After 22 years of housing complications and four relocations over the past 12 years, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity is looking forward to finally moving into a permanent home this fall.
The brothers officially finalized the purchase of Memorial Christian Church, located at the corner of Tappan Avenue and Hill Street, and renovations began at the end of January. According to Jerry Mangona, president of Sig Ep’s Michigan Alpha Alumni Board, the fraternity has long struggled to overcome complications with its housing.
Mangona said Memorial Christian Church approached Sig Ep’s real estate agent after making plans to relocate in order to accommodate for its growing congregation. After nearly two years of negotiation and hearings before the Ann Arbor Zoning Board of Appeals, a sale price was agreed on last summer. The total cost of the project, including renovations, will be more than $3 million.
“Financing the project was complex in an environment where banks are risk-averse, especially for a construction project,” Mangona said.
He added that renovations will include the conversion of old office spaces into bedrooms and other areas into study space, a social and dining area, and a room to formally display chapter memorabilia and awards.
Mangona said closing on the property involved cooperation from the Bank of Ann Arbor, BB&T Bank and the Sig Ep housing corporation, adding that more than $700,000 in pledges from alumni are helping finance the renovation.
Phoenix Contractors is handling the construction and its scheduled to be complete late this summer, Mangona said. Hobbs + Black Architects, founded by William S. Hobbs, a Sig Ep alum and 1958 University graduate, has been contracted for project design.
Kinesiology sophomore Michael Freedman, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said the brothers are thankful for their current home, but the space is not sufficient. He said there is very little common living space and the setup is not conducive to hosting parties.
Freedman added that once renovations are complete on the church, it will house 44 Sig Ep brothers and one resident scholar. He asserted that no external changes will be made to the church.
“I’m very excited about it and I know the rest of the guys are too,” he said. “We, as a fraternity, have been hearing about this for years.”
Freedman said anticipation about the new house is mounting, especially now that construction has begun. He added that he is proud that the fraternity is the second largest on campus and said he has high hopes for the fraternity’s progress once it has a place to call home.
“Since walking by the church and seeing the construction … the morale is extremely high. The way we look at it is they sky is the limit with an actual home,” he said.
According to Mangona, Sig Ep surrendered its charter in October 1994 following sanctions over a hazing incident. The local chapter still owned the house that the fraternity had formerly occupied, but numerous problems plagued the property, including substantial intentional damage and a fire in September 1995. The blaze, believed to be caused by vagrants, significantly reduced the amount of funding the University had offered to pay to recover the house from Comerica Bank.
Mangona said the Continental American Insurance Company filed a lawsuit in 1996 against the University, the fraternity, fraternity alumni and the University’s Office of Greek Life, claiming the insurance company had been put at “undue risk” due to the occupants’ treatment of the house. The property has since been demolished and is now the site of Weill Hall, which houses the University’s Ford School of Public Policy.
Since the fraternity, which was founded at the University in 1912, officially returned to campus in 1998, brothers have lived at four different locations, including their current apartment complex on Hill Street that they have transformed into a fraternity house, Mangona said.
He added that the alumni board recruited him in the early 2000s to find a permanent chapter house, which he said was not an easy task.
“Our biggest challenge was finding a suitable property that met the zoning requirement for the city for more than six unrelated people to share a common space,” he said.
Mangona said concerns arose with the Delta Delta Delta sorority, which will be Sig Ep’s neighbors when it moves into the new property in the fall of 2012. He added that Sig Ep has worked closely with Jane Cooper, president of the House Corporation of Tri Delt, to address their concerns, which includes headlights shining into windows of the sorority’s house and Sig Ep guests cutting across the Tri Delt property to get to the Sig Ep house.
During an internal meeting prior to their hearings with the Zoning Board of Appeals, Mangona said documents on the centennial history of the church were uncovered that indicated there was a time capsule inside the bronze cornerstone of the church. A ceremony to open the capsule will be held in early April, involving former members of the fraternity and the church.
Mangona added that Sig Ep brothers have been encouraged to gather items for their own time capsule, which they also plan to create at this time.
“The conversations have all been very fruitful and amicable, and we are looking forward to continuing to build a relationship with our neighbors,” Mangona said.