With the creation of a state law stating that houses must be equipped with a sprinkler system for safety reasons, some Greek houses off University of Wisconsin’s campus are opting to take the opportunity for full-blown renovations.

Reporting from the Wisconsin State Journal said the concern for fires at Greek houses arose after a fire destroyed the former structure of Sigma Phi Epsilon in 2008. A 2006 state law set the requirement that fraternities and sororities install sprinkler systems by Jan. 1 of this year, according to the story.

Eric Flanagan, a foundation board member for Delta Upsilon, said he’s seen no complications with meeting the sprinkler requirements. He said the fraternity learned of the plan in 2006 and took it as an opportunity to update a house that had not been renovated since the 1960s.

“At that point we decided we would do a full renovation of the house to coincide with the sprinkler requirements, we’re doing a full $2.1 million historical renovation of the inside of our house,” Flanagan said. “The outside of the house, since it’s a historical building, will remain the same but it’s a full-gut rehab on the inside.”

Flanagan said the money for this makeover was made possible in part by an anchor donor, John Morgridge, who was a UW Alum and a prior president of Delta Upsilon. Morgridge agreed to match any funds raised by the fraternity, Flanagan said.

Currently, Delta Upsilon has raised $1.6 million total, Flanagan said.

Flanagan said the house is currently closed and the renovations will be in full swing from March until August. The house will re-open in time for the fall semester, he said.

Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said cost was a major obstacle in the renovation efforts.

Each house needs to comply with the sprinkler codes, which can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000, Resnick said.

“This can obviously be somewhat burdensome to sorority and fraternity houses,” Resnick said. “However it also does provide not only increased safety for the members but a chance to revamp many of the houses that haven’t seen some of the TLC that is otherwise needed.”

Resnick said any fraternities or sororities that do not comply with the rules would be facing significant hardships as well as financial penalties during their next inspection. He said many of the houses have either decided to update their house or enter new construction projects, such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Delta Upsilon.

Despite the cost, Resnick said he thinks the renovations are worth it. He said the sprinkler requirements make sure the houses are safe.

Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said a big concern was keeping the housing affordable, but that renovations and modernization were a positive move.

Zellers said renovating and modernization can be a good step. She said it can be done on the interior while maintaining the traditional look on the exterior to keep the Langdon area’s distinctive look and feel.

“I think that’s really important because […] it is the epicenter and heart of Greek life for UW-Madison as well as the co-op culture and I think that people really value that look and feel,” Zellers said. “So, modernizing on the inside is great. I think that’s fabulous, while keeping the traditional look on the outside.” 

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