After more than a year under scaffolding, Ezra Stiles College reopened its doors last week, bringing 13 years of residential college renovations to a close.
As many Stiles students celebrated their college’s new dining hall and brighter atmosphere, University President Richard Levin said the completion of the renovation puts the University’s undergraduate housing on a new level — elevated above peer institutions. The refurbishment of all 12 residential colleges took years of planning and cost approximately $500 million when adjusted for inflation, Levin said.
“It’s really quite thrilling to have completed this entire cycle,” he said. “There’s no question now that we have the best residential facilities in the country for our students.”
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STILES OPENS TO PRAISE
The yearlong renovation of the final college brought a number of changes: Stiles now shares a large basement space, The Crescent Underground, with its neighbor Morse, and boasts facilities such as a recording studio, a digital media room, an art room and a theater. Students in Stiles now live in suite-style housing, a change from the single rooms that previously set the college apart from most others at Yale.
Stiles Master Stephen Pitti, who lived in Stiles as an undergraduate at Yale, said one of the major aims of the renovation was to increase the sense of community and bring more common space to the college.
“The entire college feels connected and part of a much more vibrant whole with Morse College,” he said.
Pitti said initial plans for the renovation began over five years ago and took into account suggestions from Stiles students. Students were overwhelmingly in support of a shift to suite-style housing, he added.
Several students interviewed said the changes in the dining hall was their favorite part of the renovated building, specifically citing the addition of a brick pizza oven. Others noted the college’s new furniture and improved lighting. Jon Rubin ’12 said the renovated Stiles is “definitely a step up” from the college he lived in two years ago.
Although students interviewed were largely positive about the results of the renovations, a few said the complicated architecture of the college, which, along with Morse, was designed in 1961 by modern architect Eero Saarinen ARC ’34, still makes navigating the building difficult. Jennifer Fung ’12 said the renovations have made the college feel more secure, as students must “go through like three doors to get anywhere now.”
Though Morse and Stiles are not always the most popular colleges among incoming Yalies, some Stilesians said they think the renovations will help improve their college’s reputation.
“The renovations really make people rethink the traditional view of Stiles and Morse,” Sanket Karuri ’13 said. “Fewer prefrosh will cry when they get that letter in July.”
A LONG ROAD
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Despite the modern furniture and state of the art facilities in Ezra Stiles today, just 13 years ago all 12 residential colleges faced crumbling infrastructure and lack of funding. In the late 1980s, less than 30 years after Ezra Stiles and Morse were built, then-University President Benno Schmidt decided that the school’s failing physical plant was desperately in need of attention, and Yale began the task of collecting funds to start renovations on the colleges and across campus.
Even with the most recent economic downturn, Levin said it is unlikely that the colleges will ever again enter a similar period of disrepair. Since 2003, the University has set aside an average of 2.7 percent of the buildings’ replacement costs each year from the operating budget to save for future repairs — known as the “capital replacement charge.” Using this fund, Levin said, the next round of full-scale renovations will begin in approximately 40 years. In 15-20 years, he added, the colleges will likely undergo interim renovations.
“You want to keep these buildings in great shape,” Levin said. “We let it go 60 years before … that was too long.”
In an article published in the News on September 18, 1996, then-Vice President for Finance Joseph Mullinix said the first four colleges to be renovated — Berkeley, Branford, Saybrook and Timothy Dwight — were set to receive $30 million dollar “face-lifts.” The University said it planned to borrow $40 million in the following four years to fund the projects and supplement alumni donations.
In the past 13 years, the costs of each renovation have grown with inflation, Levin said, averaging around $55 million per college in today’s dollars. The renovations of Silliman College, completed in 2007, cost upwards of $100 million.
And as the renovations have gone on, the percentage of costs supported by donors has dwindled, Levin said. In total, he estimated that between 25 and 30 percent of the costs were covered by gifts to the University.
“We raised a very large fraction of the gifts for the first few colleges and a diminishing fraction later on,” Levin said. “Partially because I think donors thought the process was underway and was going to happen without them.”
Though the price tags on the colleges have increased, Levin said the renovations have improved over time, adding that the University learned how to customize facilities according to students’ preferences. For example, multi-purpose rooms in the basements disappeared and were replaced by more popular theaters.
Ezra Stiles and Morse, which both opened in 1962, were the last two residential colleges to be built.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the college was opened in 1961. Its construction was completed that year, but Stiles was not opened until 1962.