Re-imagine Sigma Pi

If you paid attention to the annual report and the last Muse, you are aware that Facilities Co-chairman Liviu Rusu ’98 has spent a significant amount of his personal time not only actually doing much of the work but also supervising and coordinating the rest. The house appears better than it has in many years. While the superficial appearance is quite good, much of the underlying infrastructure is old and in need of significant attention. Our first road in this “highway repair” is riddled with:

  • Old Bathrooms: Other than the rework of the second-floor shower area in 2017, the rest of the bathrooms have been essentially untouched (other than minor repairs) for about 30 years. There are frequent leaks to lower levels. Poor ventilation causes mold problems. And the old design is simply not appealing. A significant amount of work is required to repair this pothole.
  • Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC): In reality, we only have the “H.” Our antiquated gas-fired boilers with hot water radiators are 40 years old. Two of the boilers are past their expected lifetime and will have to be replaced soon. Multiple leaks over the years have caused water damage. There is no “V,” ventilation: no forced air flow, filtration, or fresh air replenishment (other than windows, which aren’t very effective with the long Ithaca winters). And, the “AC,” air conditioning, is limited to window-installed units. They are a fall hazard when installed by undergrads, inefficient, and an eyesore. Replacing the boilers and doing a better job of installing the window units could patch this pothole.
  • Doors: There is a mismatch of wooden and metal doors. Most have some damage. Door hardware is not standard dimensions and there are limited spare parts. One vendor recommended replacing doors and doorframes instead of getting new doors. With 25 bedrooms and a dozen common rooms, replacing all of these fire doors is not an insignificant pothole to patch.
  • Front Porch: After heavy rains, there is intermittent leakage from the porch into the dining room below. Attempts to locate and repair the leak have been unsuccessful. The supporting structure is partially degraded, a likely contributing cause of leaks. We need to rework the entire front porch: support structure, waterproof membrane, and deck material.

As I’m sure you all are aware, fraternity life is challenged on many fronts. While the reports to our members documented a few not-so-good years, our feeling is that we are currently on an upswing. However, we are still operating on a cash-in and cash-out basis. A little cushion after the good years; not so much after the not-so-good ones.

Our second road? Brother Liviu once again lit a bright light for us last summer by spiffing up many of the rooms and renting them out via Airbnb. We had multiple individual renters and rented the second floor to a youth group for a week (with the organizers indicating their interest in making this a recurring rental). Our house sits empty for a third of the year, generating only utility, tax, and insurance bills. We are excited about the possibility of further developing this significant source of rental income.

However, communal bathrooms, little ventilation, and window air conditioners severely limit our rental opportunities. With improvements, we could be generating a significant income instead of the house sitting vacant, and at the same time, making the rooms and house much more appealing to undergrads (i.e., providing significant help with rush).

And so to our crossroads: do we simply fix the potholes, or repave both roads with a good path into the future so we create a re-imagined Sigma Pi? We suggest the latter. With severely degraded boilers and bathrooms, it simply does not make sense to address them individually while we are considering significant improvements in the future.

Our plan:

  • Replace the existing heating system with electric heat-pump heating and air conditioning and forced air flow and filtering. Financial incentives are currently available to convert to an electrical system. And, Ithaca, which has already banned new gas installations for heating, is considering placing limits on future gas heating replacements.

  • Redesign the bathrooms to provide private baths for the adjacent eight bedrooms.
  • Remove the unused chimney for the east lounge fireplace, opening space to add private baths to six more bedrooms.

With these changes, the boiler rooms on the second and third floors will become empty. By taking space from walk-in closets in adjacent rooms, the boiler rooms could be converted to singles, or simply kept for much needed storage. This is a decision to make later. And, we will still need to address the doors and front porch. This is not a small undertaking, and we are still in the planning stage. We’re putting together a committee to manage this project, because it is simply too much for Liviu and me to handle along with ongoing routine maintenance. We’d really like someone to step up to be our foreman on this one, along with “skill workers” who have experience in specific areas we are addressing. We are also looking for some utility players to simply help carry the load. And of course, we will need to fund these improvements. All can help in that area.

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