By Hailey Fuchs, Staff Reporter, Yale Daily News
For the first time in decades, Dwight Hall will undergo a major renovation, adding features like new accessibility measures and more collaboration spaces to Yale’s second-oldest building.
All told, the renovation will cost the University $4 million. Dwight Hall, which formerly served as the University’s library, will be equipped with an elevator, more storage spaces, along with white board surfaces and projectors for work spaces post-renovation. There will also be basic updates to the building such as improved lighting, better climate control and additional outlets to charge devices.
While construction is underway this academic year, the eponymous community service organization will be based at 143 Elm, across from the New Haven Green.
With improved facilities, Dwight Hall is positioned to become a student hub, co-coordinator Matthew Coffin ’19 said, adding that increased traffic at Dwight Hall can foster greater involvement in community service.
“The key is really creating a space that doesn’t feel old and bound by tradition — creating a space that feels both modern and functional but also has a long history to it,” said Peter Crumlish DIV ’09, Dwight Hall’s executive director.
In 2003, Dwight Hall’s board began a capital campaign to restore and renovate the building, and the University pledged a contribution afterwards. But just before the renovation was scheduled to begin in 2008, Yale froze all of its capital projects due to the 2008 financial crisis, and the University could no longer fund capital projects using debt.
Before Crumlish arrived in 2013, Dwight Hall had seen significant staff turnover, which left the project in limbo for years. Renovation plans resumed after University President Peter Salovey identified a funding source.
According to Crumlish, building accessibility was the primary reason for the renovation. Given its age, Dwight Hall lacks the infrastructure required for new buildings per the American Disabilities Act, but the new elevator will make the north side of the building accessible via wheelchair. In the past, persons with disabilities have had a difficult time using the space, Dwight Hall co-coordinator Anthony D’Ambrosio ’18 noted.
Constructed between 1842 and 1846, Dwight Hall initially housed University’s main collections, before being converted into a community service center. The building’s architect, Henry Austin, designed landmarks throughout New Haven, including the façade of City Hall and the gates of Grove Street Cemetery, and his work at Dwight Hall inspired the Gothic Revival architecture across campus.
D’Ambrosio emphasized that the renovation would keep Dwight Hall’s “historical charm.” Repairs include refinishing millwork and restoring the chandeliers in the common room, given that the building’s woodwork and wall moldings have remained almost untouched since its completion.
Crumlish said the temporary relocation of Dwight Hall might pose some challenges. For example, though the Elm Street building is larger, community members no longer have access to meeting spaces like Battell Chapel. To compensate for the farther location, the center will focus on outreach events including the New Student Organizations Summit and Freshman Day of Service. Dwight Hall will hold its annual fall service bazaar on Old Campus to maintain its presence on campus, but Crumlish said he hoped that the residential colleges would help publicize the center’s move to Elm Street.