Of all the moves Yale made this summer, from the Corporation boardroom to the dining halls, by far the canniest coup was the University’s act of charity. In exchange for roughly $10 million in municipal funds — to improve roads on Science Hill — the City of New Haven ceded Yale development rights to three dead-end streets in the space behind Grove Street Cemetery. The deal was a strong step forward for town-gown relations, and a great one for Yale. The next step, though, is the tricky one.
The University is reportedly considering a number of uses for its new block-or-so, be they research, academic or residential. But while Yale’s development team is well equipped to pursue any of these new facilities, the unique location and sheer scale of this site mandate a more public discussion of these options than most of its projects typically receive.
Certainly, Yale administrators are no strangers to massive construction projects. The scaffolding-coated walls of Silliman, the construction zone that was Cross Campus and the future eight-story sculpture building and parking garage immediately adjacent to the News’ own building are daily reminders that this administration knows how to reshape a campus.
But those projects were all born of necessity, not debate. The opportunities presented by this new space are not as simple as a need to bring wiring up to code or to stop CCL from flooding, and they should be duly considered by the Yale community as a whole.
Situated on Science Hill near Ingalls Rink and many of the University’s too-small social sciences buildings, the new property could easily be used to further Yale’s $500 million commitment to science facilities. Though biomedical engineering and chemistry have been taken care of, plenty of natural science departments could benefit from a new building and more research space.
By the same token, one stated purpose of that $500 million initiative is to bridge the gap between central campus and Science Hill, and other academics could certainly use a new home. New classroom facilities for those nearby social science departments would be a tremendous boon, as would theater performance space or a centralized student technology center, which Yale sorely lacks.
Of course, the rumor mill is always buzzing about the possibility of a new residential college or two. Building dorms there could further link Science Hill and central campus. They would also provide room for an expansion of Yale’s student body — and financial aid — to the level of Harvard’s. Although Yale’s smaller size is in many ways a great advantage for its students, a college consistently reporting record-low acceptance rates is a college that is rejecting too many qualified applicants, and one that needs more space.
We are confident that the administration can make any of our ideas a reality, but they need to hear about them first. Before construction begins on this gift of a site, a diverse committee — or at least an open forum — should be convened to ensure that as the conversation shifts from what the Yale community needs to what the Yale community wants, we hear the voice of that community above the roar of the bulldozer.