March 16, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 12

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    Vacancies, building problems will force I-House relocation

    The University and the Board of Governors of International House have been trying for nearly five years to find a solution to declining occupancy and infrastructure needs at the 70-year-old facility. (See “quadcolloquy.edu”)

    Having tried unsuccessfully to identify donors to help fund the approximately $25 million needed to bring the building up to date, the University, working with the I-House Board, is seeking a new, more affordable facility for I-House. But before such a facility becomes available, city fire codes will require the University to close the current building effective June 30 and temporarily relocate I-House programs to the New Graduate Residence Hall. Students not accommodated there will have priority for vacancies in University housing.

    “We have worked for some considerable time to find a way to maintain the I-House community and programs,” said Patricia Woodworth, Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer. “Our goal is to find an affordable building with the public spaces so important to I-House’s programs. I’m hopeful that we will soon identify such a facility very nearby.” Woodworth explained that the Board of Governors of I-House approached the University in 1996 with concerns about their ability to continue operating I-House in its then current condition. A letter from the board stated, “International House is now faced with significant challenges. The limitations of its current facilities have led to substantial declines in occupancy (at present, a 30-percent vacancy rate), decreased revenues and increasing occupancy costs due to deferred maintenance.”

    By 1997, I-House began running deficits. To reduce expenses, the I-House closed 150 rooms, shut down the cafeteria, reduced the staff, lowered room rates to try to increase occupancy and further reduced maintenance expenditures.

    Also in 1997, the City of Chicago ordered the installation of a fire-alarm system by June 30 this year.

    Several years ago, the I-House Board and the University developed a renovation plan that today would cost approximately $25 million. It was agreed at the time that a major gift was required to make such a plan feasible, and both agreed to work together to raise funds. To date, despite the efforts of the I-House Board of Governors and the University to raise the funds to support the renovation, no major gift has been received.

    By 1999, it became apparent that the funds needed to make the renovation of I-House feasible could not be raised, Woodworth said. New estimates showed that the cost of the mandatory fire-alarm system alone was between $1 million and $2 million.

    The University concluded that if I-House continued to operate in its existing building, it would spend its entire endowment merely to maintain the building by installing the fire alarms and making patchwork repairs to elevators, electrical systems, roofs and plumbing. “In the end, I-House would have had a substandard building and no endowment to support international programs,” Woodworth said.

    Faced with the need to find a replacement facility, the University and the Board over the past year evaluated every building currently owned by the University, on the market in Hyde Park or that might become available for purchase or lease.

    One option is the former Illinois Bell Building at 6045 S. Kenwood Ave., two blocks southwest of the current I-House building and behind the New Graduate Residence Hall. The University would finance the renovation of the building, which would operate on a break-even basis, and it could open in the fall of 2002 if work begins soon. The renovated building would include lounge areas, English as a Second Language classrooms, a kitchen/food and service/dining area, an exercise room, study/music rooms and large public spaces for receptions, orientation for new foreign students, Sunday night socials, the Belgian Halloween Party, the Brazilian Mardi Gras Party, the Festival of Nations and the Thanksgiving program.

    Another option is to build a new structure on an empty site. Woodworth said the I-House Board is currently considering both possibilities.