New YUHS nears completion

The new YUHS building will open on Lock Street by the fall.
The new YUHS building will open on Lock Street by the fall. Photo by Amir Sharif.

Shortly after students return from their summer vacations, they will no longer find themselves trekking up Hillhouse Avenue for prescriptions or medical check-ups.

Yale University Health Services, which is now housed in the blocky concrete complex at 17 Hillhouse Ave., will move into its new home — a black, warped structure at 55 Lock St. — sometime in late August or during the first week of September, YUHS director Paul Genecin said. The new facility, designed by the Atlanta-based architecture firm Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, will allow YUHS to expand patient services with an additional 46,000 square feet of floor space, more private examination rooms, more thorough mental health services, a more comprehensive imaging department and enough sustainable features to garner it a LEED certificate, said Bud Shenefelt, a principal architect on the project.

Though the original design proposal, still posted on the firm’s website, stated that the cost of the project would be $64 million, Genecin said this figure is incorrect and that a valid estimate will not be available until the building is completed. He declined to say whether the correct figure is lower or higher than $64 million.

While the building, which is down the road from the David S. Ingalls Rink on Prospect Avenue, is noticeably removed from central campus, Genecin said he does not think the new University Health Center will feel any farther than YUHS’ current site, especially with the shuttle services and the “handi-van,” which transports students who have difficulty getting themselves to the health center.

“The challenge of the site was that we needed a site that was adjoining campus,” Genecin said. “However, there really isn’t a lot of central real estate available to build a new health center on, and the judgment of [University] officers was that this is the best that we could get.”

When the new center was proposed by University President Richard Levin in 2008, he also announced the construction of Yale’s two new residential colleges, which were planned to abut the center. Although the colleges have been put on hold because of the economic downturn, the theory at the time was that the new YUHS building would not seem so far from campus when anchored by its two new neighbors, Chief of Student Medicine James Perlotto ’78 Perlotto noted. Either way, he said he expects students will adjust to the new YUHS location.

Thinking back to his days as a student in Ezra Stiles College, Perlotto recalled an intense blizzard during his senior year in 1978 when all of New Haven’s streets were blocked and he had to walk to the YUHS building on Hillhouse Avenue because he was ill.

“I know how it feels — I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow, I’m not going to make it,’ ” Perlotto said. “But I think that you always will have the problem — you just have to pick the best place.”

Months after Levin made the announcement for the new center, there were plans to tear down the current 17 Hillhouse Ave. structure so it could be replaced with a new headquarters for the Engineering Department, which is currently housed in several structures, including the Malone Center on Prospect Street and Dunham and Mason laboratories on Hillhouse, among other buildings. But, as the recession deepened in 2009, the University put all of its construction plans on hold, with projects that had already been contracted and under construction moving forward.

As a result, the commission for the new Engineering Department building was canceled, and Provost Peter Salovey said Wednesday that the current YUHS building is no longer planned for demolition. Perlotto added that speculation among the building’s current tenants is that the Engineering Department will nonetheless take over the building even though a new structure will not be built.

“We are planning the conversion of the old Health Center building now,” Salovey said. “We’ve made no decisions, but it will likely be used primarily to address space challenges in various academic departments.”

The move is set to take place over a period of two weeks, with each of the Health Plan’s departments moving individually, Perlotto said. Although he added that the time is one of the most hectic for YUHS as new and returning students converge on campus for the fall semester, he said the move has been planned to be minimally disruptive: Services will continue without a break, and many of the major shifts will take place overnight to avoid inconveniencing patients.

University Planner Laura Cruickshank and David Cripe, the project’s senior project manager with the University’s Office of Facilities, both did not respond to requests for comment.

The building is slated to receive at least LEED Silver certification, Shenefelt said. Among the building’s environmental design features are its tinted windows, Genecin said, which will not only serve to add privacy but also shade the interior from excess sunlight.

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