Faculty members and students have lodged hundreds of complaints about facility shortcomings at the Yale Science Building — a $283 million investment that opened its doors last summer after years of construction.

Faculty members in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department moved to YSB starting last summer. According to an Excel sheet obtained by the News, faculty within the MCDB Department have compiled over 160 complaints about YSB since late September. The document was started by MCDB Chair Vivian Irish to monitor progress made by construction teams on high-priority issues faculty found with the building. Faculty stopped updating the sheet around winter break, but many of the low- to medium-priority concerns remain unchanged.

The Excel sheet details issues that range from irregular trash pickup times to a lack of shelving space and faulty temperature regulations. But the most pressing matter for many faculty members is the lack of emergency power outlets in their lab spaces — a preventative measure that could have saved months of research lost in KBT.

MCDB professor Nadya Dimitrova said her lab on the second floor of YSB only has two emergency power outlets that provide constant power to her team’s equipment — including sub-zero freezers — in the event of a blackout. She said she requested Yale to provide at least seven more outlets to adequately cover her team’s equipment, but administrative response has been practically nonexistent.

“I have NEVER received any official communications that my request has been acknowledged, whether it will be fulfilled, or when it will be fulfilled,” she wrote in an email to the News.

The News provided a copy to University Associate Provost for Research James Slattery. Slattery said the list of complaints was “a mix of ‘punch list’ items that were completed and changes requested after the move that have not been completed.” It remains unclear if the University administrators had access to the Excel sheet prior to last week. According to a professor who requested anonymity in fear of retribution from the administration, Irish requested faculty members to report unsolved problems to administrators around a month ago.

Slattery, who led efforts to move faculty into YSB, added that for faculty members who requested alternate power during the design phase, his team made sure such accommodations were “available … when they moved in.”

He said that he has received a “substantial” number of requests since YSB was built — including some related to alternate power — and that his team is currently working through them.

“YSB is a particularly large project and the result is a greater number of requests which we continue to work through,” Slattery wrote in an email to the News. “That process requires understanding their costs and planning for their execution — including a timeline.”

Slattery did not answer questions about when faculty members’ facility requests will be addressed. Professors interviewed by the News said this lack of clarity only increases their frustration. Even though MCDB professor Valerie Horsley said administrators told her emergency power was forthcoming, she wrote in an email to the News that she does not have “any concrete information” on when this would happen.

Aside from the alleged power problems, other gripes listed in the document include unerasable whiteboards, a lack of autoclave waste bins and no cell service in certain rooms.

According to the spreadsheet, the time it took for complaints to be resolved ranged from days to weeks. In one instance, a leak in an incubator — marked “high” priority on the spreadsheet and first reported on Sept. 22 — was fixed exactly a month later. In another case, a power outlet issue in G123A took three days to resolve. Still, dozens of entries had not been reported “fixed.”

In response to the complaints, University Provost Scott Strobel wrote in an email to the News that a faculty committee approved detailed plans for YSB and that individual professors also made specific requests.

“Any large capital project like this will result in a list of adjustments after the space is occupied and actually used,” Strobel wrote. “That is true in this case as it is in all such projects. We are now working through those requests, understanding their costs and developing a plan and a schedule.”

Other faculty members involved with the construction of YSB echoed Strobel and explained that issues like the ones facing YSB commonly occur with most new construction projects.

He said that the University will carry the “lessons learned” from YSB forward in future construction projects. Two new faculty committees will provide direction for the new Physical Science and Engineering Building, according to Strobel. The building is slated to open in 2026.

University President Peter Salovey held an opening ceremony for YSB on Oct. 29 and praised Yale’s history of scientific discovery. He specifically highlighted YSB’s Marsh Lecture Hall which he hopes will inspire researchers and donors alike.

“In a hundred years, when people look back to this moment, they will see that this is when we put a stake in the ground, and identified — reaffirmed — our aspirations in scientific research and education at Yale,” Salovey told the crowd. “And they will see that this building played a vital role in fulfilling our shared vision to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery at Yale in order to benefit the lives of people around the globe.”

MCDB professor Joel Rosenbaum, who has worked at KBT since it was built in the 1960s, praised YSB’s impressive cafeteria menu and “excellent” community spaces. But he stated that the amenities do not make up for the fact that the University needs to invest more in the faculty itself.

“President Salovey is fond of saying that the new YSB construction will herald in an entire new era in the biological sciences at Yale. I beg to differ,” he wrote in an email to the News. “The quality of research science at Yale, or any other places, is directly proportional to the quality of its faculty; the new YSB is housing the same faculty, by and large, as KBT, and bright new buildings do not [necessarily] improve research endeavors.”

Rosenbaum also complained to the News about a lack of space and privacy — calling the labs “barnlike” and reminiscent of Walmart.

Four researchers told the News that scientists sport sweaters and scarves to keep warm in the building’s long, white and often noisy corridors. And the over 280,000-square-foot building distributed space in such a way that some senior professors were left cramped while others experienced a refreshing amount of room.

For faculty and graduate students whose research was stunted by the April 2019 blackout in KBT and further jolted by the move to YSB, these complaints — and the administration’s allegedly slow response to them — can seem frustrating. But compared to KBT, which will house the Astronomy and Mathematics departments, among others, after extensive renovations, several faculty members told the News that YSB marks a dramatic improvement.

YSB, Slattery wrote, is “already having a positive impact on our research faculty.”

“It is wonderful to see it opening doors to new areas of research. We worked hard with a dedicated faculty committee to design and implement their vision which has been largely realized,” he told the News. “As we do with all our research spaces, we will continue to work with our faculty to advance their research and that includes doing work that was requested upon arriving in newly completed space.”

Construction for the Yale Science Building began in 2017 with the demolition of J.W. Gibbs Laboratory, which had stood since 1955.

 

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu