Sunday, January 21, 2007

Penn State Sigma Chi Plans $2.4 M Renovation & Adding Housemother

Sigma Chi unveils fraternity renovation
By Chris Rosenblum

STATE COLLEGE -- It takes a lot for a group of fraternity brothers to pull themselves out of bed on a frigid weekend morning and sit outside.

Like, say, a $2.4 million transformation of their house.

On Saturday, members of Penn State's Sigma Chi chapter joined university dignitaries and alumni on the house's frozen lawn for a wind-whipped groundbreaking ceremony celebrating the reconstruction of the 400 E. Prospect Ave. property.

"This may be one of the coldest days of the year, but it's also one of the most exciting," said Vicky Triponey, vice president of student affairs.

From alumni donations, the 1928 Tudor-style house will have suites with high-speed Internet connections for up to 42 residents, handicapped access and new windows, doors, electrical wiring, plumbing, sprinklers and kitchen facilities.

On the first floor will be the most dramatic addition -- an older adult.

In a return to the past, the Sigma Chi House Corp., which has owned the property for 35 years, will hire a house director to live on site and manage the building. Such "house mothers" largely disappeared in the late 1960s, particularly in the Northeast, said Jim Lundy, a past corporation president who helped direct the fundraising campaign for the house.

But when Lundy, a 1982 Penn State graduate, and other corporation board members looked into improving their beloved chapter, they discovered prominent Southern and Midwestern fraternities had kept house mothers. If it worked there, board members decided, it could for their 115-year-old chapter.

"It's a lot of work maintaining the property," Lundy said. "We didn't think the alumni were going to give money if we didn't demonstrate that the property was going to be taken care of."

Board members also hope the director will be a comforting presence like the longtime cook Lundy remembers from his Sigma Chi days. Not only did she fix meals, Lundy said, but she also loaned money, met girlfriends and dispensed advice.

"She was somebody people could go to," he said.

Construction is expected to end by the time the fall semester begins, in time for fraternity members to move back from their temporary quarters in the old Kappa Sigma house.

Senior Jeff Stanton, of Oxford, said his fellow brothers have "mixed feelings" about a house director. But he thinks having "somebody to talk to, somebody with real-life experience" will help the fraternity.

"It might be shaky at first, but it will eventually work out," he said, noting he understands how the alumni would want "to protect their investment."

Before a tour of the gutted interior, Penn State President Graham Spanier commended the fraternity, saying its project "symbolizes the excellence we see in the Greek system." Junior Matt Smith, from State College, said Sigma Chi realizes it will become a showcase house.

"It's going to make us want to work hard to keep up our name because everybody will be looking at us," he said.

Stanton said the fraternity was looking old and worn last year. He anticipates a refurbished house will offer pledges an attractive alternative to modern apartments.
"With this new building behind us," he said, "there's no telling what we can do."

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620.