more than meets the eye
article in the April issue concerning the June 30 closing
of International House ("Chicago Journal") neglected to mention
something that by now is well known to everyone on campus, and
probably many other readers as well: namely that the University's
decision has created not only an enormous controversy, but an
extraordinary effort to save this building by large numbers of
hardworking people who represent a broad spectrum of the University
and Hyde Park communities.
loss of this institution would be a tragedy, all the more tragic
because it is completely avoidable. The financial arguments made
by the administration, and reported in the April issue, would
seem to leave little alternative but to close the building. In
fact, however, these issues are extremely complex and many sided,
and knowing the details often casts them in a rather different
1994, Holabird and Root, the building's original architects, came
up with a renovation plan, in conjunction with student input.
For a cost of $14 million [at the time], that plan provided for
all necessary repairs and a change from the current room configuration
to about 200 dormitory rooms and 150 either private bath or bath
suites, larger rooms sharing a bathroom with one other student.
This plan would have gone a long way towards solving the "turnover"
problem--the small rooms are fine for a year, but those of us
who are here for the long haul tend to need more space and privacy.
then, the larger figure? When the I-House Board approached the
University for a loan in 1996, the administration insisted on
revisions to the renovation plan that brought the cost up to $20
million--in current dollars, around $25 million. This second plan--which
is not only more expensive, but also less desirable from the point
of view of students--was forced on I-House against its will, simply
because the administration felt that in 50 years all students
would insist on having their own bathroom. It was a very shortsighted
decision--for one thing, making all rooms have private baths left
the rooms themselves rather cramped. Students here value space
far more than a private bathroom. Now, more than ever, this decision,
and a very sound original plan, need to be reconsidered.
it would still cost $13-15 million to rehab one proposed alternative,
the abandoned phone switching building at 6045 S. Kenwood Avenue.
That building, however, would only have 150 rooms--versus approximately
330 rooms for a renovated I-House--not to mention that the "alternative"
is vastly inferior in location, facilities, and appearance.
rental income generated on the additional rooms is, conservatively,
$600,000 a year. Which is more likely to be able to repay the
capital costs--especially given that refurbishing the 61st Street
location would require a two-year hiatus, with the existing community
dispersed and no rental income coming in at all?
every way, this controversy has been plagued by incomplete information.
Take, for example, the issue of fund-raising. From the beginning,
according to an I-House development officer, the University tied
the hands of the I-House development office, insisting that the
central administration alone had rights over wealthier (over $25K
potential) donors. The University did not, to say the least, make
International House a priority in its own fund-raising efforts.
it asked I-House to submit a list of potential "seed" donors for
a capital campaign, which it then winnowed down drastically. We
understand that the President made overtures to only three donors.
egregious example of widespread confusion resulting from incomplete
information is the fire alarm issue, which has been used to support
closing I-House ASAP. Contrary to what is reported in the April
issue, the City never cited International House for a "violation."
These are the facts. City codes changed in the 1990s, requiring
an expensive upgrade to the alarm systems--individual room "rising
heat sensors"--in all dorms and other Single Room Occupancy buildings.
The University came to an agreement with the City that they would
do this over a period of years. Currently, not only I-House, but
Max Mason and the Shoreland, have to have, by law, such systems
installed; one and probably both of these undergraduate dorms
will not do these upgrades until the summer of 2001. The cost
for the installation of such a system in I-House is $1.1 million--but
for a fraction of that, in the interim period during renovations--I-House
could have a system identical to what is currently in those dorms.
what is to be done? The University needs to slow down and take
stock, and not make any irreparable decisions that we would all
deeply regret later. One thing, however, that it should not do
is continue what it has, for some time now, been doing: conducting
confidential negotiations with the Business School for the sale
of the building and the land to them for a paltry $2 million.
The probable result of such a transaction: the demolition of this
architectural landmark which has graced the Midway for 70 years,
to be replaced with modern luxury apartments for GSB students.
None of this can be allowed to happen, and indeed the Illinois
Landmarks Commission is looking into the matter.
must be resisted above all, however, is any idea that the "institution"
can be separated from the "building." With its lovely courtyard,
elegant public spaces, and distinctive U of C gothic architecture,
this building was designed for its use and is irreplaceable. As
any of the thousands of alumni who lived here understand, the
building and the institution are inseparable; close one and you
kill them both. The proposed alternative--any proposed alternative--cannot
be taken seriously.
renovated and wisely managed, International House can continue
to serve the University for another 75 years. We hope that alumni
will urge the University to give the future of International House
its full support. Those who want to find out more should go to
Mr. Hand notes, the City of Chicago did not order the June 30
closing of I-House, as was reported in the April issue. The
lack of a fire-alarm system, however, does keep International
House from being in compliance with the city's fire code. Please
see "Chicago Journal," page 14, for a report on the future of