IU VP discusses frat house move

  • Sept. 19, 2013

By Jon Blau

Explaining Indiana University’s deal with Phi Gamma Delta, which would remove six houses from the University Courts Historic District and replace them with a new frat house, IU’s vice president for facilities said Tuesday that the buildings were “in the battle zone” but that the university would be open to relocating at least one of them.

 Tom Morrison, who spoke at the tail end of a Bloomington Faculty Council meeting, worked through some points of contention that have pitted the university against residents of the neighborhood, who want to preserve the structures and strongly oppose a fraternity being built just south of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority on Woodlawn Avenue.

“We want them to live just like everybody else,” Morrison said of the houses. “There are no better historic preservationists in this community than Indiana University. We invest lots and lots of money in preserving what we have and the history. This one is in the battle zone, the front door of Woodlawn and the rest of the neighborhood.”

While many people have questioned whether a fraternity house really matches the residential building outlined in IU’s master plan, Morrision restated that a new FIJI house would fit the plan and help build up the Woodlawn Avenue corridor, which will one day connect up to the athletic complexes, by putting the FIJIs next to the sorority and near the Collins Living Learning Center.

The fraternity’s deal with the IU Foundation, which would allow the Greek organization to build on the land, is contingent upon the FIJIs raising money toward the building, but the university would maintain control over its architecture. With the current house in hand, the university is looking at either expanding the law school or building extra lab space for Swain Hall, Morrison said. “We want something that is facing Woodlawn that is strong,” he said.

Morrison also said there was an urgency to get a deal done with the FIJIs because the fraternity was looking at renovating its current house, and, if they allowed the greek organization to refinance and go through with that process, they might have not sold “for another 30 years.”

The neighborhood is on both national and state historic registries, but it was Morrison’s contention that the houses themselves are not historic, because they are considered “contributing” to the overall neighborhood only. He did single out 825 E. Eighth St., currently the India Studies building, and said it could be moved by the university. He also said IU is open to preservationists coming in and taking the houses.

The real gem for the university was the FIJIs’ current house between Maurer Law School and Swain Hall. IU had a chance to purchase the land underneath the frat house in the 1940s, Morrison said, but the university passed. Ever since, he said it has been IU’s goal to purchase the house, but the fact that the fraternity owns both the land and the house has put it in a strong bargaining position.

According to Morrison, sending the FIJIs out to North Jordan Avenue, with most other fraternities and sororities, was a “nonstarter.” The university also looked at finding a place for the FIJIs to build a new house on Third Street, but they couldn’t find a big enough lot.

The university did not want to take the house via eminent domain, IU spokesman Mark Land said Wednesday, because that move would face approval from the governor and the state budget committee; it’s also not seen as a “positive process” by many people, he said.

“We view it as a last resort to be considered when no other options can be found,” Land said via email.

There were some objections at the faculty council meeting to the way the university has handled this situation, however. Rebecca Spang, an associate professor of history, said she was sensitive to the neighbors’ concerns that a fraternity might not fit the character of a residential neighborhood.

“Most people that live in a residential neighborhood don’t want to live next door to a fraternity house,” she said. “I think in the interests of the neighborhood, of the community, we have to be taking into account. To say, ‘Oh, this is just at the edge (of campus)’ -- being at the edge doesn’t mean there is a sound difference, that the sound doesn’t travel.

“There are real questions here about the university-community relations, and this doesn’t seem to have been handled in a way that makes the university look very good to the neighborhood.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.