Simon Benson House limits use

In the relatively short time it has stood on the South Park Blocks, the Simon Benson House has become a signature building, adding to the personality of the university.

In the relatively short time it has stood on the South Park Blocks, the Simon Benson House has become a signature building, adding to the personality of the university.

However, there has been some recent concern forming as the Portland State Alumni Association has put a hold on renting the house out for student group events.

One person concerned is Domanic Thomas, interim director for Student Activities and Leadership Programs (SALP). He would like to see the house available for at least some events hosted by student groups.

“They want to limit the number of reservations because of the staffing issues involved with it, and cutting off student groups would eliminate the staffing issue,” Thomas said. “They want to focus on events and limit wear and tear.”

Wear and tear is a serious problem at the Simon Benson House. Moss is currently advancing on its roof, and the wood floors spanning its interior are sensitive to heavy traffic. Sections of the floor have already been replaced since the move to its new location at Portland State in 2000.

 “When you see the issues we have here with maintenance, we have to be a little bit careful that it doesn’t take up all our time,” said Pat Squire, executive director of alumni services.

The confusion stems from how the alumni association operates within Portland State’s big picture. The alumni association, whose offices are on the second floor of the Simon Benson House, is separate from other branches of PSU in that it does not receive funding from sources such as student fees as student groups do.

The alumni association has to raise its own funding, part of which is gained through renting out the Simon Benson House.

“It is open to the public since the city put a lot of money into it,” Squire said. “We have donor events, the School of Business uses it for donor events, there are alumni events, sometimes the president uses it. Once or twice there has been an advisor who has rented it for their student group.”

Damage to the house can be difficult for Squire, who has been with the house during each step of its trip to the Park Blocks, which cost $1.2 million. The woodwork alone took 1,100 hours to complete.

“We’re just trying to keep traffic manageable so we don’t have to spend much on upkeep,” Squire said. “We’ve discouraged it [renting to student groups] because it creates a lot of traffic … students have a lot of places on campus and we have this place.

Generally, the alumni association or donors to the university use the house, though the specific hold on student activity events has been a recent development. Thomas was aware of a couple of groups having access to renting it out during the 2008 fall quarter.

“There is a hold on certain types of student activities because of damage,” said Mary Coniglio, associate director for the alumni association. “We really have always tried to limit student activities, we just don’t have the workload.”

Coniglio also commented that lack of control of the events has also been a concern, along with little attention being paid to procedures.

Yet Thomas is hopeful that something can be worked out between the two groups, and continues to keep an open dialogue with the alumni association, offering possible solutions such as placing larger deposits.

“With students being able to rent it, we can put a large deposit on it … because one of their concerns is wear and tear,” Thomas said. “If we can sit down and work out, say, three maximum spots, I would do it.”

Thomas also sees the relationship between SALP and the alumni association as being beneficial to students as a whole.

“In my opinion this is a great opportunity to build alumni,” Thomas said. “I think rubbing elbows with our alumni is incentive to later join the alumni association. This is a way to expose students to the alumni association.”