International House infrastructure
puts building in mothballs
and infrastructure concerns
are forcing the University to close the International House
building this summer--perhaps permanently, said Patricia A.
Woodworth, the University's chief financial officer, in the
March 16 University of Chicago Chronicle.
at 1414 E. 59th Street, the Gothic structure has housed Chicago's
International House program since it was built in 1932 with
funds provided by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The worldwide program
consists of 13 independent, nonprofit institutions--including
four in the U.S.--that provide housing and community for (mostly
graduate) students from around the globe. The U of C's I-House
building has rooms for up to 500 students, lounges, an auditorium,
a cafeteria, and offices. Many cultural activities as well as
Elderhostel programs are held there.
programs will be temporarily relocated to either Ida Noyes Hall
or the New Graduate Residence Hall. The NGR also has room for
40 of the more than 300 current I-House residents; other students
will have priority for vacancies in University housing.
Board of Governors first approached the University in 1996 with
concerns about its ability to continue operating I-House. In
a letter to the University, the board stated, "International
House is now faced with significant challenges. The limitations
of its current facilities have led to substantial declines in
occupancy (at present, a 30-percent vacancy rate), decreased
revenues, and increasing occupancy costs due to deferred maintenance."
The following year, I-House began running deficits. In a successful
attempt to eliminate those deficits, the board closed 150 rooms,
shut down the cafeteria, reduced staff, lowered room rates in
an attempt to increase occupancy, and cut maintenance spending.
the same time, the I-House board and the University developed
a renovation plan for the 70-year-old facility that today would
cost approximately $25 million. But joint fund-raising efforts
have not panned out, said Woodworth, despite annual appeals
to former residents, soliciting its board, and discussions between
President Sonnenschein and several key prospects. By 1999, she
said, it was clear that the money needed for the renovation
could not be raised.
of the building's future came to a head this spring because
of a city fire-code violation. In 1997, the City of Chicago
ordered that a fire-alarm system be installed in the building
by June 30, 2000. As of publication, the building still has
no fire alarms.
system would cost $1 to $2 million, Woodworth said, noting that
the University can't simply install fire alarms and ignore I-House's
other infrastructure problems. Its roof, plumbing, and electrical
system are "on the verge of failure and will require an additional
$8 to $10 million expenditure," she added.
to the I-House endowment--valued at $9.7 million on December
31--instead of donors is not a solution, she said, noting that
if the endowment were used for maintenance, "I-House would have
had a substandard building and no endowment to support international
programs." I-House has a $2 million annual budget.
and the I-House board have been searching for a new, more affordable
facility for the past year, she said. One option is to build
a new structure. Another is to relocate to the former Illinois
Bell Building at 6045 S. Kenwood Ave., behind the NGR. The U
of C would finance the renovation of that building, which could
open by fall 2002.
Woodworth said the University will make every effort to preserve
the I-House building, she also listed some of the challenges
the structure presents: low and irregular floor-to-ceiling heights,
large amounts of asbestos, and the need to meet Americans with
Disabilities Act compliance requirements.--K.S.