What Style Architecture...Don't be too Creative! The design and style of a fraternity house is a very subjective matter. Without imposing any architectural style or design opinions on your committee, the following are guidelines which are worthy of your consideration:
- Architectural styles, like other creative design work, can often be "trendy." You are building a structure to last many years, and its architectural design should look just as good in twenty years as it does today. Avoid the design cliché's or architectural "tricks" that are often imposed upon a structure to cover other design shortcomings.
- Some styles are more fitting to your community than are others--Early American looks just as out of place in New Mexico as adobe does in Connecticut. Because of the uniform architecture of a university or a community, one particular style may be more appropriate than another.
- The structure should look like a fraternity house. Historically, some architectural styles have become much more closely associated with a fraternity house than others, such as Colonial (with or without columns) or English Tudor. Most people think of fraternity structures as masculine, sturdy, stately, and somewhat mysterious. Glass houses, by contrast, aren't what we normally expect a fraternity house to be.
- In recent years, contemporary architecture, rather than period or traditional styles, is first thought of for fraternity construction. The reasons are two-fold: Normally it is less expensive to build, and the architect has more freedom for his own design and taste. A disadvantage is that it is much more difficult for a designer to give such a facility the warmth and character necessary in a fraternity house, as well as the lasting design that you will want.
- Whatever the style, a fraternity house needs character. If the house you erect has no more interest or warmth than the local dormitories or apartment complexes, then you have failed in your mission to aid your chapter.
- If you are renovating an existing facility, your architect should be challenged to respect the style and design of the original building. The addition should enhance the property, and the renovation should be an improvement to your real estate investment. Too often, expansions or renovations appear as "after thoughts" and destroy the quality of the original design.
The end product which you should hope to erect is a fraternity structure of good architectural design that looks like a men's club from the exterior. It should have an immediate impact upon entry, and it should be a warm and pleasant place in which to live and entertain. It should relate well to the site and with its neighboring structures. It needs to be functional for all types of fraternity activities and it must be practical to maintain for long-lasting use.
What to Look for in Design The design of a fraternity house could fill a book, can bring about many heated arguments and will vary drastically from campus to campus. Neither you nor your architect should enter this venture with pre-conceived ideas. However, Headquarters can provide you proven models for fraternity home design.
The basic research steps are:
- What is the optimum size for a fraternity house on your campus? What is the house capacity of the leading fraternities, and will your budget enable you to build one of this capacity? Is the prognosis of the foreseeable future for larger, smaller, or same size houses?
- Arrange for your building committee and the architect to take a tour of those fraternity and sorority houses which appear to be the best designed and most like what you hope to erect. It pays to know the competition--what works, what does not, their future plans, etc.
- Quiz the Headquarters staff about which SigTau chapter houses they feel function best. Either visit those chapters or obtain information from them.
- Be certain that during the research process you are communicating with the architect so that your developing ideas and your budget are compatible. You do not want to purchase plans for a perfect fraternity house that no one can afford.
Many factors will dictate the actual design of the house. The site, budget limitations, the capacity, university and local requirements, and your architectural preference are just a few of the ingredients which will guide the architect in shaping the final plan.
Some specific areas for your consideration are:
- As a rule, there are two distinctively different operations taking place within a fraternity house. It is a residence for live-in members and it is a social center for members and their guests. Normally, it is preferable to physically separate these two as much as possible so that both can function simultaneously.
- Research for requirements in the public or social areas is just as important as establishing the live-in capacity. Before the plans are completed, in your imagination run several different events that normally take place during the year to see that they function properly. If possible, create public areas which can function for more than one use.
- The size and shape of the residents' rooms vary dramatically throughout the country. We have brothers who live in two-room suites, rooms with lofts; two-man, four-man, and six-man rooms; clusters around baths; sleeping dorms; or 8' x 12' cubicles, just as a sampling. None of the above have yet been identified as "perfect." Some obviously are far more luxurious and expensive than others. In general, the less men per room, the more satisfied the occupants tend to be; however, single-man rooms are trouble.
- In an attempt to make some fraternity structures more desirable to the mortgage lenders, a few chapter houses have been designed more like an apartment building or other alternative uses. Sometimes this is the only solution to a difficult housing problem; however, we strongly discourage such designs.
- As chapter houses grow larger, more care should be taken to avoid the institutional look of a college dormitory. As an example, sometimes the sample technique of putting a jog in a long corridor helps to solve the problem. Constantly emphasize to the architect the importance of intimate human scale in your fraternity structure.
