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Recession Halts Yale Construction Projects

January 22, 2009

By C. J. Hughes

At Yale, construction of a new 246,000-square-foot business school designed by Foster + Partners

As the ongoing recession eviscerates college endowments, even at those schools whose investment gains during the boom years were legendary, it is stalling ambitious construction projects.

One recent casualty is Yale. The Ivy League school, which is the nation’s second richest university, lost 25 percent of its endowment over six months, from $22.9 billion to $17 billion, and so has shelved multiple plans for new buildings and renovations, many involving brand-name architects.

Construction of a new 246,000-square-foot business school designed by Foster + Partners, which was to be completed by fall 2011, has been postponed “until funding is secured or market conditions improve,” announced president Richard C. Levin in a December 16 letter to students, faculty, and alumni. He noted, however, that design work for the $150 million, glass-walled building will proceed as scheduled.

Also on hold: a $200 million, 180,000-square foot biology building designed by Cesar Pelli. (His firm’s design replaces an earlier one by Payette Associates and Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, which was scrapped due to concerns about scale.) Construction was supposed to begin early this year and wrap by August 2011.

Yale, which is expected to run a $100 million budget deficit in 2009, and even more in the years following, also has delayed a raft of renovations, such as upgrades to the Swartwout portion of the Yale University Art Gallery, whose bulk was designed by Louis Kahn.

At Yale, construction of a new 246,000-square-foot business school designed by Foster + Partners
Images courtesy Yale

At Yale, construction of a new 246,000-square-foot business school designed by Foster + Partners, which was to be completed by fall 2011, has been postponed.

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Some projects that were under way before the economic crisis accelerated will continue as planned, such as the renovation of Ingalls Rink, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1959. It’s getting new seats, bathrooms, and locker rooms, according to a spokeswoman. Also progressing are upgrades to the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, which will receive new windows, doors, and a rainwater system by 2011. In mid-January, the 240-foot tower of the Depression-era sandstone building, designed by John Russell Pope, was wrapped in scaffolding.

Perhaps the biggest question mark regards the fate of two new residential colleges designed by Robert A.M. Stern, who heads Yale’s architecture school. The buildings, which would total 460,000 square feet and be the first new colleges on campus since 1963, are apparently still on track, with groundbreaking set for 2011. Together, the buildings will cost roughly $600 million, according to reports.

In his letter, Levin stated that the university aims to continue the design work and fundraising for the project, with hopes of keeping to the current construction schedule, “but postponement may become necessary.” The school’s press office offered no further comment.

Read more economic coverage in our special section, Recession Reports.

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