Pittsburg State has been cleaning up the residence halls built in the mid-’50s as part of an effort to reflect modern times. So it’s no surprise, really, that it was recently decided to do the same thing with the president’s house.

Pittsburg State has been cleaning up the residence halls built in the mid-’50s as part of an effort to reflect modern times. So it’s no surprise, really, that it was recently decided to do the same thing with the president’s house.

PSU plans to demolish the existing house and build a new, $1.5 million facility to act, in some ways, as the university’s front porch.

Needs and Past

The issue started more than a year ago, in the transition between PSU presidents Tom Bryant and Steve Scott, when the PSU Foundation board of trustees voted to begin securing private gifts to improve the president’s residence. But perhaps the real issue began far earlier, in 1954.

“The existing president’s house was built in 1954 as a single family residence, as a house for the president and his family. That was done after a requirement that the president and chancellors of Kansas schools live on campus,” said Brad Hodson, PSU vice president for university advancement, as well as PSU Foundation executive director. “It was built in 1954 as a home, and just a home. Since 1954, expectations have expanded for the president, and the home has not kept pace with the expectations that have been placed on that facility.”

Notably, that includes part of being the public face of the institution. Hodson said that in 2008, the existing house held 27 events and hosted more than 1,000 people in the space. However, he noted that the current home can fit only about 80 at a time, spread over four to five rooms with little traffic flow.

“If you have any guests that needed to use the restroom, they had to use the president’s private restroom. I don’t know anyone who wants to let 150 people use their bathroom,” Hodson said.

Plans and Present

Further, Hodson said as the study of the existing home continued, it became clear that there were “significant structural issues” as well in the existing house.

That’s why when President Scott was chosen, the Kansas Board of Regents expressly waived the requirement that Scott and his family live on campus, and instead allowed Scott to live in a lease near campus while plans continue for the former president’s house.

Then there came a question of whether to renovate or just to start over.

“We looked at renovating the current structure to meet our needs,” said Paul Stewart, director of facilities planning. “An outside estimate of this renovation put the total cost at nearly $1.5 million, which was similar to the amount needed to build new. It quickly became apparent that new construction was our best choice.”

Plans for the university house include demolishing the existing building to make way for a facility with about 6,000 square feet of usable space, with more than half being used for public functions and the remainder being used as a private family setting.

The price tag for the new university house totals $2 million once ancillary costs such as furnishing, landscaping and other costs are factored in. But the cost to the taxpayer? $0.

The entire budget for what will be the university house is being funded through private donations, with just under $1 million already pledged. That’s not money that’s being lost elsewhere, either.

“One of the things we’re talking about with donors to this project is that when they sign a pledge document, part of the document says that this in no way will affect their giving to athletics, academics, or any other project,” Hodson said. “If they’re already giving to the College of Business, this will be done on top of what they’re already doing. We have a candid conversation that this is on top of their other commitments.”

Future and Fit

Hodson and other PSU officials aren’t planning to tear down the existing structure until funding can be completely secured and the Kansas Board of Regents gives the green light. However, if things go according to schedule, the current home will be torn down in the spring, with construction set to start in summer 2011 with completion in summer 2012.

Hodson said the new facility will be a reasonable fit to the campus, rather than stick out.

“It’s not going to be a structure that doesn’t fit with our culture and our architecture of the university,” Hodson said. “We will not build a monstrostiy out of place. We’re a democratic, unpretentious area, and from design, we’ve been candid about it being functional and serving the needs of engagement and hosting events while fitting who we are.”

Hodson noted the intrinsic value involved with students and donors being invited to spend time at the president’s home, and he said he believes the planned building will further help improve the success of events and donors.

“It’s been a single family residence for 50 years, long before the president was expected to be a spokesperson for the university, a host for VIPs, and a front door for the university,” Hodson said. “We want a facility that matches the expectations of the role of president.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 132.