HGS woes persist, for now

A $100 million renovation of the dilapidated Hall of Graduate Studies is scheduled to begin this summer.
A $100 million renovation of the dilapidated Hall of Graduate Studies is scheduled to begin this summer. Photo by Clinton Wang.

The Hall of Graduate Studies, plagued with heat, gloom, smells and floods, can now add toxins to its list of problems.

The cancer-inducing building material asbestos was detected over two weeks ago in the basement of HGS, forcing faculty members and classes to relocate while the hazard was removed. Though the asbestos was removed after a week, the incident represents the latest example of the building’s ongoing infrastructure problems, which may finally end after the completion of the University’s $100 million renovation of HGS, set to begin this summer, according to Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle.

“It’s suffocating — there are no windows, and there’s a bad smell with the sewage seeping through the walls,” Arabic senior lector Shady Nasser said. “This also makes it tough to teach. Students are not happy. … I understand that there are no other places available, but I think administrators don’t care much.”

Classroom technology and media specialist Arthur Greiser, who often works in the basement of HGS, said some of the pipes that run along the classrooms, offices and corridors are still lined with asbestos. Properly covered pipes can prevent the presence of asbestos from becoming a health hazard, but leaks in the pipes have led to recurring cases of asbestos exposure. HGS senior custodian Jerome Myers said the toxin posed a danger in the basement last year when asbestos was discovered in the custodians’ working area.

Though most students and instructors who use the space said that they are not worried that the asbestos exposure damaged their health, some pointed to the incident as evidence that HGS is in need of immediate renovation.

In 2007 budget projections, $122 million was allocated for large-scale renovations to HGS, but the collapse of Yale’s endowment after the onset of the recession in 2008 put the plans on hold. Recently, the renovation plans have been revived with an estimated cost of $100 million that will use funding from the University’s capital replacement charge — a portion of the operating budget allocated to construction — and from acquiring debt. Renovations to the interior of HGS will begin in summer 2014 while renovations on the exterior will begin this summer.

Suttle said an advisory committee overseeing the renovations has yet to determine how the building will be used once the renovation is completed.

“One of the questions to be addressed by the Advisory Committee is how the space in HGS should be used after the renovation, so we don’t want to spend a lot of money on the damaged space until we have a better idea of its eventual use,” Suttle said.

Students and instructors who use the basement agree that the conditions range from “pretty bad” to “miserable” — students refer to the space as “the Dungeon.” Nicholas Torsiello GRD ’15, a Graduate Student Assembly representative on the University’s HGS Planning Committee, said the recreation room, computer lab and other basement facilities are rarely used by graduate students because of their decrepit condition, even though students are already lacking study space on other floors.

Most instructors with offices in the basement said they have learned to tolerate the unpleasant environment.

Hebrew lecturer Dina Roginsky said she has gotten used to incessant ringing and humming of the pipes running through the ceiling and walls near her office.

“This is the music I listen to,” she said.

HGS has not seen major renovations since its construction in 1932. The deterioration accelerated last year when flooding last August forced faculty and classes to relocate for approximately four months while workers restored some offices and classrooms.

Seven months after August’s storm, much of the flood damage remains unrepaired, leaving former offices and computer labs in the basement of the McDougal Center festering.

“The contractors just fixed up the offices and then left,” Myers said. “I’ve been here for 17 years. You always hear that they’ll renovate next year or in the next two years, but nothing ever happens.”

The University HGS Planning Committee will meet for the first time on Monday to discuss the renovation plans.

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