Fraternity introduced to new campus living arrangements

Alpha Tau Omega will leave behind its home of more than 50 years as the fraternity moves into a new building in preparation for the fall semester.

The fraternity signed a new lease with the university for the building which was formerly the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on Pennsylvania Court, said Gail Hairston, a UK spokeswoman. Alpha Tau Omega will move into the house, which this semester housed students from the general university population, before the fall semester begins.

The former Sigma Phi Epsilon house is one of two Greek houses to become available recently, a rare occurrence, said Lance Broeking, UK campus services administrator.

“The last couple years have been unique, where we’ve had the opportunity for some of the Greek houses to become available,” Broeking said.

This availability provides Alpha Tau Omega with an opportunity of its own, said Alex Brewer, Alpha Tau Omega president. “It is sad to see it go,” Brewer said, but added that the fraternity now has updated facilities and the opportunity to make the house their own.

The current Alpha Tau Omega house located on Hilltop Avenue was built around 1958-59, Broeking said, and is in the same situation as many of the Greek facilities on campus that were built around the same time. The building is in “poor condition” and was not built to accommodate the electrical needs of students today.

“The older house, it’s 50 years old and it’s been entrusted to fraternity guys, but it has character,” said Dave Lowe, Alpha Tau Omega historian.

And Alpha Tau Omega has been in the Hilltop Avenue house to give it that character from the beginning, Brewer said.

“From the day it was built, it was built to be our house,” he said.

Lowe said the fraternity’s alumni always have stories to tell about the house. Alpha Tau Omega alumni did a walk-through of the house at the fraternity’s annual Founder’s Day event, said Alpha Tau Omega member and finance senior Max Stefka.

“We wanted to give the alumni a chance to come back to the house and see it for one last time,” Stefka said.

The Hilltop Avenue house’s central location on campus places it on the same block as the W. T. Young Library and music can often be heard coming from the house.

Its location also places the house on the site designated for the library in the William T. Young Library Endowment Agreement. The agreement requires the university to use the site of the library only for library purposes until 2050 and to keep the property in “a pristine park-like setting.”

The agreement also identifies four “non-library related structures” that were on the property at the time — the houses of the Sigma Chi, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Alpha Gamma Rho and Alpha Tau Omega fraternities. The buildings, the agreement says, were to be eliminated “as soon as is practicable, but not later than 10 years” after Sept. 15, 1998, the date the agreement was made.

Sigma Chi and Sigma Phi Epsilon moved in the 1990s, Broeking said, leaving Alpha Gamma Rho and Alpha Tau Omega on the site. Because of the leases Alpha Gamma Rho and Alpha Tau Omega have with the university for their buildings, the university would not force the fraternities to move, Broeking said, but rather it is the university’s position to help the fraternities move when opportunities arise.

Other uses for the house were considered, but the condition would mean costly renovations, Broeking said. The house also does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, he added.

“The house will more than likely be demolished,” Broeking said.

After Sigma Phi Epsilon lost their charter, they were no longer able to lease their house from the university, Hairston said.

Rather than allow the whole Greek community on campus to bid on the property, consideration for the former Sigma Phi Epsilon house was limited to Alpha Tau Omega and Alpha Gamma Rho, making fulfillment of the endowment agreement a priority, Broeking said. Many factors were considered, such as the fraternities’ financial standing, membership and history on campus.

“Negotiations started once the house became vacant,” Brewer said. “Right around summer 2009 was when we were approached about it.”

Stefka said working with the university on the move has gone well.

“(The university) has been supportive throughout the whole process,” Stefka said, “There are a lot of issues moving a fraternity from one house to another.”

The house on Hilltop Avenue will be missed though, Lowe said.

“It’s kind of like leaving your childhood home,” he said. “That’s kind of dramatic, but I’ll miss it.”