A $20 million renovation of E.S. Harkness Hall has brought new plumbing, heating and electrical wiring to the aging dormitory as well as such amenities as high-speed Internet access and lounges with modern kitchenettes. The renovations are the 11-story building’s first major overhaul since its construction in 1955 as a residence for students in the health professions.

The improvements complete a process that began in 1995, when the School of Medicine took over management of medical school housing and dining services from the University Graduate Housing Office and the Yale University Dining Services. Changes to the building’s aging infrastructure—plumbing was built with World War II scrap metal that became brittle—include not only repairs, but a new conduit for telephone lines, cable television and computer cables. Also, dormitory rooms on the third floor gave way to space for an expanded office of education, as well as other offices dealing with student issues, such as student research, the M.D./Ph.D. Program, international health and multicultural affairs. The renovations provided a single destination for students for handling their educational and support needs. “The building was worn out,” said Eric Schonewald, associate director of resident life at the medical school. “Technology had accelerated to the point where we needed to upgrade, and the old housing was a turnoff to prospective students.”

Work started in the mid-1990s with the construction of Marigolds, a new cafeteria and dining area that opened in 1997 with a broader choice of meals and expanded hours. A facelift of the building’s exterior followed, including the replacement of more than 250 windows and frames, and starting in June 1999, floor-by-floor renovations brought the building into compliance with modern fire, safety and handicapped-access codes. “As floors were completed we moved the students up one level and leapfrogged up through the building,” Schonewald said, adding that the School of Medicine’s Office of Project Management and Construction oversaw the work. “They had to plan a renovation around an occupied building.”

“That was the greatest challenge: People were living in the building,” said Peggy Rubens-Duhl, project architect with Svigals Associates, the firm that designed the renovated space. The architects consulted with students to design more efficient rooms with more conveniently placed electrical and data outlets and new wardrobes and sinks that took up less space. Doorways were recessed to give each room the appearance of a private entrance. “We know that the students are working in medical facilities, which tend to be sterile, so we wanted it to be like a home,” said Rubens-Duhl.

Two rooms on alternating floors were sacrificed to create new lounges, the building’s first common spaces on the residential floors. Four of the eight residential floors have kitchenettes built off of the lounge areas, two floors have lounges with televisions and two floors have quiet study areas.

Rooms, each averaging about 15 feet by 10 feet, are equipped with a sink, a closet, a chest of drawers, a single bed and a desk.

The dormitory keeps about 12 of its 180 rooms available for visitors, such as medical school applicants. Although a number of rooms were kept vacant during renovations, Schonewald expects the building to be full in the next academic year. “We have created a living space that is competitive with any dormitory at Yale, and we are offering a product that welcomes our first-year students,” said Schonewald.