KEARNEY — The University of Nebraska at Kearney is planning to tear down the two buildings that currently house Greek Life and move those fraternity and sorority members to a different building on campus, a university official confirmed today.
According to Todd Gottula, there are currently “significant maintenance and mechanical infrastructure issues” at the two buildings on the west side of campus - University Residence North and University Residence South.
The issues are not structural in nature, but they are significant, Gottula said. The cost to renovate both buildings is estimated at $32 million.
“Financially, the cost of renovation for these buildings due to the amount of mechanical and infrastructure, renovating these buildings isn’t an option,” Gottula said in an interview this morning with the Kearney Hub.
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Last September, a broken pipe in the Alpha Xi Delta house forced 31 students to relocate for the rest of the year. The university fixed the problem with the air conditioning system, a $300,000 project, but also found similar issues at the other houses. Just fixing those air conditioning system issues at all the houses could cost the university $1.8 million, Gottula said.
URN and URS currently can hold approximately 400 beds, in eight houses, and are currently at about 50 percent capacity. They were built in 1991 and 1992, according to Gottula, with an expected lifespan of 20 years.
UNK’s senior leadership met with sorority and fraternity leaders Wednesday evening, outlining the issues with the current buildings and explaining the proposed solution: moving the approximately 200 residents to Nester Hall on the east side of campus for the 2020-21 school year.
The plan is to renovate Nester Hall to accommodate Greek-style housing, which typically includes more common or “family” spaces. UNK does not currently have an estimate for that renovation work, though it would be much less expensive than the cost to rebuild URN and URS.
Funds for the renovation work would come from strategic reserves, Gottula said. This money, like other campus housing costs, comes from revenue generated by the university, not state funding.
“Repairs (at URN and URS) don’t fix the long-term need; it would be a short-term solution,” Gottula said.
When senior leadership met with the fraternity and sorority members, Gottula said students were “understandably frustrated, disappointed (and) upset.”
“I was emotional when I found out,” said Brady Przymus, a senior at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Przymus said he was unable to attend the meeting, but heard the news after.
“I’m sad that future generations of students may not get to experience some of the life-changing experiences that UNK Greek Life has to offer. And I felt betrayed,” Przymus continued. “Tearing down the buildings that help FSL (fraternity and sorority life) thrive and shoving every chapter into a singular residence hall together seems like a slap in the face to these organizations that do so much for the university and the community.”
Gottula affirmed that students involved in Greek Life are very involved on campus, making up the “heartbeat of the student body.”
“Having Greek Life in the center of campus will bring a new level of energy and potentially give campus a shot in the arm, just because they’re so visible and active in campus life,” he said.
UNK hopes to work with students as officials develop a plan for what renovations need to be completed at Nester Hall in order to make the building suitable for the fraternity and sorority houses. Students currently living in Nester would be able to live there the rest of the academic year, and then would be given options to live elsewhere on campus.
Gottula said there are “plenty” of housing options available for students to move around.
UNK will need NU Board of Regents approval in December for the Nester Hall renovations, or an alternative solution if a feasible one is proposed, and the funding. The renovation work then could be completed during the summer.
There currently is not a timeline set for tearing down URN and URS.
Some students, including Przymus, have ideas for what to do instead of moving the Greek housing to Nester.
One solution Przymus suggested was to build new housing in University Village, using the money to renovate to make a “down payment” instead, or allow chapters to have fraternity and sorority houses off campus.
“This is how it used to be, and I think that current chapters have shown that they are responsible enough to handle this once again,” Przymus said.
Gottula said that taking on new debt to construct more housing is not currently an option. However, university leaders are aiming to work with the students in developing a solution.
“They are a top priority, they’re going to be heard and we’re going to work with them,” Gottula said.