- Traditions that surround the present physical structure can be lost simply as a result of the arrangement of space in the new chapter property. It is necessary to consider in advance these traditions that are worthy of special care to maintain, and what should be jettisoned as excess baggage as part of the momentum and enthusiasm for the new chapter.
- If meals are to be served in the chapter house, the kitchen becomes one of the most critical features of the building. A good functioning dining operation can make or break budget. Be sure that the kitchen is workable (not all architects are experts in the kitchen). Do not hesitate to ask for outside help, but be equally cautious not to "over design" the space based upon the recommendation of a Four Star chef.
- If your advance planning is detailed and careful, it should be adequate for 20 or more years; however, do not assume that conditions never change. Positioning of the building on the lot to permit future expansion, and design of the structure with that in mind, has saved countless thousands of dollars later for some wise corporation planners.
- Finally, your selection of interior furnishing and finish are something future house managers with either curse you or praise you for. Remember that this is a facility which will receive the hard wear and tear of enthusiastic college youth. At the same time, keep in mind that you are erecting neither a prison nor an institutional dormitory. There are some materials that are far more durable than others which still have a feeling of warmth and attractiveness. You need professional guidance in interior design. There are always too many brothers, mothers, and wives who are "would be" interior design experts. You not only need the "real thing," but you need someone who is more attuned to commercial design than single home design.
Adjusting to a New House Adjusting to a new or much larger chapter house is a considerable chore and should be planned carefully. New house decline or "slump" is a real malady that has caused previously successful chapters to falter, or even fail, just after the goal of the new facility was achieved--the exact reverse of what was supposed to have happened!
Emphasis on the development of new and superior programs for the new facility, higher standards of cleanliness and maintenance, and expanded recruitment efforts all need to be discussed and developed over a period of months before actual occupancy. This will prepare the chapter for the shock of moving into a new or much larger chapter house.
It would be wise to have the alumni chapter outline a specific written guideline for care and maintenance of the new facility. This would include a job description for the house manager and any other individuals or services to be employed to care for the property. Specific rules of what can and cannot be done within the student rooms should be developed by a joint committee of undergraduates and alumni. Sloppy maintenance and careless upkeep habits of the past will carry over into the new facility if stringent steps are not taken from the beginning. Because of the increased size and value of the property, consideration may be given to use of more professional help in the future.
Too often, chapters purchase furniture, dishes, drapes, and carpet as if they were buying for their own home. No private residence endures the wear and tear of a fraternity house. You should think of yourself as a hotel when buying these necessities. Ease of maintenance is important too.
The alumni board's responsibilities do not cease when the facility is completed. The relief of the completed building and the disappearance of the alumni leaders have been a major factor for the downfall of many chapters with new residences. If the current alumni leadership is exhausted, recruit new alumni (possibly with different and more needed talents) to assume leadership.
A new house is the first step. The second step is managing it.
Finding the Money to Build the House Now that you know what is necessary to select a good site, design, and build the best house possible, you must address the more difficult part of the problem. How does the chapter pay for it?
Even before your building committee is organized to make the decisions previously discussed, your chapter should form a finance committee. Any finance committee should definitely include an accountant and either a banker or someone active in real estate development/finance, or both if you have men in each field. Businessmen who are accustomed to balancing budgets and dealing with lending institutions are also good assets. The undergraduate controller needs to be included on the committee, as he is the important link to ensure that the alumni are not obligating future undergraduate members to fees they are unwilling to pay.
This selection will deal with several ways in which a fraternity or sorority house can be financed--ranging from methods to accumulate a building fund, raising money from alumni, to borrowing money the conventional way, and more exotic means if no other methods are possible.
However, stop now and reread the introductory chapter of this manual. If you have not yet established the three steps outlined to prepare your chapter for this undertaking, you need to put all building ideas on "hold" until you are, in fact, ready. Otherwise, your success will be minimal and disappointment great.
Assuming that your chapter has accomplished the basics and is prepared for this project, the methods for securing funds are described in the order of their desirability.
Accumulating a Building Fund Surprising to many fraternity alumni leaders, student housing can be very profitable. Sororities and owners of private student dormitories are proving it every year. Unfortunately, most fraternity alumni corporation leaders approach their role more as a charity than as a real estate investor of their brothers' dollars.
There are a few fortunate fraternity chapters which have been so well managed that they not only have sizable homes with little debt, but they also have several hundred thousand dollars in reserve. There is absolutely no reason why your chapter cannot accomplish that same financial security. The time to begin is now.
Alumni boards need to educate themselves more completely regarding the financial ramifications of repairs and replacement projects that will be likely during the next ten or more years. A specific phased plan for replacement or renovation should be established for each chapter house operation. A professional, or a member of the board, can make that assessment and update it annually. The operational budget for each year should reflect these needed funds. Unfortunately, many boards establish a rental rate that covers only the base costs. In effect, that chapter is being subsidized by generations of members before them who initially paid for the house.
It is also important that the corporation become more familiar with the range of options available to students in other forms of housing on campus, and what it costs to live in those facilities. Many chapters are offering student housing at rates far below the campus norm. The old argument of low rates to help in recruitment is simply not true. On a typical campus, the largest and most successful groups have the highest room rent (which, incidentally, enables them to offer the best facility and one reason for their success!).
Among the responsibilities of an alumni board is assistance to the undergraduate controller and wise financial counsel to the chapter. While it is important for undergraduates to "learn from the experience," too many alumni groups have taken a "hands-off" attitude when it comes to undergraduate finances. This is not a "pass/fail" situation. More will be learned by the undergraduate members with close guidance by experienced or professionally trained alumni than by allowing them to falter and fail. There is no reason for an undergraduate chapter not to show a financial surplus at the end of the school year. There is every reason for pledging than surplus to the future building or renovation of a chapter house.
The most successful fraternity chapters have proficient annual giving programs. Each brother, upon leaving school, is quickly attuned to his financial responsibility as an alumnus. The most successful capital gifts campaigns have been conducted by chapters with good annual giving programs. These are funds that would not otherwise be available to the chapter. They should not be used for the regular maintenance of the chapter house or for programs which should be undertaken otherwise. Rather, these funds should be used for "enhancement" programs and set aside for future development or expansion of the chapter house.
The easiest method to guarantee high quality housing for your chapter, then, is in your everyday, year in and year out, management methods. There are three good sources for income on an annual basis.
- Include a reserve fund for replacement and future construction in the annual rent charged to the undergraduate chapter. The minimum amount should be $300 annually for each resident. Some chapters charge a percentage of the value of property, typically 3%. This would relate to an annual resource of $5,000 to $25,000 for a typical chapter.
- Closely supervise the undergraduate finances to assure a profit in their operation. A typical chapter should have the ability to save and contribute at least another $2,000 to $5,000 annually to the building fund.
- Establish an alumni annual giving program. Using proven methods enjoyed by many other SigTau chapters, your chapter can anticipate a good response with increased success each year from such a program. Depending upon the size and age of your group, this represents another $1,500 to $20,000 in income to your alumni board each and every year.
If your chapter has not established the above methods of good financial management, then you are missing the basic steps for financial security. As a chapter, you are passing up an opportunity for income of $5,000 to $25,000 or more per year which can be invested for future housing needs.
Raising Money from Alumni Through good management, you have accumulated funds for future building, but costs to bring your chapter's housing up to the standards of the other major groups on campus far exceed your assets. Where should you turn for the funds? Your existing equity could enable you to easily borrow substantial funds, but your prudent judgement discourages you from saddling future brothers with such a large debt.
The alumni of your chapter, properly nurtured, represent the potential for raising substantial funds. Many fraternity chapters have been highly successful at capital gifts campaigns. A successful fund-raising campaign requires thoughtful planning. Using the abilities of a professional fund raiser is encouraged. Many well-intentioned fund-raising efforts have failed due to the burden of the effort being on an alumnus.
Several things are accomplished with a major capital gifts campaign. First, for every $1,000 you raise in gifts, you will spare future undergraduates the responsibility of an ongoing mortgage payment. Secondly, it gives the chapter great exposure to its alumni and friends and brings widely scattered alumni together in a common project. Assuming you are successful, nothing else can do more to recharge chapter spirit.
The success of your effort will depend upon many factors, most of which you can control:
- The better your alumni programming in the past, the more successful the capital gifts drive will be. Do not even attempt a fund campaign if you have not first accomplished the required basics (as outlined in the introductory chapter). Poor address records, uninformed alumni, poor or bad undergraduate image, no pre-indoctrination, etc., are sure signs of disappointing results.
- A businesslike approach is essential. The plan must be thorough, the goal realistic, and the proposed project something all alumni will be pleased with. Alumni need assurance that the gift they are being asked to invest in is worthy of the effort. Begging and apologetic approaches will not raise money.
- The higher the quality of the campaign leadership, the better the chance of success. The enthusiastic support by the chapter's most respected members is the strongest possible endorsement. The leadership of a good capital gifts campaign will give as much as 50% of the funds raised and will be directly responsible for another 25%.
- Professional help is encouraged if your goal is for $50,000 or more. An expenditure of $10,000 to $50,000 or more is a good investment if you are trying to keep a substantial fund campaign organization moving quickly. Ironically, attempts to save money by doing fund raising "in house" has led to many failures.
- With careful planning, a portion of funds raised may be allocated to those costs directly associated with educational support. Please contact the Sigma Tau Gamma Educational Foundation for more information.
Dealing with a Lending Institution In dealing with a lending institution, you will be considered just like any other business entity. Therefore, your request and presentation must be professional looking and very businesslike. "Brotherhood" doesn't count in this case. Your loan application will be based upon the economic facts and the credibility of your organization (see Feasibility Study). You often have some initial obstacles to overcome. On a typical loan committee will sit some people who either dislike fraternities as a result of some past experience, have a low opinion of them, or have a misinformed opinion. Your objective is to represent yourself as the alternative to the poor repute that fraternities have in their minds. Secondly, the project should make such good economic sense that an opinion of fraternities is irrelevant.
The following suggestions may help you:
- Deal with the most important person possible at the lending institution. The "low man" is overly cautious because his own reputation is at stake; therefore, he is unlikely to speak out aggressively in your behalf. By contrast, if the chief executive officer endorses a request, it is much more difficult for a committee of lower ranking executives to turn it down.
- Make sure your financial records are complete and very professional looking. Sometimes sheer volumes of overwhelming figures will carry more weight than an amateur looking set which actually reflects better numbers. Do not make the request until you have your material in order.
- Provide professional looking projections for future years. Bankers love information which indicates that you have a well-thought-out venture. Do not even ask for a loan if your finances do not project a reasonable "cushion" and profit.
- Include more than financial figures and plans with your request. Provide substantial materials which establish the credibility of the chapter such as newspaper clippings, awards, letters of compliment, etc. Get the college or university to write a letter of endorsement.
- Emphasize the quality of leadership within your alumni organization. Provide names, addresses, and biographical information on the alumni board members so that the lender realizes that he is dealing with solid citizens and men of stature.
- Check around to see where other fraternities and sororities have their mortgages (the good ones, not those who are likely to be delinquent). Normally, if a lender has success with a specific type of loan, he is interested more. Secondly, fraternity financing may be more "Greek" than the letters to an institution which has never financed such a structure.
- Rely upon your alumni who are bankers, in real estate, and accountants, etc., for entry to specific lenders. Their connections can often smooth the way to the right person and minimize delays.
- Do not overlook the possibility of college or university endowments or other funds for chapter housing financing. Many institutions do it, and it may be a possibility that never occurred to your school's investment committee.
- Private investors may be a source for funds. In some instances, Sigma Tau Gamma alumni have loaned considerable amounts.
Feasibility Study Once you know the "competition" and available properties, the work begins. A critical step is completing Sigma Tau Gamma's Housing Feasibility Study. Some generalities:
- Quality, finished home construction, excluding property acquisition, runs $85+ per square foot.
- Institutional fixtures, furnishings, and engineering are musts. Putting one-half-inch plywood behind drywall in public areas eliminates holes.
- For each man living in the house, $10,000 worth of debt can be managed, as a general rule.
- Plan your repayment of your loan for 15 to 20 years. More than that, and you are kidding yourself, as the property will require a major renovation, and you will still be paying off the loan.
- Remember to charge:
- Room rent -- Everyone living in house, for their room.
- Board -- Everyone eating at the chapter. Try to have as many as possible, a requirement of those living in.
- Parlor Fees -- Everyone in the chapter, not just out-of-house brothers/pledges.
- Dues -- Everyone shares the cost of chapter activities.
- Room, board, parlor, and dues must be increased annually. Fail to do so, and you'll fall behind. Remember inflation even if it is only two to three percent.
- Room and board should exceed or must equal the residence hall fees. We are not supported by tax dollars, so our costs are not subsidized.
- Ample reserves are a must.
- A quality environment helps ensure a quality chapter. Quality costs money.
Chapter Housing Page 1
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