Demolition to displace Sociology

The demolition of buildings located in the so-called “Prospect Triangle” will force the Sociology Department to relocate to other buildings.
The demolition of buildings located in the so-called “Prospect Triangle” will force the Sociology Department to relocate to other buildings. Photo by Alison Griswold.

To clear space for the two new residential colleges, University planners say they will move forward with planned demolitions on Science Hill — flattening buildings and reshuffling social science departments.

Three of the locations slated for demolition starting in December — 140 Prospect St., 80 Sachem St. and 8 Prospect Place — currently house Yale’s Department of Sociology. These buildings stand in the “Prospect Triangle,” bounded by Prospect Street, Sachem Street and Canal Street, which will eventually hold the proposed colleges. They will be razed as long as the plans are approved this April.

As a result of the demolition, part of the Sociology Department faculty will relocate to 493 College St., while the rest will move further up Prospect Street to a location half a mile away from their colleagues. Sociology professor Jeffrey Alexander, who will remain on Science Hill after the move, said in a Tuesday e-mail that while he and his colleagues are glad part of the department will be consolidated on College Street, the reorganization will separate many professors from their research.

“We are all pleased to be back together in the same place,” he said. “The downside to this, however, is that the research centers that are at the heart of our training and research in sociology will be physically broken up.”

SOCIAL SCIENCES SHUFFLE

The Sociology Department will be the most affected by the comprehensive reorganization of the Prospect Street and Hillhouse Avenue area. The Political Science Department will stay in its home since 2009, Rosenkrantz Hall, and departments such as Economics and Anthropology will remain spread across mansions on Hillhouse Avenue.

The most recent plans for the Sociology Department’s facilities follow years of departments trading spaces: 8 Prospect Place, currently home to the Center for Cultural Sociology, housed the Political Science Department prior to 2009.

University administrators had a master design for the Prospect Street area before the financial crisis hit in 2008, which included renovated chemistry laboratories and a new biology complex in addition to the proposed colleges. Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said in an e-mail Tuesday that administrators delayed their plans in the wake of the nationwide economic downturn, adding that the timeline for reshuffling social science departments on Prospect Street, Hillhouse Avenue and other cross streets continues to hinge on the recovery of the economy and Yale’s endowment.

The colleges are scheduled to break ground in 2013, but University President Richard Levin told the News in January that this date could be pushed back if Yale has not secured enough donations to fund construction by that time.

The University has raised only $145 million toward the $500 million needed for the project, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said, but is still preparing for their eventual construction. As a result, the Sociology Department is preparing to move.

Robert Corbett, major project director in charge of the Prospect Triangle area, said demolishing the current Sociology buildings is the next logical step in moving forward with plans for the new residential colleges. This will be followed by the demolition of Mudd Library and Donaldson Commons in spring 2012, he said, adding that these plans are still tentative.

‘TEMPORARY DIGS’

While the Sociology Department will move to 493 College St. this summer, it remains to be seen how long the department will stay in its new — but temporary — home.

“It’s unclear how long the department faculty will be at 493; that depends on building schedules across campus,” Sociology Department chairwoman Julia Adams said in an e-mail Monday. “Moving departments around is like deploying a set of dominoes — and this particular one can’t fall into its final resting place until a set of others have also found theirs.”

The new building will have faculty and staff offices, in addition to four teaching spaces, project manager Jo Cohen said. The construction work includes overhauling the building’s mechanical and lighting systems, cleaning the building’s exterior, replacing windows and renovating the restrooms. The renovations will also make the building handicapped accessible with new ramps and an elevator, and replace the existing fire escape with an internal fire stair.

Suttle said the 493 College St. project is on schedule, and will not be affected by the $68 million deficit the University faces for the 2011–’12 academic year. That amount is the projected budget gap in general appropriations funds in the operating budget, Suttle said, while construction projects receive funding from the capital budget.

Adams said the department is excited about a building shift that will help consolidate the department.

“We’re thrilled about the new spaces, which are being renovated, and the move itself, which will leave us less dispersed than we are now,” Adams said. “And I can’t stress this enough, we are delighted with our temporary digs.”

Still, Alexander said he has mixed feelings about the move, as it consolidates faculty and some staff, but places other graduate students, visiting doctoral students and professors half a mile away, in houses at 204 and 210 Prospect St.

While the core of the department’s teaching will now take place closer to undergraduates and to central campus, this aspect will be further divorced from the research centers on Science Hill than professors would like.

“This is not ideal,” Alexander said. “I hope our permanent home will find a way to allow both the centers and the faculty to achieve propinquity.”

GOODBYE TO THE ‘DINER’

Alexander said although the faculty and staff in the Center for Cultural Sociology understand the necessity of making space for the new colleges, they are particularly confused by the upcoming levelling of 8 Prospect Place, which served as their temporary home for two years.

The building was pieced together from 21 units trucked from nearby Milford, at a cost of under $3 million. It has won at least eight architectural awards, and is affectionately known as the “diner” by its residents.

A temporary, modular unit constructed in 2002, it was originally intended to stand for between five and 10 years.

“Expect a fight when it’s time to tear it down,” the Yale Alumni Magazine published in January 2006.

Alexander, who is chairman of the center, said he was disappointed to learn that the building would be demolished rather than moved to another part of campus. He added that the building’s internal layout and lighting have been ideal for the needs of his center.

“It’s a beautiful, award-winning building, and has suited the needs of the Center for Cultural Sociology very well the last two years, and other members of the department and students as well,” he said.

University officials once had considered relocating the building to another part of campus, but Alexander said he has heard no recent plans to move it. Levin said no final decisions will be made until the Prospect Triangle construction plans are reviewed in April.

The New Haven Board of Aldermen’s legislation committee voted in favor of Yale’s plans for the residential colleges in December.

Comments