After a year, plans for empty Skulls chapter house are unclear

Phi Kappa Sigma national leadership say Skulls is planning to return to Penn

· April 16, 2014, 6:03 pm   ·  Updated April 21, 2014, 12:10 am

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Over a year after Phi Kappa Sigma, more commonly known as Skulls, was kicked off campus, discussions are slowly beginning about future plans for Skull’s chapter house at 3539 Locust Walk.

Skulls is planning to come back to campus, Executive Director of PKS International Fraternity Doug Maden said, but conversations with the University will not take place until fall 2015.

Skulls’ “long-term plan” is to move back into the chapter house, Maden added, but the specific time when the fraternity would move back in after colonization will be “up for discussion.”

The Skulls house, which is owned by a corporation of PKS alumni , has been empty since the Skulls moved out in late November 2012. Decisions are still not being made to use the vacant prime real estate 16 months later.

Skulls was forced to leave campus in September 2012, after John Carroll University student Matthew Crozier fell to his death at an unregistered New Year’s Eve party at the house in December 2010.

There is currently “no firm agreement” about plans for the property, said Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services Executive Director of Real Estate Ed Datz in an emailed statement, but FRES has “discussed potential interest” in relation to leasing or developing the property.

Datz declined to further outline these discussions as “it is premature to discuss plans without a firm agreement.” FRES also “cannot commit to a timing of the agreement,” Datz added.

If Skulls recolonizes, it would not move back into the house immediately, as the national organization does not “want to burden a new colony with managing a house,” Maden said. There is no normal time period for when a fraternity is deemed ready to take on this “additional burden,” he added, but he would expect the fraternity to move back into its chapter house between one and five years after recolonization.

The time of the move would also depend on factors such as whether or not the house was being leased out at the time of recolonization, Maden said.

Scott Reikofski, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, estimated the average time period before a fraternity moves back to campus as four to six years. Time is sometimes needed for bad reputations to dissipate and old brothers to graduate, he added, not talking about Skulls specifically.

As Skulls was founded here, “there’s always going to be a draw to return to Penn,” Maden said, but at this point “initial discussions have not begun.”

Developments regarding the house in the space of time before a fraternity is brought back to campus would most likely be “ultimately temporary,” Reikofski said in an interview in February.

Decisions are “really up to the owners of the property,” Reikofski added.

John Wobensmith, a 1960 College graduate and representative from the alumni corporation that owns the property, said in an emailed statement, “We have been doing some renovations and those continue.” He declined to give more details about what these renovations are.

Both Wobensmith and 1959 Wharton graduate Bart Barre, a spokesperson for the PKS corporation which owns the former Skulls chapter house, declined to comment about current plans surrounding the property.

Many Penn buildings are former fraternity houses which were converted after fraternities left campus. Often when fraternities leave campus, the University finds “alternative use[s]” for the chapter houses, and they are sometimes even “completely repurposed,” Reikofski said.

The Graduate Student Center at 3615 Locust Walk, for example, used to be the chapter house of Phi Sigma Kappa , which left campus in the 2006-07 academic year. The fraternity re-colonized this year but did not return to its original chapter house.

The Penn Women’s Center at 3643 Locust Walk was also the former chapter house of Theta Xi . The building was converted after Theta Xi left campus in the 1992-93 academic year and was not returned to the fraternity when it recolonized in 1995-96.

The location of the high rises also used to be an area of fraternity and sorority houses, Reikofski said. These buildings used to include the chapter house of Delta Phi Epsilon , the sorority of former Penn President and 1966 College graduate Judith Rodin.

As the Skulls house is owned by an alumni corporation, the process through which a house can be potentially re-purposed would be more complicated, Reikofski said.

Perhaps the most comparable case study is the chapter house of Psi Upsilon, better known as Castle.

While the house is owned by the University, Penn was contractually obliged to let the fraternity live there after the fraternity returned to campus following its being kicked off campus in 1990. When Castle’s charter was revoked, the fraternity’s chapter house went to Penn’s Community Service Living-Learning Program in 1991. After Castle recolonized in 1995, though, the house was reclaimed by the fraternity in 1998.

Similarly, the chapter house of Phi Gamma Delta — better known as FIJI — was temporarily re-purposed to become humanities offices while the fraternity was off campus between 1999 and 2008.

A historical affiliation with a fraternity does not always guarantee a chapter house being returned to the fraternity, however. The Colonial Penn Center at 3641 Locust Walk was built specifically to be the chapter house of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. However, the fraternity has not moved back in yet, despite its recolonizing over 20 years ago.

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