University leaders say the school has a dire need for the new facility, which is designed to woo supporters and attract major donations at a time when state funds make up less and less of the overall budget. They say the bill will be picked up by about 30 private donors — not students or taxpayers — and will pay huge dividends. It also will replace a building plagued with problems.
The university will continue to pay for general upkeep and utilities for the mansion, which will be more than twice the size of the current home and will have dedicated entertaining spaces.
Staci Armezzani, director of communications for the student government, said even student leaders did not know the new house was in the works.
“They’re a bit confused,” said Armezzani, a senior criminology and criminal justice major from Germantown.
“The big question that I’ve heard is, ‘Why is the money being used there instead of for athletics?’ ”
On many campuses, the president’s house has long been a revered gathering place for students, faculty and friends of the school, especially generous friends. Most presidents in the region live in university-provided housing and host thousands of guests each year, making the space feel like a museum or bed-and-breakfast. One president likes to joke that he and his wife “live above the store.”
Buying, building or renovating one of these homes is considered a sure way to ignite controversy, especially at public institutions. Last year, University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessoms was questioned for making nearly $500,000 worth of repairs over several years to a university-owned house in Chevy Chase. In 2009, North Dakota State University’s president resigned after construction of a new home went more than $1 million over budget.
“One of the first things you learn as president is, don’t renovate the house, especially the kitchen,” said former U-Md. President C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr., who used to live in the soon-to-be-razed house with his wife, Patsy. “We never complained.”
Mote retired and moved out in 2010, and he now has no problem listing his complaints with the old home: temperatures that fluctuated between too hot and too cold; limited privacy, as the couple shared their kitchen with caterers and their living room with the world. The Colonial-style house was filled with asbestos, was not fully accessible to the disabled and faced away from campus.