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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

The College Life Series From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: A Unique Place To Call Home

October 21, 2011

The College Life Series From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: A Unique Place To Call Home

Rensselaer Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity Purchases Former Church for New Home

Photo credit: Rensselaer/Daria Robbins

Several members of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity have officially moved into a distinctive and historic new home. In February, the fraternity officially took ownership of the former St. Francis DeSales Church and rectory on Congress Street in the City of Troy. The fraternity, which currently consists of 17 student members and more than 700 alumni, finalized the purchase of the buildings from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany after the sale was approved by the City of Troy Zoning and Planning Boards last fall. The transformation from place of worship to fraternity house is a first for a parish church closed by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, nearly two years ago.

The buildings are owned and managed by the Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association of Troy, which is responsible for providing safe, affordable, quality housing to its student members. According to Paul Marano ’87, president of the alumni association, during the spring semester a few students moved into the buildings to address maintenance and security issues as they arose. They also helped to oversee modifications approved by the site plan that supports shared use of the church building with the community.

“We are very excited about the move,” said Justin Adibi, chapter president and a junior majoring in biomedical engineering. “We are looking forward to meeting our new neighbors and making positive contributions to the quality of life for all who live and work in the Congress Street/Mount Ida neighborhood.”

Nestled in the midst of residential buildings and local businesses, St. Francis, with its lancet windows and large rose window at the facade, is most closely associated with the Gothic style, according to Michael Lopez, a preservationist at the nonprofit Troy Architectural Program (TAP). “However, I see mere hints — and others might disagree — of other styles. Some of the brick masonry ornamentation, with its effect of fluidity and movement, suggest Queen Anne touches, and the squatness of the building to me speaks a bit to the Romanesque. The altar is a modern design, perhaps from the 1960s or 1970s.”

Over the last seven months, working with TAP and Bennett Contracting, improvements to the rectory building include: new eco-friendly bathrooms consisting of low-flow fixtures and energy-efficient lighting, a 98 percent efficient hot water system equipped with a waste water heat recovery system, upgraded electrical and plumbing systems, and a state-of-the art fire alarm system.

Both buildings also have been wired with a CAT6 cable gigabit data network with five wifi access points. “Our efforts have resulted in creating a safe, energy-efficient, and eco-friendly first class housing facility for our student members,” said Marano.

Once settled, the fraternity plans to attend local neighborhood association meetings as well as other local community group meetings as a way to develop a relationship with the community and their neighbors. “We are excited about the projects and programs we are planning for the neighborhood as well as working with groups who have an interest in using our community space,” said Jim Frosell, student community relations chairman for the fraternity and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.

As part of their first community service project, the fraternity plans to partner with the Alley Improvement Project in the fall to clean up the alley adjacent to the Prospect Park ball fields. Additional plans include funding the launch of a $50,000 community development micro grant program that would provide grants of up to $1,000 per applicant to residents, property owners, not-for-profits, and community organizations living within the Congress Street/Mount Ida neighborhoods.

According to fraternity members, residents could use the grants to support exterior home repair/maintenance projects, neighborhood beautification projects, crime/drug prevention programs, and other social programs of value to the neighborhood. Presently, the fraternity is working with the Troy Rehabilitation & Improvement Program (TRIP) to develop the details and management of the program.

“A grant program such as this can have a significant effect on the revitalization of the neighborhood and could tie in nicely with the Lower Congress Street project currently under development,” Marano added. “We hope that once the program gets up and running, other organizations with a vested interest in neighborhood revitalization will help fund the program.”

“I am pleased to see a vacant building being reused for both student housing and the betterment of the surrounding community,” said Troy Councilman Ken Zalewski, who represents the area in which the church is located. “I am certain that Phi Sigma Kappa will make a positive impact on the neighborhood, and I look forward to working with fraternity leadership in order to keep them involved and active in the neighborhood.”

The fraternity property also borders Prospect Park. “We welcome the Phi Sigma Kappa community and look forward to a relationship of working together for the further advancement of Prospect Park and the City of Troy,” said Peter Grimm, president of the Friends of Prospect Park, an organization that aids the City of Troy in caring for the park.

Brant Caird, president of the Mount Ida Preservation Association, said, “I think it’s a good example of the adaptive reuse of a beautiful building here in our neighborhood.”

Future issues of The College Series will explore issues related to the student experience, admissions, financial aid, public safety, residence life, student life, health services, mobile computing, and career development, and others.

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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.