APhi moves into house
By Karen Kaplan
Fifty-seven Alpha Phi members moved into two converted brownstones at 477 and 479 Commonwealth Avenue in late August. The sorority is the first at MIT to receive a house.
The two adjoining brownstones can hold up to 60 boarders in two quadruples, 11 triples, eight doubles and three singles. The house also has a kitchen, a dinning area, a parlor, a television room, a study room, a chapter room, and a roof deck.
"There were definitely some people putting pressure on us, saying `They're not going to make it,' " said Alpha Phi President Christina H. S. Kwon '92. "We were getting teased by fraternities that women couldn't live together."
"I'm surprised at the number of things we can do for ourselves," Kwon said. "In the past, if something broke we'd just call [Physical Plant], but we've built shelves in our closets, done some minor plumbing, and changed some light bulbs," she said.
Special features of the house include Institute telephones in every room and Ethernet links, allowing residents to connect their computers directly to Athena. These systems cost between $60,000 and $70,000, said Lydia S. Snover, senior planning officer for institutional research. Snover, who was a member of Alpha Phi at Boston University, was also treasurer of the local Alpha Phi alumnae group that financed the house's renovations.
Costs for the house
near four million
The price of the house, which was purchased by MIT last year, was $2.4 million. Renovations, including furniture and other accessories, cost another $1.4 million.
The local alumnae group, the Zeta Phi Chapter House Corporation of Alpha Phi International Fraternity, Inc., borrowed $1.4 million from the Institute's Independent Residence Development Fund, which it will repay on a
40-year, three percent schedule, according to Stephen D. Immerman, director of special services in the Office of the Senior Vice President.
Because it is a graduated payment loan, Immerman said the money would in effect be repaid within 25 to 30 years in order to "keep the money working."
The cost of living in the house is $2400 per term, and includes "room, board, food, laundry, utilities, electricity, water, taxes and paying off our mortgage. It's different from rent," Kwon said.
"We've been promised by the Institute that we'd remain competitive with McCormick [Hall]," Kwon said. "Hopefully our room and board will go down soon."
Snover estimated that room and board at Alpha Phi was more expensive than housing in other independent living groups. But, she said, Alpha Phi has "a higher debt load, a house director, which fraternities don't have, and they have an MIT phone hook-up." She also added that the Alpha Phi house provides more space per person.
Snover said the annual average cost of Institute housing, including meals, is $5300, compared to $4800 for Alpha Phi.
Alpha Phi members said they enjoyed living in the house. "It's so nice to come home to a house that's not MIT and look out the window and not see MIT," said Gwendolyn A. Watanabe '93. "It relieves stress."
Susan K. Scruggs '93 agreed. "There are 60 other sisters around to help you. You're never alone. And we're very distant from Athena."
In order to adjust to an off-campus lifestyle, the chapter held a "Safety Day" to make members aware of the potential hazards of living in Kenmore Square. "Police from Kenmore Square came and talked to us, and MIT patrolmen spoke about personal safety," Kwon said.
The chapter was instructed in the use of the house's alarm and sprinkler systems, the location of the fire extinguishers, and watched a video on fire safety and how to evacuate the building. "We're giving people an awareness of how to live on their own," Kwon said.
MIT Medical Department staff members also spoke to the sorority about health matters.
House director hired
In accordance with National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) rules, Alpha Phi has hired a house director, Amy R. Tighe. "My job is mostly to have a presence in the house and to help people understand what it's like to live in Kenmore Square," said the 33-year-old Tighe, who is a business consultant, writer and storyteller. "This is more than a full-time job -- it's an all-the-time job."
In the past month, she has hired a cook, spent much time dealing with construction workers who are finishing up renovations, and working on other "odds and ends."
Tighe is very enthusiastic about the Alpha Phi chapter. "They say the Peace Corps is the toughest job you'll ever love, but I was in the Peace Corps and they were wrong. This is even better," she said.
In addition to receiving room and board, Tighe earns a salary that she said could keep her "happy being here and not doing anything else."
Men allowed in house,
but alcohol is not
For security purposes, guests at the house must be chaperoned by a member of Alpha Phi at all times. Male visitors are allowed to go anywhere in the house with a chaperone, Kwon said.
"After midnight, we ask visitors to be in the common areas, to keep the noise down. We can have overnight guests if it's cleared with suitemates first," Kwon explained. She said the rules are "for the convenience of the people who live here."
Kwon said that rumors that men were not allowed above the first floor were unfounded. Alpha Phi Standards Chair Colleen M. Schwingel '92 said, "We do have a national policy on men. Our rules pretty much follow our national standards. We have our own adaptations about what our standards rules are."
In accordance with another NPC rule, alcohol is not allowed in the house at any time, even by residents of legal drinking age.
Other sororities may
not get houses soon
The establishment of off-campus houses for other sororities may depend on the success of the Alpha Phi house. "I hope other sororities get houses too," Kwon said. "It's a good system for women."
However, Immerman was less optimistic about finding additional facilities for sorority housing soon. "The convergence of opportunity that this particular house represented is unlikely to happen again in the same way," he said. He said the property was in good shape, was reasonably priced, was without any other apparent or interested buyers and was under favorable zoning requirements. "The likelihood of those things converging agian is limited."
Immerman did say that the Institute is always on the lookout for favorable properties. "If an opportunity presented itself, we'd look at it carefully," he said.