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Bio building: it's a living thing

On the same day that a Yale School of Medicine biologist won a Nobel Prize, the university's department of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology (MCDB) got news of its own: a long-delayed new home is back on the drawing boards, with a goal of opening in 2019.

"The Yale Biology Building will allow us not only to replace facilities currently in [Kline Biology Tower] but also to reimagine more broadly the way that we do science at Yale," Provost Ben Polak says in a message to the Yale community. "I know that many in our science community have waited long for this building, some for decades, and were hoping for an earlier start date. But I would rather set a goal I believe we can achieve than set ourselves up for further disappointment and delay."

The announcement drew a mixed review from Sidney Altman, Sterling Professor of Biology and a Nobel laureate himself.

“We have been promised various dates of completion in the past, none of which were fulfilled,” he told the Yale Daily News. “Provost Polak has been concrete in what he plans to do and I hope he will come through on the date for the YBB. Six years from now is a long time.”

Designed by former architecture dean Cesar Pelli and planned for Whitney Avenue just north of the Peabody Museum, the biology building is one of several major projects that Yale put on hold after the financial crash of 2008.

"Restarting this project remains a very high priority because it is a necessary next step for many more renovations on Science Hill," then-President Rick Levin ’74PhD told the Yale Alumni Magazine in May 2012. Once MCDB moves to the new building, he explained, other science departments will use Kline Bio as swing space while their own quarters are renovated.

Back then, Levin said the biology building was part of the "menu" he was presenting to prospective donors. Now, Polak says Yale will borrow money to fund the project—perhaps a sign that the climate for massive gifts is still more tepid than before the crash.

The new debt "will add roughly $26 million of costs to the annual operating budget," Polak writes—"and that is before paying for any new science that the building will contain." An economist like Levin, he adds: "We need to be careful with our budget over the next few years precisely so that we can create room for initiatives like YBB," on which he expects to break ground in February 2017.

In his message, the second recent update on campus building projects, Polak also addresses renovations to the Hall of Graduate Studies.

"The building is in critical need of repair," he writes. "The HGS renovation will have multiple phases that can be spread out or condensed into a shorter time frame depending on our budget situation, and we aim to have it completed by late 2019."

In another possible shift on projects in search of donors, Polak signaled that Yale is willing to trim the scope of its planned new residential colleges.

Even with last week's announcement of a $250 million gift—the biggest in Yale history—from Charles B. Johnson ’54, the two new colleges remain short of their half-billion-dollar cost. "This means that we need to raise the remaining $80 million or reduce the cost of the buildings," Polak writes. "We are working on both approaches with a goal to break ground on the new colleges in February 2015 and complete them by August 2017."

The new colleges—designed by current archictecture dean Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch for a triangle of land along Prospect Street between the Grove Street Cemetery and Ingalls Rink—will allow Yale College to expand by about 800 students, to 6,000 undergraduates.

Filed under biology, Ben Polak, construction
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