The University of the District of Columbia has recently spent about $70,000 to refurbish and furnish the house it bought in 1981 as a president's residence, and trustees are considering a request for $10,000 more for china, silver and additional furniture, university officials said yesterday.
The $335,000 house, now occupied by President Benjamin Alexander and his wife, was purchased when the university was seeking to attract a new president. The price and location of the four-bedroom colonial-style house on Rittenhouse Street NW spurred a bitter debate among the trustees at the time.
The additional funds were requested by a university committee that is working with a private interior decorator and the Alexanders on decorating and furnishing the house. If the request is approved by the trustees next month, the total spent on the house so far would reach nearly $421,000, including $5,600 paid in closing costs.
"This is not a luxury mansion," Board Chairman Marjorie H. Parker said of the house yesterday. "I think $335,000 is a lot of money, don't mistake me. But I think that speaks more to the inflated cost of real estate in Washington."
She said the money spent is justified because the house "will serve a number of public relations functions." The furnishings purchased for the house remain the property of the university.
Claude Ford, vice president for administration, said yesterday that about $50,000 has been spent so far on refurbishing the house, including finishing the basement and attic and installing a basement bathroom, fences and a security system.
The request comes at a time when the mayor's proposed budget shows the school facing a $2 million shortfall next year. Parker said an additional $20,000 has been spent on such items as furniture, curtains, light fixtures and carpeting, and that the committee has requested $10,000 more for silver, china and additional furnishings.
Parker said that no funds appropriated from the city as part of UDC's annual operating budget have been spent on the house. Instead, the money spent so far has come from a fund consisting of previous private donations and interest on university bank accounts and investments.
Parker said the trustees had hoped that private donors would make contributions for the furnishings, but that has not happened.
Alexander, who recently proposed a university reorganization plan to cut costs, declined comment on the house expenditures yesterday. "I had nothing to do with that house," he said.
The second president of UDC, Alexander is the first to live in a university-owned residence. His predecessor, Lisle C. Carter Jr., received a $12,000 annual housing allowance in addition to his $59,000 salary.
When the board decided to buy the house, some of the 15 trustees objected to the price and the location in an affluent, predominantly white section of Northwest near the D.C.--Montgomery County line.
"I felt then that the house needed to reflect the constituency that the university is serving," trustee N. Joyce Payne, who teaches at George Washington University, said yesterday. "Certainly, Northwest-Chevy Chase does not reflect that."
Trustee Estelle W. Taylor, chairman of the English Department at Howard University, said yesterday she opposed spending any more money on the house.
But trustee Terry B. Thomas, deputy executive director of East of the River Health Association, said it is more cost-effective in the long run for the university to own a house than to pay the president a monthly housing allowance.
Most other presidents of area universities live in residences that their schools provide on or near their campuses.