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Presidents’ residences

Making these official houses a campus centerpiece
University Business, September 2017
  • AN INTIMATE, WELCOMING FEEL—Turning the living room of the president’s home at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania into an art gallery cost almost nothing—but sent a big message. President Kent Trachte and his wife, Sharon Trachte, want students to feel welcome in their home, particularly because the college has a tradition of serving first-generation students. The transformation of the living room, used for gatherings, highlights that the Trachtes embrace the liberal arts. The home was built in 1938.
  • TIME TO CHAT—Visiting speakers to Millersville University of Pennsylvania, such as television legend Ed Asner (seated on couch), have the chance to engage in informal conversation at Tanger House, the home of John M. Anderson (standing), who became president of the university in 2013. Built in 1930, Tanger has always served as the president’s house. Original architect: Cassius Emlen Urban, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • LET THERE BE LIGHT—The last extensive remodel, in 1999, of Millersville University’s Tanger House included the addition of a sunroom, which has space for several chairs and tables. The sunroom is used for small meetings.
  • SPILLING OUTSIDE—The exterior of the president’s house can also be used for events, as is the case with the patio area of Millersville University’s Tanger House.
  • ROOM FOR OVERNIGHT GUESTS—On the property of the neoclassical-style, circa-1910 structure purchased in 1948 by Stetson University for use as its President’s Home is a carriage house that serves as a guest cottage. A 2016 renovation included new furniture, flooring and paint to make the living room a quiet retreat for visitors to relax or work. The bedroom, bathroom and kitchen also had work done, and plumbing was replaced throughout. (Stetson University/Nick Leibee).
  • A SENSE OF HISTORY—When the President’s Home at Concord University in West Virginia received its last update in 2013, the living room was designed to recreate the original 1932 space, with new furniture, refinished hardwood floors, and a piano to provide entertainment at smaller gatherings. The renovation, costing approximately $325,500, also included an updated kitchen and ADA-compliance updates to the first floor, patio and entryway.
  • FORMAL DINING—The newly renovated and restored spaces of Concord University’s President’s Home also make it possible for hundreds of students, plus alumni and other benefactors of the university, to enjoy spending time in the house and its yard each year.  Architect: E.T. Boggess Architect (W.Va.); construction: Fredeking/Stafford Construction (W.Va.) and Allegheny Restoration & Builders (W.Va.); interior design: Interspace Limited (Ky.)
  • FROM MUSEUM TO HOME—The formal dining and living rooms in Western Kentucky University’s President’s Home include an early 19th century corner cupboard and other furniture from the campus’ Kentucky Museum. The house, built in 1958, became part of the university in 1979, with the most recent renovation completed in June 2017, prior to Timothy C. Caboni becoming its 10th president. The dining room’s mural, added less than 20 years ago when Gary Ransdell was president, was protected during a recent renovation.
  • FUNDING UPDATES—A 2017, $200,000 renovation to Western Kentucky University’s President’s Home was funded through private donations and the maintenance budget. The project included replacement of major building systems, appliances, floors, alarms and more, as well as the addition of energy-efficient windows and insulation.
  • BIG SPACES FOR FORMAL EVENTS—Liberty Hill at Rochester Institute of Tech is the venue of choice for many business meetings, including the Liberty Hill Breakfast Series. Held monthly since 1992, the series builds a sense of community through conversations on local, national and international issues. President Dave Munson, who started his post this summer, has continued the tradition of welcoming members of the RIT and greater Rochester communities to his home for the discussions. (A. Sue Weisler, RIT).
  • SUSTAINABLE UPDATE—RIT’s Liberty Hill, built in 1839 and serving as the president’s home since 1979—has been updated several times over the past several decades. Solar panels were recently installed on the structure.
  • STRATEGICALLY TIMED RENOVATIONS—Elon University’s Maynard House is undergoing renovations now, in between President Leo Lambert departure and the arrival of a new president for the Spring 2018 semester. The project includes all bathrooms (some are original to the circa-1956 home), a new kitchen and furniture updates in public spaces. Lambert and his wife Laurie hosted 3,000 guests during his 19-year tenure, including President George H.W. Bush, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  • ROOM FOR RECEPTIONS—Nearly 200 events a year are held at the President’s House at Wheaton College (Mass.). It was built in 1829 and gutted in 2007 to create an entertainment space, with sound/lighting systems and central air. The $3.6 million project (including landscaping, new furnishings and a catering kitchen installation in the basement) took place between the tenures of two former presidents, a few years before current leader Dennis M. Hanno’s inauguration in 2014. (Keith Nordstrom/Wheaton College).
  • HISTORIC DETAILS PRESERVED—The great room of Wheaton College’s President’s House was also part of the major renovation in 2007. The historic home’s original windows and five original hearths were preserved. Founder Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s portrait hangs over the mantel of this room’s hearth. The private quarters of the home have been clearly separated from the “public” space, as well—a common feature in these facilities that helps keep the private spaces secure. (Keith Nordstrom/Wheaton College).
  • ROOM FOR FUN—Wheaton College’s Student Government Association teams up with President Dennis Hanno to decorate the President’s House for Halloween each year. Then, local ghosts and goblins from around campus and the community are invited to visit the house for parties and trick-or-treating. (Keith Nordstrom/Wheaton College).
  • WELL-EQUIPPED KITCHEN—The neoclassical President’s Home at Stetson University sits on the National Register of Historic Places, but its renovated and reconfigured modern kitchen provides plenty of space for preparing and serving food. Outdoor functions on the property have hosted up to 1,500 people and dinner for 40 has been served inside. More than 40 events are held on the property annually. Interior design: Crescendo (Fla.); construction: Bace Construction (Deland, Fla.) (Stetson University/Nick Leibee).
  • ENTERTAINING EFFICIENCIES—A complete renovation in 2013 made the kitchen in the Concord University President’s Home more efficient for entertaining and clean-up. Hundreds of students, as well as alumni and university benefactors of the West Virginia school, attend special events at the home each year.

