Robbie Short

As debate over the naming of the two new residential colleges continues into the fall semester, Yale community members walking up Prospect Street are increasingly faced with an undeniable fact: Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges are no longer just abstract concepts, but physical buildings that could shift the center of campus and alter student life.

Over the coming weeks, University officials plan to announce more details about housing in Franklin and Murray, which are scheduled to open in August 2017. University President Peter Salovey said the colleges are on schedule and on budget, and with the scaffolding removed, the focus of construction has shifted to interior work. And University Provost Benjamin Polak said that with the addition of windows and towers, the construction of the colleges has entered its final stages.

“I don’t anticipate any last minute construction challenges with the residential colleges.  The Yale Facilities team and the construction company are doing a great job,” Polak said. “It is really exciting to see the colleges emerge from the ground and take shape. The buildings are becoming real.  But in the end, for me, this is not about the buildings.  It’s about the students who will live in them… especially the 200 who will arrive next year: what they will be like; what they will do; how they will change the world and, on the way, change Yale.”

Charles Johnson ’54, who donated $250 million toward the new colleges and receives updates from University officials on their construction, told the News that he remains “very happy” that 800 more students will get a Yale education as a result of the project, adding that he will likely donate again to the University.

Over the past couple weeks, the sight of two fast-moving projects on the route to Science Hill has captured the imaginations of students and faculty curious to know more about what life in the colleges will be like.

Charles Bailyn ’81, incoming head of Franklin College, said he and Head of Murray College Tina Lu toured the colleges for the first time last week.

“It’s a little hard to imagine what it will be like with walls and furniture,” Bailyn said. “But there are already starting to be some great little details — each set of bay windows is subtly unique, Franklin and Murray each have different kinds of woodwork and so on. It’s really exciting. I got a real shiver when I first passed through the gate.”

Bailyn said he expects the new colleges to make campus “smaller and more connected” by linking Science Hill to central campus, adding that he aims to ensure that science faculty have more opportunity than they have had in the past to be integrated into undergraduate life.

At the building site, a group of construction workers declined to comment on their progress, citing a confidentiality agreement in their contracts with the University.

Seven students interviewed expressed mixed feelings about the appearance of the colleges, now that their architectural design is no longer obscured by scaffolding. Five said they were excited about the design, and three said they would consider moving into one of the colleges next fall, though the University has yet to reveal details about the transfer process. “I think they’re beautiful,” said Aaron Troncoso ’17. “It’s nice to check up on the progress. Almost daily you can see them adding some section of wall.”

Katerina Toffoloni ’19 — who lives in Timothy Dwight College and said she has not checked on the construction since the semester began — added that the Gothic architecture of its residential colleges is what “makes Yale Yale.”

But not all students agree that Franklin and Murray are visually appealing. In 2008, the University hired Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, who recently retired as dean of the School of Architecture, to design the colleges, signaling an intention to stick with the same Gothic structure of most of the existing colleges.

Fatima Kahbi ’19 told the News she finds the design “bland,” and wishes the University had elected to build the new colleges in a more modern style.

And even among students who don’t mind the Gothic architecture, the prospect of moving into Franklin or Murray still provokes a fair degree of skepticism.

Katia Fridman ’18, who is living off campus this year, said she likes the design of Franklin and Murray, and is glad the colleges will resemble the rest of campus. But she added that the prospect of brand-new facilities will not be enough to lure her back on campus, since she enjoys the privacy of living alone.

Still, as some students shift their attention to the possibility of air conditioning and larger dorms, others remain frustrated that Salovey and the Yale Corporation did not adhere more closely to student opinion when they selected names for the new colleges. Earlier this week, the News confirmed that the Yale Corporation committed to the namesake of Franklin College roughly three years ago at the request of Johnson despite presenting both names as open for discussion to the Yale community.

“I’m a lot less concerned about the architecture of the new colleges than about the administrators,” Sally Weiner ’18 said. “Whether or not there are working chimneys that are on the building isn’t as big of a deal.”

Bailyn said that once the new colleges open, he will focus less on the names of the new colleges and more on creating a welcoming, inclusive residential community.

Salovey announced Johnson’s gift in September 2013.