In the basement of the newly renamed Schwarzman Center, which currently hosts “totally hideous” storage rooms and the occasional cockroach, a much different future is being imagined: a naturally lit space suited for studying, socializing and even nursing a drink at an underground pub.
Kimberly Goff-Crews, University secretary and vice president for student life, enumerated those possibilities on a recent tour of the space. The basement’s facelift is just one element of the pending renovation of Commons and Memorial Hall made possible by a $150 million gift from private equity magnate Stephen Schwarzman ’69. Other plans include repurposing the area outside the second-floor President’s Room and a reclamation of the domed third-floor room where the Yale Banner, the University yearbook, has historically operated.
In total, 87,000 square feet are available for renovation, although some of the space may be off-limits for mechanical reasons.
[media-credit name=”Wa Liu” align=”alignnone” width=”640″][/media-credit]The plans are provisional, subject to a several-month process of brainstorming, forming recommendations and acquiring administrative approval. The Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee will seek student input on the center’s design over the next month and will then present a report of recommendations to University President Peter Salovey by Thanksgiving. The Yale Corporation has final say over the physical changes.
The basement will likely see the most change. It is currently used for food storage and preparation for Commons dining hall, and much space has been left empty by the transfer of Yale Bakery and Catering — which used to operate in the basement as well — to the Culinary Support Center and other facilities. Many rooms are unfinished. Parts of the floor are damaged by pipes that run underneath, and cockroaches scuttle in some of the darker corners.
“It looks like a dungeon,” Director of Residential Dining Operations Bob Sullivan said on the tour, pointing to the pockmarked walls.
Possibilities Goff-Crews mentioned for the refurbished basement include constructing an underground pub or enclosing an area in glass windows to allow natural light to illuminate a cafe-style setup.
Commons will remain a dining hall — a source of relief for the many students who have worried that the beloved lunch spot will be a casualty of the large-scale renovations. But Goff-Crews noted that the buffet model of serving food may change to a more grab-and-go model like that of Bass Cafe, as the original kitchens were built with a plate-service model in mind and are not well-suited to buffets.
The dining space will also likely be multifunctional, with tables cleared out at times to create performance space. Large screens may be installed to allow for movie screenings and televised presentations.
Some of the improvements will be aesthetic. Cleaning the windows in Commons, for example, will allow for improved lighting and appreciation of the detailed woodwork and architecture, Goff-Crews said.
[media-credit name=”Wa Liu” align=”alignnone” width=”640″][/media-credit]On the second floor, the President’s Room — one of the only air-conditioned rooms in the building — will likely be retained for administrative purposes but may incorporate other programming as well. On the third floor, the high-ceilinged room historically used by the Yale Banner will be reclaimed for general use.
Open space is a recurring theme in plans for the Center, as students have voiced their desire for more rehearsal and performance spaces, Goff-Crews said.
The plans will become clearer over the course of the next month as the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee holds a series of open meetings with various constituencies across the University, including students, extracurricular organizations, administrators and alumni. September will be “the most aggressive moment” of soliciting feedback, according to Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway.
“[The Center will be a] beautiful example of how form can fit function,” said Skyler Ross ’16, one of four undergraduates on the committee. “As we identify function, the goal is to develop a space that’s actually useful to this community.”