September 7, 2010

University Turns Former Kappa Sigma House into Campus Dorm

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Eddie Garcia ’11 was one of the last brothers in Kappa Sigma to set foot inside their property on 600 University Avenue. The composites had been stripped off the walls, the Greek letters were taken down and moved to the basement.  Taking a walk through the house, he said he saw nothing that gave any indication of what the house used to be.

“I saw the bare bones of the house,” he said. “Everything that you’ve had for the last year was gone. It was pretty hard.”

According to Barbara Romano, director of residential and event services, the University spent an undisclosed amount of money to renovate the house throughout the summer, in an effort to open the house up to students seeking on-campus housing. Working crews installed new floors, repainted the walls and renovated the bathroom. All of the chapter’s belongings were moved into the chapter room, which was sealed with a newly constructed wall and currently lies under lock and key.

The house at 600 University Avenue is one of 13 fraternity houses owned by the University. These houses were sold to the University by Greek alumni associations looking to have Cornell manage the properties in an effort to pass along management responsibilities.

The Pi Kappa Alpha (“Pike”) fraternity house, though it was not owned by Cornell, is being leased by alumni as a boardinghouse to students until the chapter can return to campus.

The Kappa Sigma house is now filled with male undergraduate and graduate students, as orchestrated by Cornell. According to Romano, the University worked extensively to complete the renovations of the house before students arrived this year. The University put up a last-minute Craigslist advertisement in an attempt to fill the house as soon as they knew the work could be completed in time. They filled all but one space, she said.

Karen Muckstadt, director of facilities management, says that the cost numbers for the project are not in, but that they are operating on a break-even business model, in which the renovations will pay for themselves in coming years.

“It costs money to have an empty building,” said Dale Williams, manager of finance in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. “You just can’t turn the heat off. It’s better for everyone if you can fix the place up and use the space,” he said.

Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for sorority and fraternity affairs, said estimates place the cost of maintaining the empty house at 80,000 to $90,000 per year.

Jasper Kristensen grad, in his first year in his Masters of Mechanical Engineering, is one of the nine graduate students and 15 undergraduate students living at 600 University Avenue.

It took Kristensen a while to realize that he was living in a former fraternity house. The house was in pristine condition, he said. When he saw “Kappa Sigma” listed on the floor plan in the foyer, it sparked his curiosity. It was only after checking out Google Streetview that his home’s  history came to light.

“I’ve been in a lot of fraternities, and I feel like the structure is similar,” he said. He noticed the large wooden bar behind the fireplace that was covered with wood, making it look like a stage, among other things.

However, the house may not remain a campus housing unit for long.  Cornell’s contract with Kappa Sigma says that if there is a Kappa Sigma chapter at Cornell, the house must be opened only to them.  Kappa Sigma alumni, as well as University officials, say that the process to bring Kappa Sigma back to campus has already been initiated.

“I am not ready to release any details yet as there are too many variables at this point,” Fred Pape ’99, president of the Kappa Sigma alumni board, stated in an e-mail. “The alumni are working hard to return the Alpha Kappa chapter to Cornell as soon as possible.”

Apgar said that he expects Kappa Sigma to return to campus in the future but is unsure of the time frame.

“We are not in the business of closing fraternities,” he said. “First and foremost, we value that experience [that fraternities provide], an experience that [students] gain a lot from.”

Apgar says that a refounded house would mean a change in culture. He says that the new Kappa Sigma chapter will be more oriented towards founding principles and values.

“I hope it will have a different culture in terms of the fact that it is a values-based experience,” he said.

Eddie Garcia and his Kappa Sigma brothers are spread around in houses throughout Collegetown. He says that though the national organization and Cornell may no longer see them as Kappa Sigmas, they are still Kappa Sigmas at heart. He said he does not regret the phone call that eventually showed that they broke their national organization’s alcohol sanctions and led to their closure.

“We called an ambulance and I never want to consider that that was the wrong thing to do.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer