Manifest Destiny: Yale Looks West
A Six-Part Series

1) In a whirlwind, Yale goes West
2) With West campus, Yale excuses form for function
3) Ortiz’s new calling: Yale-West security
4) Bayer site to welcome overflow art
5) West Campus to open new doors in University’s scientific research
6) West Campus no new Old Campus

WEST HAVEN, Conn. — Students often complain about the trek up Science Hill. But that walk to class might seem like a veritable jaunt in the park compared to the commute to Yale’s new West Campus.

A year after its purchase, the former home of Bayer HealthCare has Yale’s scientists swooning over its laboratories and its museum directors fawning over its warehouses. But students are by no means drooling over this town’s first sliver of the Ivy League, which is a train ride away from central campus.

The 137-acre campus may be “a big backyard to play in,” as the dean of the Yale School of Art put it, but for Yale’s undergraduates, it may not matter all that much.

In interviews this semester, science faculty and administrators alike talked in sweeping terms about how the West Campus could transform Yale’s research endeavors. But they were far less certain — and sometimes even contradicted each other — about how the sprawling facility here could play a role in the lives of Eli undergraduates a generation from now.

Don’t call it a science campus.

While it is the 550,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratories that have inspired Yale’s science faculty, administrators insist the West Campus will not merely be an extension of Science Hill.

“The West Campus will be Yale University, and it will represent the whole spectrum of academic activities that take place at Yale,” Provost Andrew Hamilton said in a recent interview.

Hamilton, the Benjamin Silliman Professor of Chemistry, repeated the point several times.

“It won’t be just a science campus,” he said. “It will be Yale University. A destination. A place where people will go for many aspects of the academic mission of the institution.”

Hamilton and other administrators gave several examples. The warehouse space here seems perfect for housing the valuable collections of Yale’s museums and galleries. The Oyster River and accompanying wetlands on the property have piqued the interest of the University’s ecologists, too.

“This is not going to be an overflow campus,” Hamilton said. “This is not going to be a place where we shove things. It’s going to be a place where exciting, vibrant, cutting-edge work is done in different parts of our academic mission.”

Yet another administrator praised the West Campus as a sort of “safety valve” for a time when central campus runs out of space. Another official lauded the West Campus as the answer to Yale’s problems when the University “runs out of room here” in New Haven.

And as viewed on a tour of the West Campus last month, the facilities here radiate science. Walls of conference rooms are lined with plaques commemorating different scientific patents developed by Bayer scientists at the facility. Hallways contain eye-wash stations. And aside from the laboratories, the complex resembles nothing other than a suburban business park.

As the dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Robert A.M. Stern ARCH ’65, put it recently: “It’s a collection of buildings that aren’t pretty.”

In other words, it is hard to imagine the West Campus as just another part of Yale — at least based on expectation of a world of neo-Gothic opulence. But administrators vow they will fight that conception of the campus.

“We don’t want it to become a ghetto of any one particular discipline,” Stern said.

But aside from a class or two visiting the collections to be stored in the warehouses here, or an eager pre-med student working as a lab assistant in his spare time, most administrators do not envision undergraduates wandering through the rolling hills of the campus here anytime soon.

The biggest reason that undergraduates are not expected to flock here, administrators said, is a matter of simple logistics: Getting to the West Campus is not exactly as easy as strolling up Prospect Street.

Given the distance — the site here is a solid 10-minute drive from downtown New Haven, not accounting for exceptional traffic — holding classes on the West Campus would be all but impossible, according to Marichal Gentry, the dean of student affairs.

“[A class taught there] would have to be a seminar that lasts three or four hours,” he said. “Why go out there for an hour when you have to be back on campus?”

Other administrators agreed. Hamilton, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern and University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said they did not see the West Campus becoming a major locus for undergraduates — apart from classes visiting the museum collections — in the near future.

So agreed University President Richard Levin; the West Campus will see graduate students working in laboratories, Levin said in a recent interview, and undergraduates interested in the research being conducted here will have opportunities to work as lab assistants.

“But we don’t intend at this moment to start undergraduate classes,” he said.

Nevertheless, some professors interviewed seemed less clear about how the West Campus could fit into the lives of future undergraduates.

