More than a decade after University President Richard Levin committed about $500 million toward construction of improved laboratory and classroom facilities on Science Hill, some faculty members are disappointed with progress thus far.
This Science Hill Plan, which Levin announced in January 2000, funded the renovation and the construction of four buildings — the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building, the Class of 1954 Environmental Sciences Center, the Malone Engineering Center and Kroon Hall — but the financial downturn has stalled plans for renovations and a fifth new facility: the Yale Biology Building. Three faculty members in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department said the delay has caused trouble for the department, which needs more lab space.
“They’re not the way we would like them and not the way students would like them,” Robert Wyman, a professor in the MCDB department, said of his department’s current facilities. “Yale had plans for doing this right, and of course the big banks screwed us.”
Levin said in an email to the News that the construction of the biology building, which will be used primarily for research and classrooms, was initially scheduled to start in Dec. 2008 before the recession hit, and he said he hopes to see work on the building begin in “the next year or two.” The drop in the University endowment also stalled plans for renovations of other science facilities, he said, but the University is now moving forward with the renovation of Kline Chemistry Lab and is developing plans for a new undergraduate science center on Science Hill, which will house teaching labs.
“It’s not that we don’t want to do this,” Levin said at a town hall meeting last Wednesday, adding that science buildings require more extensive renovations than other facilities.
Steven Girvin, deputy provost for science and technology, said that construction of the Yale Biology Building is on the top of the priorities list for Science Hill facilities, and he said that the building is a “keystone project” that would allow other renovation projects to move forward. But he added that Yale currently lacks the capacity to take on additional debt for construction projects.
But with recent improvement in the state of the University’s finances, that situation may be changing. After the Yale Corporation meeting in April, Levin told the News that the University would soon be able to take on new debt that could finance construction on Science Hill.
Wyman, who currently works in the Kline Biology Tower and teaches in Osborne Memorial Laboratories, said that OML used to be the main teaching lab building for his department, while the Kline Biology Tower was supposed to be devoted to research. But the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department began using much of the teaching space in OML, he said, and the University did not compensate the MCDB department.
Now, it is often difficult for students to get into lab courses because the department does not have enough space, said Scott Holley, a professor in the MCDB department.
Haig Keshishian, a MCDB professor, said a new building would significantly improve research opportunities available to students and faculty.
“[Kline Biology Tower] really never worked well for biological research, and it is probably far too costly to maintain as such,” Keshishian said in an email to the News. “So despite the sincere and welcome efforts of the administration to keep KBT functional, in the long run they really need a new and more rationally designed lab building for MCDB.”
The planned Yale Biology Building would be located on Whitney Avenue next to the Kline Geology Lab.