Thousands of fawning art history students will probably find the fact unbelievable. But when the weather is warm, art historian Vincent Scully has trouble thinking.
Scully, Yale microbiologist Jorge Galan and several other residents of the elite neighborhood near the corner of Whitney Avenue and Lawrence Street are angry about the loud droning noise coming out of an air conditioning system in a nearby building, which is disrupting their day-to-day activities and allegedly violating a New Haven noise ordinance.
When officials at the North Carolina-based Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society installed a new air cooling system in their building at 345 Whitney Ave. last year, contractors did not tell them the system was going to keep neighborhood residents up at night or bother Yale professors trying to think, said Norman Fineberg, the society’s New Haven attorney.
The New Haven Heath Department has measured the noise at 65 decibels from the upstairs bedroom of a nearby house. That’s as loud as a shouting match, according to Paul Kowalski, the department’s director of environmental health.
The noise produced by the system is also 10 decibels louder than the 55 decibels currently permitted by city regulation.
“It puts out enormous noise. It’s incredible,” Scully said. “It gets in your head, and it spins around in there forever.
“And it’s not just me,” Scully added. “One of the best microbiologists in the world lives next door, and he keeps saying, ‘I can’t believe a scientific fraternity would do this to me.'”
Eugene Peck, from whose 245 Lawrence St. home the Health Department measured the noise, said it was at times so loud that it prevented residents from using their backyards.
Fineberg said Sigma Xi had no idea how noisy the system would be when it was installed and promised “a total fix” come springtime.
“We’re good neighbors,” he said. “We want to do the right thing.”
After consulting his lawyer about the problem last fall, Scully said he took his grievances to the Health Department and then to his Ward 10 alderman, Robert Schmalz.
When he heard about Scully’s complaints, Schmalz proposed a new city noise ordinance, which would lower the allowable decibel level from 55 to 45 from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Connecticut state law permits municipal ordinances that restrict nighttime noise to as low as 45 decibels, Schmalz said.
Hamden recently enacted a statute similar to the ordinance Schmalz has proposed for New Haven.
Kowalski said the Health Department ordered the society to fix the system last year after it found noise levels in excess of 55 decibels.
After the company unsuccessfully attempted to repair the system, the department ordered Sigma Xi to try again, but the city was not able to re-measure the noise a second time because the cooler had been shut off for the winter.
“We have a promise from the property owner that they will be in full compliance come springtime,” he said.