Construction on campus still stalled

Payne Whitney Gymnasium will finally shed its blue scaffolding within the next few years, but other construction projects on campus remain suspended indefinitely.

This weekend, members of the Yale Corporation approved $20 million for the completion of the exterior renovation of Payne Whitney over the next two years, Provost Benjamin Polak told the News. Though the renovation has now become a priority “for safety reasons,” Polak said, many of Yale’s other major construction projects that were suspended during the recession — including the two new residential colleges — have yet to be revived. When the Corporation approved a $375 million capital budget this weekend for the 2013-’14 fiscal year, they intentionally did not include funding for these projects to refrain from burdening President-elect Peter Salovey with major financial commitments before he assumes the presidency.

“We’ve made decisions just for next year,” University President Richard Levin said. “There’s some safety-driven projects [like] some of the repairs on Payne Whitney Gym, [but] for the most part, the basic idea was not to make priority choices among major projects until the new president and provost have had a chance to review the options and consult with faculty to decide.”

Administrators decided to propose a one-year budget plan rather than the usual five-year plan to give Salovey time to make decisions about how much the University can afford to spend over the next five years on capital projects, Polak said. Proposed major projects such as the new residential colleges and the new research building at the Medical School were not discussed at length at April’s Corporation meeting, and their timeframes will depend on factors such as alumni gifts and the University’s debt-to-endowment ratio, he said.

While most projects can wait for Salovey’s consideration, Levin said it made sense for a handful of projects already in the works, including the renovation of Payne Whitney, to move forward next year. Though construction on the gym’s exterior began in 2007, it was halted during the recession because of budget cuts and has remained half-finished and covered in scaffolding over the past several years.

“Conditions up there [on Payne Whitney’s exterior] under the wood are dangerous, and it needs to be made safe,” Polak said.

Levin told the News in September that it was necessary to leave the scaffolding on Payne Whitney to prevent the stonework from falling off the building.

The one-year capital budget plan approved last weekend also includes funding for the renovation of the Sterling Library nave, the completion of the School of Nursing’s new building on West Campus and the replacement of the gas turbines at the Yale Power Plant. But many of these projects will take more than one year to complete, Polak said, so Salovey will automatically inherit some capital budget commitments.

The gas turbines, for example, will cost about $50 million over a period of several years, said Thomas Starr, the manager of the Yale Central Power Plant. Including only these new projects and continuing projects, the University has already committed to spending $624 million on capital projects over the next five years, Polak said, adding that this figure excludes all the projects still waiting for Salovey’s consideration.

Some of the projects that remain on hold continue to receive “planning” funding under the approved capital budget. Funding planning initiatives, which include working with architects and preparing sites for construction, does not commit the University to go through with any given project, Polak said, and the capital budget includes $2.4 million to plan for the upcoming renovation of the Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscripts Library.

Salovey said the University’s goal at the moment is to keep various projects, “from Science Hill to the Hall of Graduate Studies,” moving forward while restarting stalled projects like Hendrie Hall, which Polak said can progress because it is almost entirely funded by gifts. Levin said in February that the renovation of Hendrie would begin in 2014.

Polak said Salovey will have to consider how to keep costs down in future capital projects.

“The last time we were building a lot was the 2000s, during the ‘bubble era,’ and we weren’t thinking tremendously about costs,” Polak said. “We can’t do that now. We’ve got to be a little bit more careful about how we build and the level at which we build. Which buildings will be iconic buildings of Yale and which will just be good buildings?”

Capital spending on facilities in fiscal year 2012 totaled $284.5 million.

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