Med school expands downtown

A new downtown construction project will provide the School of Medicine with eagerly awaited laboratory space.

Slated to begin construction in 2011, the new Downtown Crossing Project will replace the Route 34 highway between the North and South Frontage Roads with ten acres of offices, laboratory buildings and eateries that will create much-needed spaces for research and faculty, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said. The project, announced at a press conference with Senator Chris Dodd and Connecticut U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro Oct. 15, is funded by a $16 million federal grant and has allowed medical school administrators to take another look at research proposals that have been postponed for lack of laboratory space until now. While the School is focused on improving its academic possibilities, Alpern also said he is excited about the School becoming more connected to the downtown area as a result of the expected burgeoning local businesses.

The downtown crossing area by 300 George Street is changing because of the
laboratory space at the Medical School.
Sarah Sullivan/Photography Edito
The downtown crossing area by 300 George Street is changing because of the laboratory space at the Medical School.

“It’s not same as an area like Wall Street where students can walk and stroll,” Alpern said. “That is what we’re hoping it will become.”

Facilities Director of Capital Programs George Zdru said the School of Medicine requires additional laboratory and office space before it can hire more faculty for its internal medicine, immunobiology, and neurobiology departments. Alpern said the school hopes to increase the number of faculty members working in the neurobiology department from 12 to 20 and to search for a new pediatrics department chair in the coming year.

But any new researchers and administrators will require additional space, he said.

“In general, our faculty just have more ideas for research projects and recruitment of other faculty than we have space for,” Alpern said.

The school currently works around its space limitations by renting rooms for clinical researchers in Winstanley Enterprises’ biotechnology building at 300 George St., Alpern said. The School of Medicine — which celebrated its 200th birthday last weekend — has also constructed four new buildings in the past 10 years in addition to acquiring certain West Campus buildings that are used to house researchers and their equipment.

But the School still needs more space to sustain its continued expansion.

“In the past three years, we’ve been able to do a lot of growth with space,” Alpern said. “But now we are getting to the point where we are packed in.”

The School of Medicine has considered financing the construction of another building for research facilities and faculty offices, but the project could not be completed for at least five years, Alpern said.

Alpern said the School would not hold off on renting space from the upcoming Winstanley building — one of the new structures to replace Route 34 that is projected to be completed in two years — or any other commercial real estate, because, he said, the School could always use more space.

The lease of rooms in this building would also bring the medical campus closer to the downtown area.

Alpern and Zdru said they look forward to the life the new companies and businesses of the Downtown Crossing Project will bring to the community surrounding the School of Medicine. At present, Zdru said walking by Route 34 is “never pleasant” because the area only houses offices and University buildings.

“We’re hoping [more local restaurants] will make the campus more lively during the day,” Alpern said.

Six graduate students living in the area surrounding the School of Medicine agree that the eateries and small businesses that may be included in the City’s effort to transform Route 34 into an “urban boulevard” would make the School of Medicine’s campus more cohesive with the downtown community and central campus.

Karlyn Nieland NUR ’13 — who lives in Yale School of Medicine’s Harkness Memorial Hall on York Street — said it would be nice to bring the culture of the downtown central campus community to her residence at the School of Medicine.

The School of Medicine opened The Anlyan Center for Medical Research in 2003, providing over 400,000 square feet of laboratory space for disease-oriented research.


  • Sara

    Retail won’t succeed unless the area is made much more pedestrian and bike friendly, like Downtown. Without that they are losing most of the business.

  • harbinger

    Has anyone considered the traffic problems you’ll be creating? If everyone is now using the single exit left on Route 34, the logjam will be monumental. The same exit will be used by 13,000 Gateway students, faculty and staff trying to enter the new garage at College and Frontage. Imagine the fun of trying to get to work, a medical appointment or class. Simply trying to find a parking spot will be a challenge. Yale has a monumental amount of space on West Campus for biotech expansion.This must be another payoff to Destefano and the city, as they implement yet another poorly researched plan.