story Larry Milstein
Yale Daily News staff reporter

Shovels may already be in the dirt, but the ceremonial groundbreaking of Yale University’s two new residential colleges has been pushed back by months.

Administrators had maintained for over a year that the formal groundbreaking on the project would occur in February 2015 — even though construction work on the two new residential colleges had been in progress since mid-fall. But with February now well underway, the University has quietly changed the date of the ceremony to April.

University President Peter Salovey dismissed suggestions that the decision to move the groundbreaking ceremony to April was connected to the announcement of the colleges’ names.

“The Corporation has not made decisions yet,” he said. “I actually think it’s unlikely they’ll have [the naming] done [by April].”

Though the ultimate decision of naming the colleges is up to the president and Yale Corporation, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said he was “hopeful” that the names would be unveiled at the ceremony.

Still, Mr. Salovey cited convenience and weather for the delay, saying that the University decided to move the date because the risk from “standing outside on a construction site on a freezing cold day was too high in February.”

Despite these outlined justifications, administrators and workers interviewed gave different assessments on the reasons for the delay of the ceremony, and its bearing on the actual construction timeline.

Ellen Lewis, the senior director for marketing and communications at the Office of Development, offered additional explanations related to weather concerns. She said April was chosen since it would be more favorable for those who need to travel to attend the event.

She denied that the University had previously finalized a date for February. However, in a campus-wide email sent in October 2013, Provost Benjamin Polak outlined the schedule for the construction project: “to break ground on the new colleges in February 2015” with the goal of completing them in August 2017.

Mr. Polak reaffirmed this timeline in November 2014 when asked whether the heavy machinery — first seen on site at the time — meant the actual groundbreaking had occurred months ahead of schedule.

“We have been working on the site for several years now, and there is a great deal of work to do to continue the site preparation before the formal groundbreaking scheduled for February,” Mr. Polak wrote in an email in November.

But when asked last week whether the University still planned to move forward with breaking ground this month, Mr. Polak said he did not know.

Despite the change in plans, Yale facilities staff have denied that the new groundbreaking ceremony date means construction on the site will be slowed. Yale Associate Vice President for Facilities John Bollier said in an email to the Yale Daily News that the construction schedule is independent of when the ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled.

Still, construction workers interviewed on the Prospect Street site were not as optimistic about the projected timeline.

“The snow kills us … it slows us down,” said one construction worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to contractual constraints. “We’re probably a bit behind [schedule] because of the weather.”

Representatives of Dimeo Construction Company, the lead contractors on the project, could not be reached for comment.

Others on the site, however, said that work was running smoothly.

One worker, who is employed by Camputaro & Son Excavating, also anonymous because of contract, said construction is on schedule and there have not been any major problems since she first arrived three months earlier.

She added that though teams have already began the process of digging and building concrete forms for the building foundations, the construction crew has not been notified about a groundbreaking ceremony.

According to Mr. Salovey, the larger purpose of holding the groundbreaking ceremony — even with construction formally beginning months earlier — is to celebrate the major donors who helped make the project a reality.

Mr. Holloway echoed similar sentiments and said since construction is already well underway, the University may decide not to call the new ceremony a groundbreaking.

“It’ll be an opportunity to have important stakeholders present before you start seeing the building rise,” Mr. Holloway said. “It’s an important symbolic moment,” he said.

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