Nearly seven years after the global financial crisis put a halt to construction on a new Yale Biology Building, the University has scrapped previous plans for the building — along with the millions of dollars already spent in architectural designs and site preparation — and opted to move the building to another location.
For a decade, construction on the YBB, slated to replace the 50-year-old Kline Biology Tower, has been mired in a series of delays and false-starts. Formal plans for the revised biology building design were approved in 2007, but in early 2008, roughly two weeks before breaking ground on a revised YBB structure on the Whitney Avenue Lot 22 parking lot, the University postponed construction due to the international financial crisis.
Instead, the building, set to be completed in August 2019, will likely be constructed in the footprint of the soon-to-be demolished Gibbs Laboratory on Science Hill.
The changes to the proposed location and design of the long-delayed building, which were announced at a faculty meeting last month, have been heralded by the administration as an improvement that moves the building closer to other science departments. But the new plans have also spurred debate, with some faculty remaining in favor of the original 2007 plan.
“We always knew we would put down the Gibbs building, so it is crazy not to do it now, and it is particularly crazy to not do it now since constructing a building in the [Lot 22] parking lot and then pulling down the Gibbs building afterwards would be very difficult,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “There are other reasons for doing this, but that, itself, would have been enough of a reason.”
Constructed in 1955, Gibbs Laboratory has been slated for demolition for some time because of its aging infrastructure. It currently houses physics laboratories and the astronomy department.
Associate Provost for Sciences and Technology Jim Slattery confirmed that it is “highly unlikely” that the University would return to the 2007 plan.
Still, some faculty have expressed support for the pre-recession location and design. Former chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Building Committee Thomas Pollard — who also served as dean of the Graduate School from 2010 until last summer — said while the new plans had advantages, the 2007 plan included a flexible design that was ideal for MCDB, and a clear outline for relocating different departments across the University. These characteristics have yet to be formally outlined in the new site.
Pollard said he was not involved in the decision to construct the new building on the Gibbs site in place of the 2007 plan, which he said he and his colleagues spent roughly five years designing. He added that the new design has yet to incorporate assessments of faculty members’ current and future needs, as was done in 2007, since the new project is still at a “conceptual stage.”
“I have encouraged individuals from Yale planning, and the Provost’s Office to take a careful look at the  YBB plan before making a final decision about the Gibbs [Laboratory plan],” Pollard wrote in an email. “According to what I know, YBB has the capacity for most of what has been proposed for the Gibbs site.”
However, MCDB professor Joel Rosenbaum said that he doubted the current scheduled completion date of 2019 could be met if the University pursued the new project, since the YBB plans for the Gibbs site are still in the preliminary stages.
Polak’s decision to scrap the 2007 plan was not conducted in a transparent way and without the consultation of the faculty, Rosenbaum added, calling the decision by the Provost’s Office “arrogant.”
“They should keep Pollard’s  plan,” Rosenbaum said. “It was situated correctly. [The administration] spent a minimum of $15 million on two sets of plans — and a huge amount of time.”
Still, the provost and other members of the MCDB department argued the updated plans carry unique advantages.
“There is a concern it may have been faster to just go with the old design and build it on the parking lot, but I do think having [YBB] more integrated into Science Hill is better for the department and ambiance on Science Hill,” MCDB professor Scott Holley, who also serves on the YBB building committee, said. “I think the everyone is happy with the updated plan. We mainly just want the building to be built.”
Despite his support for the new project, Holley confirmed that even the building committee, comprised of 10 members of the science faculty, was not consulted in the initial decision to move the site since it was made at a “higher level.”
MCDB Chair Ronald Breaker said the new location will promote greater collaboration among the sciences because it is in closer proximity with other departments on Science Hill.
“Millions of dollars were spent on the previous plan, and while the expenditure for no gain is regrettable, we shouldn’t accept a poorer outcome for Science Hill simply to make good on the expenditure,” Breaker said. “It is a painful decision for many but sets a course for Science Hill that is better for Science Hill.”
Polak said that even with the sunk costs, he is believed that the new building design — including a potential “common cafeteria” for the sciences built on the KBT plaza — will actually be less expensive than the previously proposed project.
He added he was optimistic that the new building could still be constructed in time for the original 2019 completion date.
“The sciences change, so being able to redesign the building allowed a new group of scientists here now to be involved,” Polak said. “Even though we hadn’t planned to do it this way, it’s turned out to be kind of a good thing.””