Renovations of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History will go forward as planned after New Haven’s City Plan Commission approved the museum’s application last month.
Representatives from Yale, including Associate Vice President for New Haven Affairs and University Properties Lauren Zucker and Yale Community Affairs Associate Karen King, presented the renovation plans to the commissioners and gained unanimous approval despite minor complaints about the lack of a cafeteria for visitors. Now, the project is moving into its construction drawing stage with construction itself slated to begin March 2020, according to Carol DeNatale, the project director for the Peabody.
“The Peabody renovation is long overdue and the enthusiasm toward all aspects of the project is contagious,” DeNatale wrote in an email to the News. “We want to preserve the character of the Peabody and pay tribute to the building through a variety of preservation and design techniques.”
Under the renovation plan, the Peabody will gain more exhibition space, bus parking and pedestrian access. Yale will erect a new four-floor, 45,000-gross-square-foot addition to the Science Hill side of the existing museum property. The downstairs area of the addition will consist of classrooms for K-12 learning at the museum, while the upper floors will be reserved for Yale students and researchers. In between, a large exhibition area will increase space for displays by 50 percent.
To increase accessibility for students, three bus pull offs will be added along Sachem Street near a new dedicated group entrance for student groups and other large visiting groups, according to DeNatale. The renovation will also add 54 new bike racks to the site and a terrace that will connect the museum’s Cretaceous area to Science Hill.
Peabody Director David K. Skelly told the News that he was “beyond happy” with the plans approved by the Commission as well as the progress thus far and added that the project is “moving ahead quickly.”
Still, commissioners bemoaned the lack of a public cafeteria in the renovation plans. Instead, the Peabody will continue to place signs that point visitors to the restaurants near Audubon Street and Whitney Avenue, Zucker said at the meeting.
“Children hit metabolic cliffs that happen much faster than the walk to Audubon Street,” said Ward 25 Alder and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand at the meeting. “They’re looking at the polar bear, then 30 seconds later, they’re dying for food, and they’re not gonna make it to Audubon.”
Yet, the concerns did not prove to be hindrances. Now, Centerbrook Architects and Planners, the firm Yale hired for the renovation, is working on the construction drawing phase of the project in conjunction with DeNatale, Yale Major Projects Planner Kristina Chmelar and Reich + Petch, another design agency helping with the exhibition design effort. Until the proposed grand reopening of the museum in the fall of 2023, Yale will have to periodically check in with relevant government authorities to keep the project on budget and on schedule.
“The response to the proposed renovation has been very positive,” King wrote in an email to the News. “We are excited to move forward.”
Like many involved with the project, Skelly expressed his sadness that the museum will be forced to close from March 2020 until 2023. Over that time, the Peabody’s teaching programs will move to West Campus along with many of the Peabody’s collections, according to Skelly. The programs will also travel to local New Haven schools when possible, Skelly added.
The Peabody received a $160 million donation — the largest known gift ever made to a natural history museum in the United States — from Edward P. Bass ’67 for the renovation.
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