Construction freeze continues to thaw

Four of the University’s top construction projects, which were stalled in 2008, will cost almost $1 billion in total.
Four of the University’s top construction projects, which were stalled in 2008, will cost almost $1 billion in total. Photo by Gavan Gideon.

Over the course of this academic year, administrators will consider whether to move forward on four major construction and renovation projects valued at almost $1 billion in total.

The administration has made renovating the School of Music’s Hendrie Hall and the Hall of Graduate Studies — projected to cost around $45 million and upwards of $100 million, respectively — two of its highest priorities, and has similarly emphasized construction of the nearly $250 million new Yale Biology Building and the $500 million new residential colleges. Provost Peter Salovey said that before work on any of the projects begins, the University must consider what combination of fundraising and debt can best finance the buildings.

“Right now, our approach is to try to fundraise for projects such as these,” Salovey said. “If we were to take on debt — and that’s a big if, because taking on debt has an immediate impact on our operating budget — it wouldn’t be in lieu of aggressive fundraising.”

The progress of all four construction projects was stalled after the onset of the recession in 2008, which led to a nearly 25 percent drop in the value of Yale’s endowment in fiscal year 2009. When University President Richard Levin announced his plans to step down at the end of the academic year in a campus-wide Aug. 30 email, he called attention to the need to make progress on such projects under the next president.

The new biology building was announced by Levin roughly a decade ago as part of a larger plan to overhaul facilities on Science Hill. Ronald Breaker, chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, said the biology building is intended to house his entire department under one roof, instead of spreading it across the Kline Biology tower and Osborn Memorial Laboratories.

Breaker said he does not have a “clear understanding of the timeline” for construction, as it is entirely dependent on available funding, but added that “every sense” he gets tells him that the administration “is very serious about making this happen.”

“I think everyone’s morale — and that’s not just the faculty, but the grad students, the post docs, the research scientists, those employed in MCDB labs, the morale of individuals who work here — would be boosted tremendously just with the simple announcement of a start date,” Breaker said.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is also awaiting a start date for renovations on HGS, which has not undergone a major update since its construction in the 1930s. Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said in a Sept. 12 email that the project is unlikely to begin any “sooner than a couple of years.” He added that the “crumbling infrastructure” in HGS is “way below Yale standards,” pointing specifically to the lack of air conditioning, poorly controlled heating and “shabby office meeting space.”

Salovey said his office is working with the budget office to determine whether the University has a “long-term budget model” that could support paying off any additional debt Yale takes on and its interest, as well as maintenance costs that begin after construction, such as heating and cooling buildings. Any decision to take on additional debt must be made by the Yale Corporation, he said.

Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said in a Sept. 10 email that the University has yet to develop a long-range plan with targeted funding sources for the projects, such as debt, gifts and allocations from the annual operating budget. O’Neill said the University has raised the most toward Hendrie Hall, among the four projects, and that administrators are also in talks with potential donors for the biology building. She added that her office has not been asked to raise funds for work on HGS.

Former Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 told the News earlier this month that the University is “one or two gifts away from breaking ground” on the two new residential colleges. Levin has said in the past that Yale will seek donations for almost the entire cost of the new colleges because they are an attractive project for donors to support.

The start of construction for any of the four projects is not entirely contingent on having full funding at the outset. O’Neill noted that the University has undertaken facilities projects while continuing to raise funds after construction begins. For the University to move ahead on projects without complete funding, O’Neill said it would require both money to pay for “construction in the interim” and a “high degree of confidence” in its ability to raise the outstanding funds.

The University held over $4 billion in debt as of June 30, 2011.

Comments

  • ldffly

    HGS was in a sorry state in the late 70s. That beautiful student lounge leaked like a sieve. I hope the ceiling isn’t totally ruined.

  • Sara

    Making the campus were more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists would boost morale a lot more than a new building would. It’s incredible that a campus of the stature of Yale has not a single bike lane. Have any of our administrators visited MIT lately?

    Currently, our staff and students are being hit by the dozens each year, and there have been 20 pedestrian fatalities in the City of New Haven over the past 10 years.

    If you want to preserve the intimacy of Yale as a campus, you need a way to get around it easily without feeling like you are going to be hit by a red-light-runner or speeding car at every intersection.

    • yalengineer

      MIT campus is rather flat. New Haven and Science Hill? Not so much.

    • Carl

      The maples-to-oaks project on Prospect, by the cemetery, includes a narrower intersection at Canal. Has the city approved that yet?