UI frats' new houses, renovations impress visitors, members alike

UI frats' new houses, renovations impress visitors, members alike

CHAMPAIGN — Like a handful of his fraternity brothers, Matt Rowley, president of the Chi Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha at the University of Illinois, moved his belongings into the brothers' new house Thursday morning.

"It really blows you away the first time you come in," he said.

Across the street to the west of the Lambda Chi Alpha house at 209 E. Armory, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new Theta Xi fraternity house, and right next door, the brothers of Alpha Sigma Phi have settled into a house updated in recent years.

Take a stroll through the UI campus, and you'll see plenty of Greek houses updated or newly built, including fresh digs at Pi Kappa Alpha and Phi Kappa Psi. In most cases, they're replacing houses that were structurally unsound, aesthetically unattractive and outdated as far as housing students aiming to keep up with the demands placed on college students in the new millennium.

At Lambda Chi Alpha, it was a little bit of all those things that convinced the alumni it was time to replace the original chapter house that was built in 1927.

"Most of us were stuck with 90-plus-year-old houses, and I think it was just more about the wear and tear and the functionality of the houses from the 1920s and '30s just doesn't hold up today," said Peter Kale, a 1975 UI graduate and the fraternity's alumni board president. "In the old house, it was tough to get the WiFi working, and now we've got everything they need to be successful."

When Kale lived in the house in the 1970s, he said having a black-and-white TV in his room was a big deal. Now the current residents have flat-screen TVs in their suites, with cable hookups, a 1 GB fiber connection for WiFi in every room, hardwire LAN ports and a 10 GB connection to the UI's educational network for studies.

"It's a little nicer than the house we lived in," Kale said.

But they didn't erase all the history of the old place. The new $6.5 million house includes the door from the original house in a basement entryway, as well as paintings, a table from the 1920s and other mementos from the house, preserving the culture of the chapter from the past 90 years.

"I never saw the old house, but they saved a lot of stuff, and guys have been telling us the special meaning behind a lot of it," said Lambda Chi Alpha treasurer Mitch Gibble, a sophomore. "Everything just looks so beautiful."

The brick used on the exterior is nearly identical to the brick on the old house.

"I sent some brick to my old classmates and told them, 'We tore down the old house — but it grew back,'" Kale said.

Of the $6.5 million, nearly $2.2 million of the cost was paid for through fundraising efforts. A mortgage was taken out with a local bank to cover the rest. The 27,000-square-foot house includes enough room to house 72 residents, and 58 will live in the house this semester.

The main level of the house features some private meeting rooms and study rooms that flow into a social area complete with a TV hanging from the wall, couches and a foosball table. That room flows into a dining room big enough to serve the 120 chapter members and more for meals. A large outdoor deck area overlooking Second Street is accessible from the dining room.

"We visited a couple places that were rebuilt and remodeled and got advice from them, and that was very helpful," Kale said. "We wanted everything to flow back to the main floor where guys could hang out and spend time together, that's where you build that camaraderie."

Though it wasn't the primary reason the house was built, a new building will also afford Lambda Chi Alpha to remain competitive with the other UI Greek organizations when it comes to recruiting new members. Rowley and Gribble, though, rushed the fraternity and chose it when only a vacant lot existed at the site of the current house.

"Going through rush last year, you go to a lot of different (fraternities), and you'll be surprised how many guys are rude to you even though they want you to join," Rowley said. "Lambda Chi, they were open, friendly, energetic and a really good group of guys, and it's a feeling I didn't get from the other houses."

With new houses popping up all over campus, the alumni hope today's students enjoy college as much as they did while developing lifelong friendships with those they'll be sharing living quarters with during that time.

"The young men today we felt like needed an environment similar to the one we enjoyed when we were here," said John Crook, a classmate of Kale's and a member of the house's construction board. "We had a blast. We want them to have that same opportunity to establish that bond of brotherhood that moves forward."

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moderndaycowboy wrote on August 18, 2017 at 8:08 am

It'll be trashed by the ned of the semester, gauranteed.

KDG wrote on August 18, 2017 at 10:08 am

Maybe next they can renovate their attitudes and behavior.

moderndaycowboy wrote on August 18, 2017 at 11:08 am

You and I have a better chance of winning Powerball.

Tyronius P HoggLegg wrote on August 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm

I noticed the linoleum floors for easy vomit/bodily fluids cleanup. Well done. Unfortunately Dean Wormer has put them on double secret probabtion and that will preclude Otis Day and the Knights from playing there next Friday evening.

OffTheBusRunning wrote on August 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm

That's rasiss!