian