May 21, 2018
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Work under way to fix up fraternity house deemed unfit for habitation

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house is on its way to recovery after 22 students were kicked out of the building last month, and the brothers might be allowed to return as early as the end of the month.

The brothers in the frat, better known as PIKE, were told to leave their home just weeks into the school year when Orono code enforcement and fire officials shut down the building after deeming it “unfit for habitation.”

This list of issues in the building, which was built around the turn of the 20th century, was a long one. Some were minor, such as broken and missing railing balusters, while others, especially a fire alarm system that no longer alerted emergency responders because of unpaid bills, were more dangerous code violations.

Together, the 17 or so problems that officials found caused a “life-safety concern,” and students couldn’t be allowed to live there, Orono Code Enforcement Officer William Murphy said last month.

All the students were relocated temporarily to on-campus residence halls or area apartments. But 15 of the brothers want to come back, according to Campbell. If repairs remain on schedule, they could return to the house by the end of the month, he said.

The violations weren’t a surprise, according to Sundance Campbell, president of PIKA Corporation, the nonprofit group of PIKE alums that acts as landlords for the fraternity members.

PIKA and the PIKE brothers were aware of the problems, but repairs to the house are expected to cost between $20,000 and $25,000 — money that the PIKA, the alumni and the brothers don’t have, Campbell said.

He said the housing corporation planned to make the repairs slowly, using whatever remained of the brothers’ rent payments after paying fixed expenses to chip away at the projects little by little.

But the building inspection and closure in the first month of school forced the repairs to happen much more quickly.

“I would never want them to live in a situation that wasn’t safe,” Campbell said.

Work toward making the building livable again began just days after the frat was shut down.

“We’ve really tried to tackle the issues brought forth by the fire department and code enforcement officer,” Campbell said Thursday while sitting in the PIKE common room as hammers and drills caused a commotion in the upstairs bathroom.

Workers were examining the sprinkler system throughout the building and ripping up rotted wood in the second-floor bathroom, which had been causing a leak in the first-floor kitchen.

Emergency lights and exit signs have been replaced and the fire alarm bill has been paid, allowing emergency responders to be notified if the alarm system is activated.

The unpaid bill was a result of miscommunication, according to PIKE Vice President Sean Mahoney. He said the turnover within the fraternity’s ranks meant the newer members weren’t aware they had to pay things like the fire alarm and sewer bills.

“I think over the past few years, the communication between the brothers and the housing corporation did break down,” Mahoney said. In some ways, having the house closed has helped open up communication between the two groups and has solved some lingering issues.

“It definitely got everyone on the same page and opened everyone’s eyes,” he said.

Mahoney said the 15 brothers who will return to the house plan on taking good care of the building and making sure the repairs last.

“Once we get back in the house, everything will be so much better,” Mahoney said. “There’s going to be much more responsibility.”

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