Wittenberg University will soon lose a piece of history, as a 113-year-old fraternity house is set to come crashing to the ground this summer to make way for Phi Gamma Delta’s new chapter house.
After talking about it and gathering thoughts through surveys, the fraternity, known as Fiji, will embark on a $3.5 million campaign to raze and rebuild their chapter house. The 1915 house-front and the 1955 addition are to be demolished, however “The Shanty,” an annex behind the house, is set to remain standing, but be renovated.
“Originally, we thought to only replace the dormitory section, replace that and renovate the original house,” Dave Prescott, ‘77 and chairman of the Capital Campaign Committee, said. “More recent graduates asked, ‘Why don’t we want a fresh start?’ We realized the sentiment for keeping the older section was not strong.”
By the beginning of the 2019 fall semester, the new two-level Fiji house will be complete with 26 living spaces with shared bathrooms, a complete weight room with updated equipment, multiple study areas and updated laundry and kitchen areas. Also included in the design is a wrap around porch along with plenty of shared decks and balconies.
“It ties the house together,” Prescott said. “As a house, we have always fought for that because we had a lot of brothers go out on the front porch roof. Now we are providing areas to do that safely. It’s a safety matter.”
The exterior of the house will mimic the recognizable Tudor architecture of the original mansion.
“The goal is to reflect upon the current house, to pay homage to the house we have enjoyed these many years,” Prescott said.
While construction is ongoing, Fiji rented the old Chi Omega sorority house, formerly Wittenberg’s Campus Ministries house until this academic year, next door to house the displaced active members.
There have been talks of the chapter purchasing the property from the sorority as well, expanding the building plans onto another lot. Chi Omega has not been on campus nor occupied the house since the removal of their charter in 2009.
According to Prescott, the original price tag of the project was $5 million, but they were able to reduce those costs significantly by choosing not to renovate.
“You can put a potential price tag on it,” Prescott said, ” but you don’t know what it is going to cost until you start tearing down the walls and get going.”
“Now that we have made a decision to raze and rebuild, it has got us down to $3.5 million,” Prescott continued. “There are cost savings in what we want to accomplish: modernization.”
The Capital Campaign Committee is made up of graduate brothers of the fraternity, and serves as a strategic planning team for the project. In January 2016, they asked Mark Wilkison, Fiji from the University of Vermont, to serve as a campaign consultant. His expertise has helped raise money and gifts in-kind, according to Prescott.
“Current commitments stand at $2.5 million,” Prescott said. “There is a bit of a gap left to complete, but it is my hope to do that by the end of this year.”
There is a cost beyond the price tag according to many alumni, who have mixed feelings about the project, as some have spent numerous great years living at 20 Ferncliff Place and don’t wasn’t the memories to crumble with the house.
“I joined Fiji for the guys in the fraternity, not for the building or location,” Brian Welch, ‘89 and father of current Fiji Matt Welch, ‘20, said. “My great memories will stay with me without the current house. I have the same feelings for many houses and buildings that have been taken down all over campus.”
“The Shanty” was a point of contention in the planning process of the campaign. Originally intended to be demolished, several alumni spoke up and the annex will be renovated instead.
“It’s an interesting feeling,” Ted Bardach, ‘94 and former chapter president, said. “As much as I love the house, ‘The Shanty’ was my senior year. That’s the place that holds a lot of memories. It makes it sweeter for me knowing that isn’t coming down.”
Located on the north end of the property, “The Shanty” houses three brothers and will continue to do so when the project is complete. The garage-like outbuilding possibly served as servants’ quarters when the mansion was functional in the early 1900s.
The Sigma chapter of Phi Gamma Delta was chartered on Wittenberg’s campus in 1884, and has been on campus continuously since. Previously housed at 809 N. Fountain Avenue since 1926, Fiji purchased the mansion at their current address and built the addition in 1955. Wittenberg’s Delta Sigma Phi was housed at the Fountain Avenue address after Fiji until 1991.
The campaign has been in the works for many years, but momentum was slowed in 2005 due to some turbulence on campus with the active chapter, according to Prescott.
According to the Capital Campaign Committee, a new chapter house was inevitable, as upkeep costs have increased significantly over recent years. Alumni wanted to keep safety in mind, as fire protection systems are out of date.
“Living in an old and dirty house is not an ideal situation for college students,” Bardach said. “They want newer and modern. It is a better tool for recruitment.”
According to several sources, the main reasons for the campaign include efficiency, increased safety and reduced maintenance costs.
“The physical structure is beyond common sense repair and upkeep,” Welch said. “Fiji has a strong future on campus, which is why you see this investment in a new facility.”
Despite the momentary loss of a chapter house while construction is underway, many Fijis are confident that this campaign will benefit the chapter for years to come, as well as boost the image of Greek life at Wittenberg, with the possibility of other chapters soon following suit.
Fiji is one of two active fraternities on campus with an alumni-owned-and-operated chapter house. The other, Beta Theta Pi, is in the beginning phases of their own capital campaign. The four other fraternities currently on campus do not have a chapter house.
“Past, present and future members will see this commitment as a sign of strength and will keep our numbers high,” Welch said. “The old house to new house time frame will be a blip on the radar in the big picture.”