Without a house, Phi Kap chapter opts to close

Rani Gupta

After their house was condemned this summer, the members of Phi Kappa Sigma decided not to resume their fraternity’s activities this year.

While responding to a prank at the Phi Kap house, 584 Lincoln St., the Evanston Fire Department discovered several fire code violations and condemned it Aug. 2.

“One Friday afternoon, I heard a knock on my door. It was a police officer and he told me we had to leave the house,” said Phi Kap Vice President David May, one of three members living in the house over the summer.

Division Chief Alan Berkowsky said the house was unsafe because the hallways and fire escape were obstructed, the smoke detectors were disconnected and the fire alarm system was damaged.

May, a Speech junior, said the fraternity was given a “giant” list of things to do before the house could reopen, including changing the doors on all the rooms and removing the ivy from the outside of the house.

“Some things we could do. Some things were completely impossible,” May said.

But Berkowsky said the department’s requirements were reasonable.

“A lot of it was housekeeping,” he said. “Some of it required electrical work. I don’t think any of it was beyond repair with some manual labor.”

Phi Kap President David Demray said the fraternity voted in mid-August not to try to open the house when school started.

“We made a decision as a house that there wasn’t enough time to fix this with the members that were there versus them having a life during the summer,” said Demray, a Weinberg junior.

Demray said the fraternity could not expect the three members to get the house ready in the six weeks before school started. Waiting until school started was not an option because the members would have had nowhere to live.

“In the situation we were in, it was the best decision,” Demray said. “It was a decision made by the entire house.”

Demray said the loss of the house is a hard blow to an already struggling chapter.

“It’s very hard, especially when you’re struggling, to have activities without the use of a house,” he said. “Phi (Delta Theta) did it, but their chapter was a lot stronger than ours is.”

Northwestern revoked Phi Delt’s housing contract in 1999, but the fraternity continued to function and regained its house in Fall 2000.

May said the NU Phi Kap chapter was low on money and would have to rush 25 to 30 members — roughly the total number in the fraternity — to have funds sufficient enough to restore the house.

“That seemed like a giant task,” May said. “On top of the repairs to be done, on top of the fact that we didn’t have money, we decided that was too big a task.”

Demray said the chapter has turned over all of its finances to the alumni corporation.

Assistant Director of Greek Affairs Sean Thomas said there are some financial issues the university is working out with the alumni, but declined to comment on any specifics. The building is owned by NU and loaned to the Phi Kap housing corporation.

May said the national Phi Kap organization would not have supported the NU chapter.

“They have a history of not helping us,” May said. “We were in a situation where we had to do lots of work, but they were pointing a finger at us rather than helping us. Our response was, ‘Where have you been?'”

But Robert Miller, Phi Kap national executive vice president said a few days of cleaning would have allowed the house to open again.

“There was enough alumni support that if the current members had wanted to continue, we could have worked through whatever issues were present,” Miller said.

May said the national organization did not help the chapter when their basement flooded in Fall 2000, forcing Phi Kap members to eat in residence halls.

Miller said the chapter did not contact him about this problem.

“We’re here to help our chapters, but no one called here to discuss the problem,” Miller said. “We can’t help them if they don’t call us.”

Miller said the NU chapter grew “apathetic … in terms of not wanting to continue, not wanting to do whatever’s necessary to continue Phi Kap’s long-standing presence on that campus.”

Demray said there is little bitterness or sadness among fraternity members because of the closing.

“It would be sad if we weren’t all friends for some reason,” he said. “But a house is just a house.”