The Yale Divinity School is going green with new plans to replace its old Canner Street dormitories with an energy-efficient regenerative residential housing complex.
Plans for the $100 million housing project have entered the fundraising stage, according to Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling. If all goes as planned, the buildings will meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, a certification program for only the most sustainable buildings. Residents of the “regenerative village” will be able to live completely off the grid — capturing their own water, generating their own electricity from solar panels and disposing of their own waste.
“We think that this complex of living buildings could challenge the way that all colleges and universities think about residences in the future,” Sterling said.
The new dormitories will consist of 150 individual rooming units and will house single students, students with families and younger faculty members. The building would replace three apartment buildings with a total of 80 units. The buildings were built in 1957 with life expectancies of 40 years each. There are over 200 designated “living buildings” worldwide and an additional 100 currently under construction. However, the Divinity School’s regenerative village would be the world’s largest living building complex, and also the first residential one.
According to Sterling, all of Yale’s buildings abide by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building certification program. LEED buildings are given one of four sustainability ratings: certified, silver, gold or platinum. Most buildings at Yale have gold ratings. Only Kroon Hall, which houses the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, is rated platinum. However, the new residences would far exceed even the platinum efficiency standards set by LEED, making it the most energy-efficient building on Yale’s campus.
Sterling said the Divinity School has already performed a “feasibility study” for the project, which determined that the potential building site on Prospect Street will accommodate all the functions required of a living building complex, including water and snow accumulation, sunlight and a large enough plot of land.
The Divinity School hired another firm to perform an audit and cost analysis of the project and estimated the construction cost at $100 million. The school is now in the process of securing a major gift so that it can develop architectural plans, which it will then use to attract other donations to fund the actual construction of the dormitories.
“The timeline will all depend entirely on funding,” Sterling said.
Nonetheless, Sterling added that the school’s time frame for construction is limited, as the old dormitories need to be replaced in the next few years. Depending on the funding it receives, the Divinity School could build the regenerative village in two phases, beginning with a site where the parking lot across from the Divinity School now lies. The second stage site would run along the top of the Divinity School’s property from the school’s northeast building towards Canner Street.
Director of the Office of Sustainability Ginger Chapman, who is involved with the project, said that though other schools like Williams College and Smith College have extremely sustainable buildings, none are as large as the proposed regenerative village at the Divinity School.
“It would be a remarkable achievement, as it would set the bar for environmental performance in university student housing, and show what is achievable in the realm of the built environment at Yale,” Chapman said.
Peter Wyrsch DIV ’17, secretary of the Divinity School’s student government and a co-coordinator of student environmental group Faith, Ecology, Religion and Spirituality, said the plans for the new buildings were received positively by the student body, especially because the majority of students think that the old dormitories have far outlived their lifespan and that their replacement is a priority.
According to Sterling, these new complexes are a manifestation of the Divinity School’s commitment to promoting sustainability and environmental responsibility within the University and beyond.
“It would be a landmark for Yale University as a whole,” Sterling said.