Elizabeth Carothers ’01 froze when she first set sight on Yale’s massive Collegiate Gothic creations four years ago. She stood gazing with wide eyes and a dropped jaw, reacting to Yale’s towering structures she observed in a “blinded state of worship.”

What Carothers didn’t notice was the extremely poor shape the buildings were actually in.

As the initial experiences of Carothers’ freshman year faded into memory, so too did her naive admiration — the leaky roofs, flooded dorms and crumbling colleges soon became evident.

But by senior year, Carothers and classmates have enjoyed a partially renovated and revived Yale, the product of an era of rebuilding predicted to be the most significant in Yale’s history.

The $3 billion investment in Yale’s physical campus began in 1993 and will continue until 2010, when construction crews will have worked to upgrade the five main renovation areas — Sterling Memorial Library, Payne Whitney Gymnasium, the residential colleges, the arts area and Science Hill.

The investment represents a major departure from the University’s decades-old policy of deferred maintenance, which was institutionalized during the budget-cutting and penny-pinching ’70s and ’80s.

Major facilities revamped

Sterling Memorial Library and Payne Whitney Gymnasium, each a half-million square feet, represented massive rebuilding projects and were some of the first neglected facilities to be overhauled. They were also the first major improvements the Class of 2001 saw completed.

In addition to run-down public spaces like Starr Main Reading Room and Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, the millions of books in Sterling’s stacks were threatened by insufficient temperature and humidity control. A $100 million rebuilding project transformed James Gamble Rogers’ cathedral-modeled library into a functional and aesthetic marvel.

And then there was Payne Whitney — the dilapidated, run-down structure former YCC President Jamie Ponsoldt ’01 said reminded him of “a giant hole” and was no more impressive than the one he used in high school.

But a $100 million renovation finally allowed Payne Whitney to surpass Ponsoldt’s meager high school gymnasium. With additions such as the Lanman Center — a massive exercise center with an overhead running track — and a world-class squash facility, the new-and-improved Payne Whitney left Ponsoldt’s old gym in the dust.

Progress made on residential college overhauls

With jackhammers and cement trucks as familiar to Yalies as bulldogs and ivy, it’s impossible for students to ignore the nearly $500 million renovations for all residential colleges now underway.

At times the construction efforts, which have resulted in complete overhauls to Berkeley and Branford Colleges, have disrupted students.

“Someone was bound to be annoyed,” Carothers said. “Most of us realized that schedules in the student world and construction in the real world just don’t coincide, so we dealt with it.”

Josh Chafetz ’01 and Carothers were members of the first college relocated to Swing Space while Berkeley College received a much needed $25 million renovation.

“We saw the old Berkeley,” said Carothers, “and we didn’t want the old Berkeley.”

Understanding that the work was necessary made the class cooperative and optimistic about their year in Swing Space.

Chafetz said he didn’t mind not having a dining hall, but missed Yale’s typical entryway system, which was sacrificed for “dorms like at every other school.”

Chafetz was a staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.

Ponsoldt said he remembered when the renovated Berkeley College reopened.

“Getting into the dining hall was like getting into Studio 54,” he said. “Berkeley became a gorgeous, gorgeous college, and I was totally envious.”

And now Yalies living in Swing Space have several colleges to look at as encouraging examples of what their completed college will be like, Chafetz said.

The residential renovations will cost the University between $400 and $500 million dollars.

Much of the money for this project — along with the funding for other major renovation initiatives — comes from rapid endowment growth and the University’s highly successful “– And for Yale” fund raising drive. The campaign raised $1.7 billion by 1997, the year the Class of 2001 entered the University.

More in the pipeline

Improved financial conditions also enabled the announcement of plans for a $500 million facelift to Science Hill. Most construction efforts there are in the planning stages, but some projects are underway, and the $42 million Environmental Science Center will open next year. New chemistry and biology buildings will follow as nearly every existing structure on Science Hill is being renovated.

Yale’s arts scene will also soon see better facilities. The unveiling of the Holcombe T. Green Hall last November marked the beginning of a $250 million plan to revamp facilities for artists, architects and actors.