Staircases, Outhouses, Walls, Oh My!

Johnny Russell

Last summer, Colgate completed a rigorous ten-week construction project on eight of the ten Greek Life houses, including all six fraternities and two sororities. The changes have created a stir among the members of each organization, as the construction has altered the physical personality of each house.

While the relationship between Greek organizations and Colgate is complex and delicate, Director of Greek-Letter Operations Tim Mansfield said that the University took on these construction projects with essentially one goal in mind — safety.

The administration hired Holt Architects to make a “feasibility study” of all Greek Life houses, Mansfield said. These feasibility studies examined, most specifically, the structural integrity of each house with regard to New York State health and safety codes.

“The data was collected without any specific agenda,” Mansfield said. However, the University was ready and willing to act on areas that the feasibility study deemed appropriate and necessary to change.

The results from the study categorized potential areas for improvement in each house into three groups: life safety, accessibility and maintenance. Together, these three categories make up a larger Greek Life “improvement” plan that may slowly be implemented over the course of the next several years. Last spring, the University’s immediate concern was the life safety category.

With the exception of Sigma Chi, the construction plans for the houses were aimed directly at repairing existing staircases or construction of new staircases in and out of the basements. The Board of Trustees approved these, as Tim Mansfield put it, “escape from basement” plans and, with the necessary funds in place, the construction plans were finalized. Building and Grounds Project Manager Robert Dwyer was put in charge of the construction process and had the authority to hire out the contractors needed to complete the project in the allotted ten-week time frame.

In order to make the process as transparent to the students as possible, Mansfield met with the executive board of each Greek Life organization last April to discuss the changes that would be taking place. Simultaneously, Vice President of Colgate University Bob Tyburski notified the Alumni Corporations associated with the fraternities and sororities involved in the construction process. The Alumni Corporations, from which the fraternity and sorority houses were purchased two years ago, were not officially involved in the decision making process regarding construction, although Colgate has actively maintained dialogue with them.

According to Mansfield, the University wants to strengthen Greek organizations on campus, as they are “part of the school’s rich history and will continue to be a cornerstone of student life.”

This fall, Mansfield, along with Dwyer, will meet with each fraternity and sorority to follow up on the construction projects and gain a sense of each organization’s reactions to the changes. Included in these meetings will be the opportunity for each house to propose improvements to the construction along the lines of different painting and lighting.

The bulk of complaints about the projects have been targeted at the appearance of the new construction. Some houses, such as Beta Theta Pi, saw changes that drastically affected traffic flow through the house; however, the majority of houses have only suffered a change in the cosmetic appearance of their space.

Looking forward to future projects, it will be essential for students to work closely with the University.

Senior President of Phi Kappa Tau Bill Kindler admits that “last spring the fraternity could have been more influential in planning the construction” in accordance with their desires.

Some houses were able to adjust the proposed plans in this way. Beta managed to prevent the creation of an unwanted wall in their front hall, and Theta Chi was able to salvage a portion of their bar that had been removed over the summer.

Despite these minor improvements, there is still some tension.

“We feel pretty strongly about the changes,” junior Beta Jamie Kilcullen said.

The University is willing to step up and act on some wishes of the students, but clearly its main priority is New York State law and personal safety, making students’ positions secondary on its agenda.