Jennifer Gonsalves – David Geffen School of Drama at Yale
- Written by: Fatima Taha
- Produced by: Matthew Warner & Kirk Dyson
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
On a crisp October day in 2018, Jennifer Gonsalves walked through Yale campus, the civil engineer in her appreciating century-old Gothic and neo-Georgian architecture. When she reached 222 York Street, Yale’s main theater, her gaze—like that of so many drama students—swept up the stone façade.
Gonsalves continued her walk past the other eight buildings on Yale’s drama campus and came upon the elevator in 149 York Street. A manual freight elevator—not rated for passenger use—it was also too small to fit props like stage sets and not up to safety standards.
A cursory look around the theatre campus revealed other concerns, like storage being spread out over eight buildings—Juliet’s dress in one building and her balcony in another.
So began her tenure as director of facility operations at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale in October 2018. Soon, Gonsalves began evaluating Yale drama’s eight buildings, all needing work. So, she was asked, why not making something new that replaced all of them?
“The idea for one, overarching facility actually originated in the drama department over a decade ago,” explains Gonsalves. “I’m excited to help make it a reality.”
The sooner the better, she adds, since having equipment and classes spread over such a large area is far from convenient.
Once sufficient funding is secured, Yale may demolish some of the buildings and repurpose the older ones. Afterwards, Gonsalves will help combine seven drama buildings—the University Theatre, the Yale Repertory Theatre, the school of drama and the performance studies programs, the Yale Dramatic Association and a warehouse—into a new facility built on the same location.
A pocket and street full of change
After fundraising and planning for over 15 years, Yale has nearly gathered the necessary funds needed to hire an architectural and engineering firm.
Part of the reason that Yale Drama is closer to securing the necessary funding is due to David Geffen. According to Gonsalves, during June of this year, Geffen donated $150 million to what the university has renamed the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University. The funding covers the full tuition cost for any Yale Drama student. This means if a student is accepted into Yale Drama in the future, they will not have to turn down the offer because they are unable to afford the tuition.
According to Gonsalves and a YaleNews article, this landmark contribution also frees up funding that can be diverted from scholarship money to upgrades across campus and the start of the building consolidation project.
“We still don’t have an exact date for when we’ll break ground on the one unifying building, but we’re hoping it’ll be within three to five years,” Gonsalves says.
It’s raining maintenance
Until construction begins, however, Gonsalves ensures the School of Drama’s eight buildings are well maintained.
“At Yale, I revel in the opportunity to help plan the construction of a new building but also enough day-to-day maintenance,” says Gonsalves.
According to her, the most effective method—outside of word of mouth from students, faculty or staff—is to just walk around and notice issues. Here’s where Gonsalves’ experience and degree in civil engineering comes in handy, as it helps her notice everything from structural damage to, hypothetically, pooling water that would indicate a building sinking.
“Being a civil engineer and working with different facets of construction with various firms and universities for over 15 years has given me a wealth of knowledge, which I want to use to help Yale and its drama students,” Gonsalves says.
The maintenance aspect includes keeping the buildings compliant and in good order for students. Many of the older buildings may have American Disability Act’s accessible entrances but don’t have elevators to access floors above or below the lobby, for example. Likewise, proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning units are also missing from many buildings that, according to Gonsalves, rely only on open windows and a breeze.
“Always hoping for available project funding, I provide Yale project planners with yearly proposed project lists, such as exterior elevators, for all eight buildings.”
Gonsalves earned her degree in civil engineering from Northeastern University in 2008. During her studies, she interned as both a surveyor for Boston and as a transportation engineer for a firm. She particularly enjoyed conducting field surveys and analyzing data for engineers at Boston Water & Sewer Commission.
Once she graduated, she joined CDM Smith as a structural engineer for water and wastewater treatments facilities. She also checked other’s work and designed portions of major construction projects.
“People don’t really talk about it, but it’s important, necessary work,” Gonsalves says. “On occasion, I went to sites to check existing structures—and realized I loved that aspect, so I switched from designing to actual project management.”
In 2013, she entered the academic world. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she began coordinating and managing projects and within six years, she was director at Yale.
“I love hands-on work, and I’m interested in a project from the drawing board to once the building’s a part of the skyline,” Gonsalves says. “I enjoy maintaining the buildings I helped develop, and it’s essential work. I also love maintaining my health, which is why my family and I will often go for runs together. In my mind, it’s all connected.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. X 2021 Edition here.
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