With a new tenant moving in, the University of Minnesota’s presidential residence will undergo renovations this summer that will cost almost $1 million.
The University will spend up to $970,000 to update Eastcliff’s heating and electrical system. The improvements include replacing 1960s-era gas-fired boilers and cloth-insulated wiring throughout the 20-room mansion. The projects are expected to be completed in August.
Eastcliff has housed University presidents since the 1960s and served as a venue for major events, hosting thousands of visitors every year. The residence needs infrastructural repairs before President-designate Joan Gabel starts at the University, said Lyndel King, director of the Weisman Art Museum and chair of the Eastcliff Technical Advisory Committee.
“It's some deferred maintenance that needs to be done,” she said. “It needs to be safe for the occupants, it needs to be comfortable for the occupants and it needs to be appropriate for a special place for the University to hold honors ceremonies, fundraising dinners and other hospitality events."
President Eric Kaler and Karen Kaler lived in Eastcliff for the past eight years. With the Kalers moving out in the coming months, King said it’s the right time to make repairs.
“We try to do those kinds of things that are disruptive to the house during a transition time of presidents so that it doesn't disrupt the new occupant of the house too much,” she said.
University officials will not use state funding nor tuition revenue to fund renovations. Instead, the money will come from rental income on University lands, including lease payments from the Graduate Hotel.
“When we do projects of this size and magnitude, we always seek to use resources that are not state appropriation or tuition,” Mike Berthelsen, vice president of University Services, said at a Board of Regents meeting last semester. “It’s important for the University to be prudent about how to invest in this facility at any given time.”
Built in 1922, Eastcliff overlooks the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The residence, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has undergone several renovations since it was gifted to the University in 1958. Before the Kalers moved into Eastcliff in 2011, the University spent $550,000 on renovations, including adding a kitchen to the second floor to provide more privacy when events are catered on the main floor.
Eastcliff has also been a source of controversy. A scandal involving $1.5 million renovations to the residence forced President Kenneth Keller to resign in 1988.
After the scandal, the University took renovation decisions out of the hands of presidents. Instead, the Eastcliff Technical Advisory Committee — a group of faculty, administrators and University members — recommends improvements to the property.
Renovating Eastcliff during presidential transitions can help public perception, a concern raised by several regents at a meeting last semester.
“Where the public seems to attach a concern is when there’s a resident is in the building,” Regent Darrin Rosha said at the meeting. “This is really the time [for renovations].”
King said that ETAC wants to complete necessary maintenance while protecting the University’s reputation.
“We make sure that things are being done, are being done in a prudent way to maintain the property ... to make it function in a way that it’s intended to function for the University,” she said.
Though Gabel and her family will live in the manor, King said Eastcliff serves more than just the president. “This is much more than just a residence. This is a resource for the entire University,” she said.