In conversations about the new Schwarzman Center, Yale administrators and students are coming to a consensus on how to best utilize the space: Small, currently unused rooms on the first, second and third floors of Commons should be for students, not storage.
During the first of two open house sessions, Senior Counselor to the President and Provost Linda Lorimer presented a vision of the Schwarzman Center on Tuesday that would turn many of the small rooms on either side of the Commons dining area into spaces for studying or small group meetings. The open house is the first stop in a series of “listening tours” organized by the Schwarzman Advisory Committee — a 27-member group of students, faculty and staff convened at the request of University President Peter Salovey — to solicit student feedback. Over the next 10 days, presentations similar to those made during the open house will take place in all the residential college dining halls. Both Yale students and members of the advisory committee said there is a lot of wasted space in the Schwarzman Center that most Yale students never get to see.
“There is so much that could be done with the space that isn’t being done right now,” said Amy Nichols ’19, who went on the tour because she wanted to see the spaces before any renovations are made.
One such space, the “Dome Room” on the third floor of the Woolsey Rotunda, is a cavernous chamber that was never completed with the rest of the building in 1901 and is used to house the offices of the Yale Banner. Lorimer called the third floor of the center a “gem” with the potential to be used for something unique. Peeling paint, broken tiles and piles of dusty boxes pervade the Dome Room and many of the small side rooms throughout the center.
“It’s this magnificent room … almost like the Pantheon,” said Yale College Council President Joe English ’17 in a promotional video about the center.
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Storage is also serious issue for Commons, where the long wooden tables and heavy chairs are cleared and stored with great difficulty and at a high price. By switching to furniture that occupies a smaller space when stored, Yale could turn many more storage rooms into spaces for student activities, said Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian.
While the President’s Room in the Woolsey Rotunda is frequently used for meetings and events, the second floor holds several other rooms that are in greater disrepair. For instance, the Secretary’s Room, across the hall from the President’s Room, is a poorly lit meeting space with a view of Beinecke Plaza. Lorimer and Director of Residential Dining Operations Bob Sullivan said spaces like these should be renovated.
“Great view,” said Sullivan, peering out the window onto Beinecke Plaza. “A lot of pigeons.”
Another underutilized space is The Squire’s Room, located at the far end of Commons on the first floor, and occupied by extra salad bars, stovetops and wooden partitions. Lorimer called other Yale Dining food preparation and storage rooms below the main floor of Commons a “rabbit warren of spaces that can be cleared out.”
Lorimer stressed that the Schwarzman Center will not detract from the original architecture of the century-old building, while also adding space for student use. The brickwork, stained-glass windows and wood embellishments around Commons will remain, and the dining hall will continue to serve lunch. The Schwarzman Center may, however, add new technologies like video screens and audio systems to the outdated structure.
“Mr. Schwarzman is keenly interested in a lot of technology,” Lorimer said.
The Schwarzman donation is meant to change the function and facilities of the building, not alter the overall appearance, Lorimer said, adding that Yalies have a strong sense of loyalty to Commons which should be preserved. The war memorial on the rotunda’s inside walls will be cleaned and restored during the renovations.
The University will also host an open house today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.