The University of Chicago International House (I-House) will be closing this summer for substantial renovations as part of an ongoing $25 million effort funded by the University to restore I-House to its original look. I-House, which will be 75 years old in 2007, has never been significantly renovated in its history.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. founded International House in 1932 with the goal of promoting cross-cultural understanding and creating mutual respect and friendship among students and scholars, especially between those of different cultures and races. Students from many different educational institutions in the Chicago area, including many from the University of Chicago, live at Chicago’s I-House, which is part of a larger chain of 15 International Houses around the world, all serving to provide atmospheres of free intellectual interchange among different cultures.
The decision to close I-House was made in mid-February, according to I-House director Bill McCartney. “Closing I-House has been under consideration since sometime last fall when the depth of the renovations was realized by the University,” McCartney said. It was not until mid-March, though, that the decision was announced to I-House residents.
“We’re signing up residents who would have wanted to live in I-House during the summer and we have worked it out with Residence Halls and Commons to move them into Blackstone,” McCartney said. I-House staff will assist residents with the move to Blackstone and back into I-House in the fall. The 13 residents who have signed up to move into Blackstone this summer will do so on Monday, June 13, and move back into I-House on September 16, when it re-opens. Those residents who choose to relocate to Blackstone as well as to move back into I-House in the fall will receive a discount, “kind of as a reward for enduring the discomfort of having to relocate over the summer,” McCartney reported.
The renovations that are being done to I-House this summer will be too disruptive to have people living in the residence. The renovations have been and are continuing to be carried out in a series of phases, the first of which was the recent installation of an entirely new fire alarm system throughout the house. The next phase is that of retiling the roof and redoing masonry throughout the building. This phase will be followed by the main phase of this summer, which entails doing significant work to the rooms themselves.
The entire building, including student rooms, will have new windows installed, as well as new furniture. Each room will be rewired for voice, data, and cable television, and a wireless network will be set up for the entire building, as opposed to just for the common areas, as is the case currently. Closets in every room are being torn out and replaced with freestanding wardrobes to increase floor space. All of the bathrooms are being redone completely, as well. In addition, contractors will be recreating a historic look in all of the corridors with tile patterns that represent what the building originally looked like in 1932, as well as creating vaulted arch ceilings in all the hallways to give a period’ feeling, according to McCartney.
Residents are, of course, unsettled by the need to relocate for the summer, but were given ample notification and time to make decisions about housing during the I-House renovations. “Everyone kind of understands the need for us to be closed and for the renovations to take place,” McCartney said. “Obviously people are concerned about the need to relocate, but they are also excited […] to have a new place to live in the fall.”