May 1, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 15

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    I-House renovation gets Board approval for $21 million in funding

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    Residents of International House gather in the main lounge while waiting for an informational meeting to begin. Residents are planning one of I-House’s annual spring festivals, the Festival of Nations.
    The essential role of International House in the life of the University was reaffirmed by the University’s Board of Trustees on Thursday, April 10, when they approved a $21 million budget to renovate the building’s exterior, systems and bedrooms.

    In 1932 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. funded construction of the striking neo-Gothic building at the corner of 59th Street and Dorchester Avenue. Chicago architects Holabird and Root designed the building with numerous public spaces intended to foster interaction and friendship among residents and guests. I-House also provides a welcoming home for its highly diverse residential community and is a venue for an expanding schedule of special events and University programs.

    I-House currently houses more than 300 graduate and advanced undergraduate students and others. Nobel laureates Enrico Fermi, James Cronin, George Stigler, T.D. Lee and C.N. Lang; Lien Chan, University Trustee and former Vice President of the Republic of China, and celebrated African American poet Langston Hughes all were I-House residents.

    “With renovated facilities and a revitalized image, I-House will truly be able to fulfill its mission to promote understanding and mutual respect among people of different backgrounds and cultures,” said Henry Pernet, who became I-House Director in December 2000. “I am very grateful to the President and the trustees for their commitment to the future of I-House with this critically needed funding.”

    Pernet has executed an ambitious business plan for I-House that has called for a methodical overhaul of the building’s physical plant, with many improvements already completed. The project provides for the restoration of the facades and the replacement of the windows as well as the roof. All bathrooms will be upgraded with new finishes and fixtures, and many will be reconfigured to afford greater privacy for residents. Seventy-year-old plumbing and electrical wiring will be replaced and brought up to the city’s construction code. Three elevators will be upgraded, and the building’s 500 bedrooms will be refurbished with new moveable furniture instead of 38-year-old built-in beds and desks. High-speed Internet connections also will be installed in every bedroom.

    Aitor Lacuesta of Spain (left) and Haruhiko Otsuka of Japan prepare dinner in the communal kitchen of International House. The I-House kitchen was remodeled and updated in 2001.
    “Among the projects that remain is the upgrade of all our public rooms–the main lounge, the dining room, the assembly hall, the Home Room and others,” Pernet said. “Now that the University’s support for I-House is assured, these spaces will provide excellent naming opportunities for fund-raising needed to renovate them.”

    The physical renovation has been matched with the overhaul of the organizational structure of I-House and a vigorous renewal of Rockefeller’s vision of I-House as a vehicle to promote cross-cultural understanding among students, scholars and Chicago citizens.

    I-House also serves the greater Chicago community as a cultural center for programs of diversity – music and cultural performances, outreach programs with Chicago-area international organizations including foreign consulates, and discussions and debates led by distinguished speakers are among hundreds of activities now held throughout the year.

    Increasingly, programs are co-sponsored with University departments and student organizations. “Programs and activities have been developed to enrich the student experience and to bring different segments of the Chicago community into the academic universe of students,” said Denise Jorgens, I-House Director of Events and Programs.

    “We believe the mission of International House is more compelling now than ever,” Pernet said. “The renovation will ensure that the House continues to play an important role in providing meeting and living space to the entire University community.”