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Campus News

President’s House Will Undergo Big Renovation

by Timothy Burkhardt, News Editor

Jonathan Ehrlich, Warren Wilson’s Vice President for Administration and Finance, the cost for the renovations will cost around $500,000 to $750,000. Photo by Josh Reiss

As Warren Wilson bids farewell to President Sandy Pfeiffer and prepares to welcome the incoming president, Steve Solnick, many people may be wondering what kind of changes will the campus go through. At least one change is already in the works; a cosmetic change, but in a way, a big one. At the beginning of the upcoming fall semester, the President’s House will undergo a serious renovation.

There are several reasons for the repairs and additions being made to the house. Some of these reasons have to do with the look of the house and the image it represents, but there are also several structural needs when it comes to the house which the school was not willing to put off repairing any longer.

According to Warren Wilson’s Supervisor of Design and Construction, Steve Farrell, the main reasons are that
a) it is too small,
b) it has safety hazards,
c) it is energy inefficient.

Farrell said, “[Solnick] is not asking for this, we are presenting him with an appropriate place to raise his family. Not over-the-top or fancy. Safe. Energy Efficient.”

Estimates have varied, but the board of trustees has capped the budget at one million dollars according to Jonathan Ehrlich, Warren Wilson’s Vice President for Administration and Finance. “We won’t know the true cost of construction until the redesign is completed and the work is done…With the use of student crews to the greatest extent possible, I am hoping that the actual cost will be between $500,000 to $750,000.”

The safety hazards that need to be addressed are mostly related to faulty or ungrounded wiring. Electrical shocks and potential fires are hazards that have increased as the house has aged. Fresh coils of copper and new fuses need to be installed in order to assure that the house is a safe place for children.

Incoming president Solnick has three children, and there are not enough rooms in the President’s House to accommodate them all. The children are all growing, and despite how much Warren Wilson community members love their roommates, sharing space with a sibling is rarely an ideal situation. The addition of an extra bedroom will allow the family the opportunity to have the privacy that at times everyone desires.

Renovating the President’s House will also help make it a more environmentally friendly abode. Better wiring, insulation, and windows can go a long way to helping conserve more energy inside a house. Better plumbing can help reduce water wastage.

Better plumbing can also reduce embarrassing social situations. The pipes at the President’s House are prone to clogging, causing overflowing toilets, damp floors, smelly rooms, and wet feet. In a house which is frequently used to entertain guests of the school, events like these could be potential reputation breakers.

And what of our school’s reputation? Another reason given by both Steve Farrell and Steve Solnick for the repairs of the house was the intention of opening up the home as a more community space. Exactly how this space would be available to the students and faculty has not yet been defined, but what is clear is that the school would like to make a more inviting atmosphere at the President’s House so that guests can feel at home. “We want it to be a gathering space for potential supporters of the college.” Said Farrell.

Doing It The Wilson Way 

One might wonder how renovating this house can fit in with the ideals of simplicity so often expressed by members of the Warren Wilson community. Is it wise, in this time of economic hardship, to spend big money on repairing a house? Will this undertaking be done in a sustainable manner? Who will be doing the repairs?

The answers here are unclear, but exciting. What is certain is that Warren Wilson work crews will be directly working on this project. While the list is not complete, potential crews that will get their hands dirty fixing up the President’s House next year are: Electric Crew, Plumbing, Landscaping, Blacksmith Crew, Paint Crew, and Rentals and Renovations.

Using Wilson work crews will help take some of the bite out of the monster budget that will necessarily accompany a project of this magnitude. It will also help the school assure that the project is completed “the Wilson way.” According to Steve Farrell, anything in the house that can be salvaged and reused will be, and the school is planning to use lumber from campus forest resources.

The renovation is estimated to take up to 10 months to complete. During that time, soon-to-be president Solnick and his family will be living off campus as they await the day they can move in. Commuting will not be the most ideal way to begin his presidency at the Warren Wilson, but Steven Solnick is grateful to the school for the repairs being made, and confident that these repairs will benefit not only his family, but the school as a whole. According to Solnick,

“Maeve and I and the kids are keen to be living on campus, and the house is currently just too small to fit us as a family. However, the intent of the renovation is not just to house us, but primarily to make the President’s House a resource for the whole community – a sort of “living room” for the whole college, and a tool that we can use to welcome old and new friends to the college and to encourage all sorts of social, creative and intellectual encounters. It should also reflect and showcase the College’s values of sustainability and respectful integration with the rest of the campus and the surrounding landscape.

Since it is to be a resource not just for me but for presidents after me and for the wider community, the renovations will be guided by a committee that the Trustees are just now pulling together. Maeve and I will have input, of course, along with many others, and I suspect the process will be quite collaborative. I think the renovation is still at the stage of considering alternative design approaches.

We’re very much looking forward to playing a role in the process and ultimately to moving onto the campus and making full use of the house.”

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