After years of planning, Yale will start work this fall on the construction of the Schwarzman Center, a $150 million project designed to transform one of the most historic structures on campus into a state-of-the-art student center.
In the coming months, the building process will begin with a series of utilities projects designed to lay the groundwork for the start of major construction next year, according to Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65. Yale is still in the process of finding a construction company to build the Schwarzman Center, which is scheduled to open in the late spring of 2020.
“We had the opportunity to both renovate an iconic building and enhance its usefulness for something that students had been clamoring for for years,” University President Peter Salovey said. “It seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
In 2015, Blackstone Group founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69 donated $150 million to Yale toward the transformation of Commons. The University’s construction plans started to come together last year, when Schwarzman and top Yale officials decided to expand the center to include more than 10,000 square feet of basement space underneath the Hewitt Quadrangle, as well as another 5,400 square feet on the Grove Street side of the complex.
The first round of construction — a series of utility relocations, including the installation of new electrical infrastructure near the southwest corner — will pave the way for underground additions.
That utility work is scheduled to begin at the end of the 2017 calendar year, according to Lauren Zucker, the associate vice president for New Haven affairs and University properties. Major construction will start after Commencement in the summer of 2018.
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As for the post-Commencement stage of the project, the University will construct a three-story addition to Commons in the moat area between the north wall of the complex and the Grove Street sidewalk. Its facade will consist of limestone and glass, with architectural details designed to match the appearance of the original building.
Commons has suffered significant wear and tear since it was built in 1901 to celebrate the University’s bicentennial. Next year, scaffolding will cover the north, south and west sides of the building. Woolsey Hall and Grove Street will remain open, but the parking area adjacent to the project on Grove Street will not be available.
“When I see a blue fence go up around a building or a site, I recognize that short-term inconvenience is going to be followed in almost every case by something beautiful,” Salovey said.
Commons’ closure has translated into a surge in lunchtime traffic in the Silliman College dining hall on the other side of College Street. Last year, Silliman served about 450 people per day during lunch hours, said chef Stu Comen. On Tuesday, it served 617.
“It was crowded,” Comen said. “I haven’t heard too many complaints yet about not having a place to sit, so I’m hoping that holds up, but it’s only our first week, so we’ll have to wait and see. It’s definitely affected me and my crew because it’s a lot more work.”
To reduce waiting time, Comen thinks slight menu changes are in order. The food won’t change substantially, but Comen said he will adjust preparation methods to maximize efficiency and speed up the line, which stretched across the serving area on Tuesday. He said he hopes to meet soon with Yale Hospitality administrators to hammer out the details of those changes.
Schwarzman’s gift to Yale was the second-largest donation in the University’s history.
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