Michael Marsland

As planning for the construction of the Schwarzman Center enters its final stage, administrators are moving to realize their vision for the center — which will include performance spaces, dining options and a bar — as a focal point for campus life.

Two weeks ago, architects and engineers began drafting detailed documents for the Schwarzman Center as part of the third and final stage of the design  process, said Associate Vice President for Facilities John Bollier. Yale is also searching for an executive director capable of making the center “a central gathering space that can serve as a locus — and a catalyst — for students … to interact with one another,” as University President Peter Salovey said when he announced the project in May 2015. With blueprints nearing completion, the University’s vision for the center is crystallizing two and half years before its opening in spring 2020.

“The goal is for there to be a place that is very welcoming for students all across campus, whether you’re living in one of the residential colleges, if you’re living off campus, if you’re a graduate student or a professional student,” said Vice President for Global Strategy and Deputy Provost for International Affairs Pericles Lewis, to whom the executive director of the Schwarzman Center will report.

According to Lewis, the new center will feature galleries for student art, a dance studio and rehearsal spaces, as well as a large area that can accommodate a thousand people for professional and student performances. Smaller congregating spaces will serve student groups for events such as poetry readings and improv shows, and elevators will make the space accessible to people with disabilities. A bistro on the lower level will serve coffee and snacks, and a dining hall on the main level will offer extended meal hours. In addition to serving lunch to approximately 900 people, as Commons did, the Center will include a new bar, called The Grotto, which will serve alcoholic drinks.

The new bar venue, recommended by an advisory committee for the Schwarzman Center in a 2015 report, is part of an effort to make the Schwarzman Center a place for graduate and professional school students to congregate. In the report, the committee recommended that the space be repurposed for the arts and remain open year-round to accommodate graduate students who live in New Haven. Given its location, Lewis said he hoped the Center would allow socialization across schools with activities open to all of Yale’s students.

Last year, the Schwarzman Center hosted a series of events designed to establish the space as a hub of student life even before construction begins. Designed to highlight the space’s potential as a cultural and artistic center, the series included a multi-course dinner event, a jazz showcase and a celebration of the music of David Bowie and Prince.

Still, many members of the Yale community remain unconvinced of the new center’s usefulness. According to a recent News survey, only 14 percent of faculty think the construction of the Schwarzman Center is a good use of money.

But Lewis emphasized that the University hopes the Schwarzman Center will be filled with students “at all hours of the day and night.”

Lewis chairs the committee that is leading the search for an executive director for the Schwarzman Center. According to an online job listing, the new executive director will plan the center’s “strategic vision” for programming and operations. The job listing also emphasizes that the executive director will serve as a liaison to Stephen Schwarzman himself — the man whose name the center will bear and whose $150 million donation will pay for its construction — regularly reporting the center’s challenges and activities directly to the Blackstone Group founder and his staff.

In addition to operational, managerial and fundraising tasks, the executive director will be responsible for designing an “institutional branding campaign” for the Schwarzman Center, according to the job listing.

The University hired Pentagram, the same company that branded the 2011 capital campaign Yale Tomorrow and designed promotional posters for the School of Architecture, to develop a brand identity for the Schwarzman Center. The firm created an exclamation mark logo, in which the Center’s iconic rotunda is the dot, as “an attention-getting symbol” to advertise the inaugural series of events at the Schwarzman Center last year.

But despite the marketing campaign, several students interviewed by the News were still largely unaware of the Schwarzman Center’s new amenities and, for that matter, its purpose. Justin Katz ’18 knew only that the basement was being redesigned.

Graduate students interviewed by the News expressed excitement for the new social space. Mohit Manohar GRD ’20 said that graduate students across departments lack a place to convene. Though the Hall of Graduate Studies used to fill that need, the space is now often quiet and unfrequented, he added. The McDougal Center, the former home of graduate and professional student life, relocated to Founders Hall this fall to serve as an interim space during the renovations of the Hall of Graduate Studies.

As a violinist, Nichole Nelson GRD ’20, a graduate student in the history department, noted that Yale lacks performance facilities for musicians on campus. While she was glad the new spaces in the Schwarzman Center will fill a need for students who practice the performing arts, she questioned the need for another bar catered to graduate students, given the existence of Gryphon’s Pub at GPSCY. The bar, located in a repurposed fraternity house, serves drinks and offers entertainment for graduate and professional students six nights a week. Students can also rent out spaces in the building for public and private events.

With Commons out of commission and the dining hall at the Hall of Graduate Studies closed for renovation, the construction of the Schwarzman Center has already been an inconvenience, Nelson emphasized.

“You spend $150 million dollars and you’re inconveniencing students in the meantime,” Nelson said. “I really wish Yale could be a bit more savvy in using its resources.”

Several students interviewed by the News said that the center will supply a needed “hang out” space. Sean Lynch ’20 said that, besides Bass Café, students lack on campus places to congregate. With the increased student population, Shunhe Wang ’20 said the Schwarzman Center is needed to complement pre-existing spaces with the same artistic and community purposes.

Utility work on the Schwarzman Center will begin at end of 2017 while major construction will begin after Commencement in summer of 2018. AZ Construction and Dimeo Construction initially acted as a joint venture to estimate costs. Now, using the newly created blueprints, Dimeo, the same contractor that worked on the new colleges along Prospect St., will identify sub-contractors in a bid process, which will occur next summer.

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu