Greek Revival: Union Avenue houses renovated

An $8 million renovation of the Union Avenue houses will extend their life 30 years

By Rebecca Harrison ’01

After 30 years of pledge parties, fraternity exchanges and secret handshakes between sisters and brothers, the Puget Sound Union Avenue houses have received a much-deserved facelift.

This past summer all eight fraternity and sorority houses were given fresh coats of paint, plumbing and heating upgrades, new carpet and furniture, and renovated kitchens. In many of the houses, three- to six-person bedrooms were reconfigured into single and double rooms, and each room was wired for Internet and cable access. Twenty-one new spaces were also added to the Union Avenue parking areas.

"The university more than got their usage [of the houses] in a period of 30 years. The project was long, long overdue," said Mac Gray ’71, of Gray Lumber in Tacoma, who played not only a vital role in planning the renovations but also in making them happen by providing supplies to the construction company.

In preparation for the renovations, Greek Chapter representatives, including the Inter-Fraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, Greek alumni, student development, and John Hickey ’83, director of business services, worked together for two years to determine ways in which the infrastructure and cosmetics of the Union Avenue houses could be improved.

The short amount of time for construction presented a challenge for those involved in the project. Workers began prepping the site during spring semester and labored round the clock to complete the project in 12 weeks, before students’ arrival in late August.

"Rushforth Construction did a tremendous job. It was a very difficult project," says Hickey. "They stepped up and made it happen."

"Overall, everyone is very pleased. [The renovations] will help recruit new people and teach respect to those moving in," said Wendy Olson ’01, housing coordinator of Alpha Phi sorority. "It’s great that the university wanted to invest this much time and money for students. I think they showed a lot of support for the system."

Bruce Sadler ’83, an officer of the Sigma Chi Alumni Association and a university neighbor, wrote a thank you to President Pierce in September: "Because of my prior job in university security, I know every inch of those houses. When John Hickey took me on a tour of the houses in late August, I was so amazed. The changes and modifications are not only beautiful but livable, non-institutional looking and definitely built for rugged wear and tear."

A few students have expressed regret that the renovations erased the character that comes with age and use, but Sigma Nu President Ryan Mello was philosophical about the newness of his house: "We have the opportunity to make it our home and put our traditions and personality into it," he said.

During Reunion/Homecoming weekend, October 23-24, Greek alumni had the chance to tour the refurbished houses and to experience the substantial improvements and enhancements for themselves.