Timeline for new colleges still unclear

With only two-fifths of the funding for the project, an empty seven-acre site and no starting date set for construction, the future of Yale’s two new residential colleges is uncertain.

While University officials said Yale remains committed to building the two new residential colleges, construction will not begin until Yale raises the roughly $300 million in outstanding costs for the project. The decision of when to start construction will likely fall to the new University president, current President Richard Levin said, adding that the Development Office is focusing on fundraising for core University operations for the remainder of his term. Architecture School Dean Robert A.M. Stern, whose firm designed the new colleges, said he is disappointed by the delays, and he expressed concern over whether the project will go ahead at all.

“There has been discussion about making an intramural sports field,” Stern said. “It would be unfortunate if people fell in love with this idea and forgot about the colleges.”

Levin announced official plans for the new residential colleges in June 2008 — three months before the onset of the worldwide financial downturn. Originally slated for completion in fall 2013, the University postponed the start date for construction indefinitely once the recession began. Workers on the site at Prospect Triangle are currently close to completing the installation of new underground utilities and moving the existing ones, University Spokesman Tom Conroy said, adding that workers are also leveling out parts of the site to prepare for erosion control before the winter season. Stern called the current state of the construction site “shovel-ready.”

Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Charles Goodyear ’80 said that while the presidential search statement requires the new president to “protect and enhance the financial resources of the University through fundraising initiatives,” the committee is not selecting the new president with the completion of the two colleges specifically in mind.

“While the issues of ethics, integrity and excellence are paramount, the role of Yale’s President is not unidimensional, so there is no single issue — or single fundraising target — on which we expect to judge any candidate,” Goodyear said in a Saturday email to the News.

Stern expressed regret that the forthcoming change in University leadership — along with the upcoming retirement of Edward Bass ’67, a supporter of the new colleges, from his position as Yale Corporation Senior Fellow — places the residential college project at risk of falling to the wayside. He emphasized a need for a new capital campaign comparable to the Yale Tomorrow campaign in order to procure the necessary funds.

Conroy said that since preparations for construction on the site are almost complete, funding remains the only obstacle preventing the project from breaking ground. He emphasized the University’s commitment to building the new residential colleges.

Joan O’Neill, vice president for development, said there is no way to tell how many donations or how much time it will take to raise the remaining funding for the colleges, but she added that her office is continuing to discuss the project with donors. Levin said the decision to begin construction likely will not come for a few years, since he is focusing on securing donations for operating costs this year to give his successor flexibility in decision-making. “It’s possible someone will come forward with a large gift, but it’s not likely,” Levin said. “I’ve been trying.”

Multiple staff members of the University Facilities Planning and Construction department deferred comment on the new colleges to Conroy, who said in an email last Tuesday that a comment from the department “will generally have to await future decisions by the University leadership.”

Project Engineer and Superintendent Doug Somers of Turner Construction Company, the company building the new colleges, also deferred comment to University staff.

Stern said that the project’s continued postponement is frustrating in light of the University’s “desperate need” for new housing facilities.

“It was the right time for new colleges 10 years ago,” Stern said. “No organism can go this long without new growth.”

Stern’s firm, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, completed designs for the colleges in March 2012.

Comments

  • swimfly

    This is good reporting, and a needed corrective to the YDN’s last, misleading story, which suggested “big gifts on the horizon” would allow construction of the colleges to begin. In fact the failure to raise adequate funds for this project is emerging as a signal failure of Yale Tomorrow–and of Levin’s last few years as president.