“New courses are envisioned that will take advantage of the impressive infrastructure on site,” said one chemistry professor involved in brainstorming for the West Campus.

“The presence of a state-of-the-art, 250-plus-seat auditorium currently there is a big bonus,” the professor added confidently. “I would not be surprised to see additional classroom space being developed in the short term.”

If nothing else, the professor was correct in his praise of the auditorium. With its plush seats and wide aisles, it is more comfortable than any of Yale’s existing lecture halls, hands down.

But that might not outweigh the inconvenience of having to take a train to class.

For this reason, the West Campus will be an appendage to the rest of the University, connected to Yale’s main campus by a single thread: transportation.

Currently, all that bridges the gap between Yale and the West Campus is a simple shuttle service running by appointment only. Within several years, the University will offer a continuous shuttle service, with the hope that the state will eventually approve the construction of a train station on the southern corner of West Campus, said Janet Lindner, the associate vice president for administration.

But the process will be slow. The first researchers will not move here until this summer, and the laboratories will fill up over years and years as the University fundraises to support new research at the site and hires new scientists to work here.

“We’re not going to fill up the West Campus immediately,” Hamilton said. “We’re not going to rush. We’re going to take our time.”

Still, according to Lindner, the now-empty West Campus — its laboratories yearning for life — may eventually host as many as 2,000 faculty, students, researchers and staff.

Currently, the campus is eerily desolate, functioning with only its “core” necessities: a utility plant, security and building and warehouse operations. Without specifying any time frame, Lindner said the University intends to attract individuals to the campus until it reaches a critical mass — roughly 300-400 employees — when it could open the shuttered dining hall on the campus, for instance, according to a project manager here, Lisa Maloney.

Once it reaches this critical mass, the campus will begin to come to life. At that time, the University will offer a regular shuttle service, Lindner said.

And while the commute here is now a harrowing slingshot down Interstate 95, administrators see that changing one day.

Since the 1990s, Orange and West Haven have sought a train station to be built near the border between the two towns, allowing local residents to make use of the Metro-North commuter rail service.

Conveniently, the planned train station — to be located in Orange — will sit just adjacent to the south edge of the West Campus, only yards away from Yale’s newest treasure. One day, it could connect the West Campus not only to New Haven but to New York City and Boston.

According to Orange’s first selectman, James Zeoli, the plans for the train station remain on the drawing board. But for now, it still awaits approval from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, as well as state lawmakers.

“It’s moving along a little slower than I would like, quite honestly,” Zeoli said. “It’s a couple years out unless we can get Yale to reach up to [state legislators in] Hartford and push them a little quicker.”

The delay may not mean much. Administrators stressed that the West Campus will not develop overnight. Rather, top Yale officials and faculty members throughout the University have spent the entire academic year meeting regularly to brainstorm potential uses of the sprawling campus.

Visitors to the gated entrance here are already greeted by a West Campus sign in Yale’s trademark typeface. But beyond the aesthetics, administrators are still grappling with how exactly Yale will take shape years from now as both a world of 14 colleges and campuses in two towns.

“The biggest issues,” Stern said, “have to be tackled over time: What departments are appropriate there? What is the day-to-day relationship between the West Campus and the central campus?”

The answers will not come easily.

“Students complain about walking to Science Hill from [Sterling Memorial Library]; we are a very urban place,” he added. “So what the relationship between these campuses will be is not clear.”

But the promise held by the West Campus is undeniable. Tucked beyond Exit 41, it also offers acres upon acres of developable land beyond the 1.5 million square feet of laboratories, storage space and offices.

Yale administrators discuss the West Campus as a place — as Allston is to Harvard — that may not fully come into its own for as much as a half-century. But in that time, New Haven may be very different: The vice president for New Haven affairs and campus development, Bruce Alexander, says he sees the city as much more intensely developed, and also benefiting from a much-improved transportation system better linking it to the surrounding region.

He, too, said it was unlikely to see teaching space developed on the West Campus in the near future. But he would not rule it out for generations to come.

“Just having this piece of land out there could be very important to the University 50 years from now,” Alexander said. “At least we have the option; if it’s needed, it’s there — and I think this will be an important legacy for the future.”