Phi Kappa Psi: A Summer Remodel on Steroids

Jim Amidon, June 19 — My drive to work each day takes me past three or four homes where the owners are taking advantage of summer weather to remodel and renovate.

Someone on my street is getting a whole new front porch. A guy I know on an adjoining street is landscaping the front of his house. In the other direction, a family just got a new dog; I know that because a chain link fence just went up around the house.

I, too, have a few projects that I’d like to complete before the end of summer; typical stuff like painting the bedroom, reworking a garden spot, putting a fresh coat of white paint on the exterior trim.

But if you really want to check out a summer remodel on steroids, drive down West Wabash Avenue this week. Drive slowly and cautiously because Brandt Construction is hardhat-at-it remodeling the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

The Phi Psi project is the sixth fraternity project Wabash College has mounted in the last six years. In the process, we’ve renovated two houses and built three new chapter houses. The latest completed project is the Phi Gamma Delta house on South Grant Avenue.

On Friday I was given a hardhat tour of the Phi Kappa Psi house in its summer remodeling phase. My colleague Joe Klen guided me through the house while 25 or more construction workers toiled around us. The house looks big from the street, to be sure. But when you get inside the labyrinth of hallways you discover more than 20,000 square feet under that roof.

And there’s not one square foot that isn’t affected by the renovation process. Every wall, every stair, every tile in the place is getting some new treatment. And right now everything is covered with about an inch of dirt and concrete dust.

See pictures from my tour.

Bob Craig is Brandt’s construction manager; he’s the guy to whom the various subcontractors look when they discover new challenges to overcome.

For example, the Phi Psi basement never contained a bathroom, so its use was fairly limited. By the end of this summer, there will be facilities for men and women in the basement. Here’s the catch: imagine running plumbing under the four-inch concrete slab of a 20,000 square-foot building (see photo above right).

While Joe and I were walking through the house, Bob stopped us to give us the latest breaking news: when workers were on the roof earlier in the day, they noticed that the roof might need to be repaired. There are small holes and large ones; recent rain has turned wood infrastructure to spongy cardboard.

Okay, so what’s the worst thing that can happen when I paint my bedroom? Too dark (shudder)? “Honey, could we get another gallon and just lighten it up,” she’ll say. That’s a far, far cry from possibly needing a new roof on a 20,000 square-foot building.

My neighbor was complaining last week when he installed his shower door upside down. What are the worst remodeling headaches you’ve encountered? Now think about the plumbers at the Phi Psi project who are running water lines through four floors of ceilings for a fire-preventing sprinkler system (photo above left). What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, and did I mention it’s hot in the Phi Psi house? There are virtually no old windows left on the house, but still there is no air moving inside the hallways. It was a “cool” 82 when I went on my tour; it was 90 two hours later. And the talented contractors labor on knowing the air conditioning units on the house won’t be installed until summer is over.

My day with Joe, Bob, and dozens of workers on the Phi Psi house gave me a whole new perspective. And I’ve made a promise not to get the least bit frustrated when I change out the screens on my sliding doors this week.

Notes: The photo near right shows two floors of student rooms, all of which are being converted from three-man rooms to two-man setups. The third floor "cold dorm" will feature six two-man rooms and two three-man suites, as well as a small living room/study area. The great hall, kitchen, and dining room are being completely reconfigured; the kitchen will double in size!