Alpha Phi moves forward with house
By Karen Kaplan
Members of Alpha Phi are gearing up to live in MIT's first sorority house. The chapter is currently waiting for approval to combine its two houses into one.
"We're hoping for full occupancy by the summer of 1991," said Neil H. Dorow, advisor to fraternities and independent living groups. The house, located in the Kenmore Square area, will house about 60 women.
Sisters of Alpha Phi met regularly over the summer with representatives from the Alpha Phi national organization, the MIT Planning Office, and others to discuss plans for the house, according to Dorow.
One major step taken by the chapter was the selection of Martha Ondras as architect. "We're working on design sketches now and are about to begin pre-construction work," said Betty Chang '91, an Alpha Phi member who worked on the project over the summer. "Major construction is set to begin in November."
Altogether, Bethany J. Foch '93, another Alpha Phi sister who was involved with the project over the summer, estimates that renovations on the house, which will include joining two separate buildings at 477 and 479 Commonwealth Ave. into one, will run between $3 and $4 million. MIT loaned this money to the chapter, and the sorority will pay it back over time.
One reason construction will be so expensive is that the house must meet many relatively new Boston zoning laws. "Most of the fraternities are older than these laws," said Foch, "so Alpha Phi is complying with things the fraternities didn't have to" when they were built. "We have to comply with more rules, and that makes it more expensive."
For example, because more than 20 people will live in the house, it has been deemed "semi-public," and therefore must have handicapped access. Installing an elevator and wheelchair ramps alone will cost $100,000.
In addition, "All renovation and remodeling plans are contingent on approval by the city," said Dorow.
Besides Boston's zoning laws, the house must also comply with rules set by the Back Bay Historical Society (BBHS), in accordance with an agreement reached when Alpha Phi purchased the property last spring. All exterior remodeling plans must be approved by the BBHS, according to Foch.
"Because we're right on Kenmore Square, they have to OK plans for the outside of the house" so that it maintains the atmosphere of the community, she said.
Another restriction imposed by the BBHS is that no alcohol will be allowed on the premises, even for sisters of legal drinking age. "This is also an Alpha Phi national rule for houses," said Foch. "It means we won't be having parties, because we can't have any alcohol, but things like faculty teas and more formal events will be likely."
After construction is well underway, the chapter will have to tackle the mechanics of running a sorority house. "Basically, it'll be run like a frat," said Foch. "We'll be hiring a cook and some kind of house manager, but we won't start interviewing until the whole chapter meets to discuss what we want in the way of staff."
"We just finished an amazing rush and everyone in this sorority is really psyched for this house and really psyched to live there," said Chang.
During rush this year, Alpha Phi was specifically rushing for women who wanted to live with other women, according to Foch. "Our pledges know that pledging Alpha Phi means making a commitment to live in this house," she said.
"A large percentage of our pledge class this year lives in McCormick," which Foch takes to be a good indication that they'd want to live in an all-female house.
Official Alpha Chi Omega
search to begin fall 1992
Eventually, all sororities on campus, including the newly established Kappa Alpha Theta chapter, will be housed, Dorow said. However, MIT will not begin actively searching for a house for Alpha Chi Omega, the next chapter on the list, until the fall of 1992 at the earliest. "We want to see how it works [with Alpha Phi's house] before making substantial moves forward with other houses," Dorow explained.
"We're definitely not waiting for MIT to help us -- we've started looking ourselves," said Kathleen L. Evanco '93, an Alpha Chi Omega member involved with her sorority's search process. "MIT has said that if we find something, they'd help us finance it. We're just speeding up the process," she said.
"We've had a lot of support for getting a house from our national and the alumni group in the area," said Alpha Chi Omega President Sharra L. Davidson '91. "We're in the process of incorporating our House Corporation Board, which is a big step because it's a legal thing," she said. "A lot of what happens next is based on how Alpha Phi does, so we're out there cheering for them."
Now the chapter is focusing on "developing house policies, rules and officer responsibilities so that all the red tape will be out of the way by the time the real estate comes along," said Evanco. "We're keeping our eyes and ears open."
Although Sigma Kappa President Arlene R. Yang '91 said her sorority "plans to get a house," she feels "it's still too early to look." When the time comes, she said, "we expect support from our national. Everyone's goal is to get housed."
After Kappa Alpha Theta is more firmly established on campus, the chapter will be put on the waiting list for a house, Dorow said.