March 16, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 12

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    quadcolloquy.edu ... on International House

    After almost five years of effort to deal with increasing vacancy rates and infrastructure problems at International House (See Chronicle story on I-House) the University is seeking an alternative facility, as fire codes will require the closing of the current building on June 30. The Chronicle spoke with Patricia Woodworth, Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer, about the background of the decision and about some criticisms offered this week by opponents of the relocation effort.

    Q: What is the current I-House financial situation?

    A: I-House has an endowment that was valued at $9.7 million as of Dec. 31, 1999. The payout from this endowment provides for the support of I-House programs, including residential fellowships. The total budget for I-House is approximately $2 million annually. I-House has eliminated its recent deficits by closing 150 rooms, shutting down the cafeteria, reducing the staff, reducing room rates to try to increase occupancy and further reducing maintenance expenditures. However, the building is old, and its mechanical systems are in poor condition. Any major failure of its electrical system, plumbing, roof or elevators will send the budget back into deficit.

    Q: Is the current I-House going to be demolished?

    A: The University has a long-standing tradition of cherishing its architecture and renovating its historic buildings whenever possible. Every effort will be made to preserve the existing building. However, this particular building poses unique challenges. Among the challenges are low and irregular floor-to-ceiling heights; a spring running through the electrical vault in the basement; large amounts of asbestos, which would be disturbed in any renovation; ADA compliance requirements unique to dormitories; and city code requirements that must be met in their entirety once a building is “opened up” for renovations.

    Q: Why can’t we remedy only the code problems?

    A: Fire code problems can be addressed through an investment of $1 to $2 million. However, every building survey done has indicated that various systems (roof, electrical, plumbing) are on the verge of failure and will require an additional $8 to $10 million expenditure in the near term. The condition of the rooms is such that room rates cannot be raised to pay for these costs because it would further exacerbate already high vacancy rates. On the other hand, paying for these costs out of the I-House endowment would deplete it, leaving nothing to support the program.

    Q: What efforts have been made to raise funds to renovate I-House?

    A: The University spent well over a year trying diligently to find major donors, including potential donors in Asia and Europe, whose generous support would have enabled us to renovate and maintain the I-House building as a safe and appropriate place for our students to live. Unfortunately, this effort was unsuccessful. A number of potential donors expressed affection for I-House, but none was willing to make a major gift to preserve it. It was not at or near the top of their lists of things to support.

    Q: Has I-House been allowed to ask donors for gifts?

    A: Yes. I-House makes an annual appeal to all former residents and has solicited its Board. President Sonnenschein has spoken with several key prospects.

    Q: Has the Graduate School of Business had any role in the decision to move I-House?

    A: The GSB has not been involved in the decision to move I-House to a sustainable building. In 1999, when the GSB learned that I-House might have to find a more affordable location, it expressed interest in the property, if it ever became available. Whether it becomes available is independent of their interest, despite rumors to the contrary.

    Q: Why haven’t students been involved in these discussions?

    A: The I-House Board of Governors and the University administration have been struggling with the problems in the current facility for five years. Unfortunately, until recently, we had many more questions than answers. Perhaps mistakenly, our goal was to protect residents and staff from the uncertainties of the situation, until we could offer possible options in terms of housing, the future of the program, etc.

    Q: What was the rationale for the timing of the announcement?

    A: When it became clear that the facility could not remain open beyond this academic year because of fire code violations, our goal was to identify a plan in time for current residents to make their housing choices for next year––on or about March 15. Until a new facility is identified, I-House programs will be held in the New Graduate Residence Hall or in Ida Noyes Hall. The NGR also will have space to house about 40 of I-House’s current residents. Students not accommodated there will have priority for vacancies in University housing with the assistance of the office of Real Estate Operations.