Yale’s plan to convert dormitories in the Hall of Graduate Studies to a center for the humanities received final approval from City Hall last night, despite some skepticism on the part of city staff and political leaders about the University’s proposal.
The City Plan Commission unanimously voted on Tuesday night to allow Yale to proceed with the conversion of HGS at 320 York St. Provided the University works out technical details with city staffers, the project is expected to break ground in June 2018 and be completed by July 2020.
Members of the City Plan Commission stipulated that they be in attendance when the University confers with city staff about the plan’s construction technicalities, so that they can hear details that the University did not have on hand during the meeting. These concerns include the effect the project will have on the city’s water table and how Yale plans to remove 20,000 cubic yards of excavation materials from a gated building.
“This is really an enormous … this is not a small undertaking,” City Plan Commission Chairman Edward Mattison LAW ’68 said. “And if it’s going to have a big effect on a substantial piece of the city, then I think the more [people] to think about it the better.”
The construction process will restore the walls, roofs and windows of the building and convert housing into academic space. Since Yale does not have a single home for its humanities departments, the conversion will provide a centralized location for those disciplines, said Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven affairs and University Properties.
With Yale’s graduate student housing moving from HGS to 272 Elm St., which is slated to open at the same time HGS begins renovation in summer 2018, the conversion project will leave HGS without a dining hall. Plans for the 272 Elm St. complex do not include a dining hall to replace the one at HGS. Rather, it will provide kitchenettes to students in their apartments.
Over the summer, the project was delayed at least two times at the Board of Alder’s discretion. Ward 8 Alder and Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 voted against the request for unanimous consent at an Aug. 7 Board of Alders meeting. At the following aldermanic meeting on Sept. 5, the board passed over the resolution that would allow the conversion of HGS without requiring an amendment to the University’s overall parking plan, which sets guidelines for the parking spaces built on Yale property.
Finally, at the Sept. 18 Board of Alders meeting, the resolution was brought up and received no objection from Greenberg or the other alders. Initially concerned that a 300-seat lecture and 100-seat screening room would have a negative impact on parking and traffic in the city, Greenberg said the University assured him that the conversion would not require an amendment to Yale’s parking plan.
Yale narrowly escaped another delay on Tuesday night, when City Engineer Giovanni Zinn ’05, city plan staffers and commissioners considered halting the project and requiring the University to return for another meeting.
“We will not give you a building permit unless we feel comfortable that you are adequately protecting the waters of the city,” Zinn said. “I think it’s easier for all of us if you would’ve had [those details] tonight.”
An attorney representing the University said the nature of the project is responsible for the lack of details.
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