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How to spend $17 million

New Yale president Peter Salovey ’86PhD celebrated his inauguration this past weekend with a block party in front of his future home on Hillhouse Avenue. The ice cream and fried dough were free. The renovation of the President's House at 43 Hillhouse? That's a different story.

When we reported last month on the renovation's $17 million price tag, some of our readers expressed disbelief.

"Sounds like the defense department is doing the renovation," one commenter wrote. Another posted: "Has to be a typo. Decimal missing?"

No, it's not a mistake in any sense of the word, Provost Ben Polak assures us by e-mail. The project—which began this summer, will be finished in about a year, and is funded entirely through donations—has been planned for years. Yale actually scaled back the project, Polak says, "to ensure that its cost is comparable to the cost of renovating other similar historic structures on the Yale campus (for example, the SOM finance center at 46 Hillhouse or Warner House at 1 Hillhouse)."

So how can it be so expensive? At a cost of about $810 per square foot, wouldn't it be cheaper to tear the building down and put up a new one?

Polak declines to provide "detailed capital project costs," but he does offer some additional information about the project.

The first thing to know is about the building itself: while called a house, the 142-year-old structure is nearly 21,000 square feet, with only the top floor serving as a residence. (With his wife, Marta Moret ’84MPH, Salovey will be the first Yale president to live there full-time since A. Bartlett Giamatti 60, ’64PhD, in the 1980s.) Most of the building serves as a gathering place for official functions.

Second is the magnitude of the project.

"This is not a question of just slapping on a new coat of paint," Polak writes. "It is a comprehensive structural and mechanical renovation" of a building "that has not had any significant upgrades since the 1930s," when Yale acquired it.

"The changes are necessary," the provost continues, "for the safety, security, and accessibility of a structure that hosts hundreds of events and thousands of Yale guests year round, every year—large annual receptions for incoming or graduating students, faculty gatherings, more intimate parties or sit down dinners for important visitors to campus, advisory council meetings, and so forth."

Major elements of the project include, in Polak's words:

* Creating a handicap access exterior entrance ramp (currently, the building is not wheelchair accessible at code levels)

* Creating handicap accessible restrooms for the building’s public spaces

* Constructing and structurally reinforcing an elevator shaft within the building to allow installation of an elevator and necessary mechanical systems (also for accessibility)

* Installing state-of-the-art security and fire systems which are essential not only for the art collection typically housed in the building, but also to accommodate VIP guests who stay in the house from time to time (for example, Tony Blair when he was prime minister or George W. Bush [’68] when he was president)

* Removing and replacing all 1930s era electrical wiring

* Converting the ancient heating system to hot water from steam (which means removing and replacing all radiators and all the supply and return piping)

* Replacing the steam boiler with a high efficiency hot water boiler

* Repairing structural and decorative plaster damaged by previous roof leaks

* Creating new office and storage space in the basement of the building to accommodate storage of public space furniture when the house is set up for large public events

* Installing central air conditioning on the first two floors (which entails creating and installing a duct system within the existing structure constraints)

* Installing ductless air conditioning systems on the top two floors

Filed under President's House, construction
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