Their form and function may vary, but there’s one trait nearly every president’s residence has in common: It’s much more than just a home.

“The residence is a tool,” says Dennis Barden, a senior partner at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. Colleges prefer to keep their leaders on or near campus “and essentially on call 24/7,” adds Barden, who has played a central role in almost 400 searches, many of them in higher ed.

The homes are used for institutional purposes and rituals, especially related to alumni relations and development. “An invitation to a president’s home connotes an intimacy and importance with which most people resonate,” he says.

In Barden’s experience, a president’s home is often seen as an attractive part of the package—yet it’s not “primarily a perk,” he says. “I don’t know that most presidents, if given their druthers, would choose to live in an even more obvious fishbowl than that in which their position already puts them.”

A well-maintained house “can be a real attraction in recruiting,” says Jessica Kozloff, president and senior consultant at Academic Search and president emerita of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, it can also present real issues if it hasn’t been updated and a new president gets blamed for the costs.”

What gets updated and when

Most institutions aim to time renovations with a leadership transition. At Elon University in North Carolina, 19-year-president Leo Lambert moved out of Maynard House this spring to prep for a new president’s January 2018 move-in. “The renovation of presidential homes can be a lightning rod for controversy,” Lambert says.

The timing made it clear that “the trustees were in charge of the renovation and would review all expenses, to avoid putting a new president in an awkward situation,” he adds. With 3,000 guests hosted in a typical year, Maynard House needed updated furniture in its public areas, a new kitchen and bathroom renovations, Lambert says.

Kozloff recommends any renovations begin immediately after the outgoing president announces an impending departure. “This protects the new president to a large extent from the inevitable criticism that he or she ‘demanded’ the renovation,” she says.

Common updates involve opening up space to accommodate larger events and modernizing the kitchen for efficiency and elegance. The greening of presidents’ homes—such as with energy-efficient windows and with solar panels—is another trend.

After renovations, colleges will typically provide a modest budget for the new president to make cosmetic changes, Barden adds. At many of these homes, the separation of private and public areas is more pronounced today—mainly for enhanced security.

Tanger House at Millersville University of Pennsylvania had its last remodel in 1999, but each year more cameras are added and a large fence was recently built around the property.

Barden believes institutions are both proactive about security and responsive to requests for enhanced security from the president and family. Such upgrades, he says, are “a work in constant progress” rather than the sort of capital improvement that goes along with moving a new president in.


Melissa Ezarik is UB's managing editor.

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