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Sunday, March 26, 2023 — Houston, TX

Renovations finally set to begin on Huff House

By Michelle Phillips     2/25/10 6:00pm

Sitting under the shade of oak trees, Huff House has been awaiting renovation since the start of the academic year. Plans have been delayed due to a change in contractors, but with the recent approval from the City of Houston, construction can now begin and is still expected to be completed by mid-summer, the original construction deadline. The original plan was to begin renovations in December, according to Joujou Zebdaoui, project manager for Huff House construction. Facilities, Engineering and Planning first submitted their proposal for Huff House, formerly O'Connor House, to the City of Houston Plan Review Division in September to work with Miner-Dederick Construction Ltd. However, when Miner-Dederick came back to Rice with the projected cost for the renovation, it was greater than the budget for the project.

"We were surprised at the numbers," Zebdaoui said. "We decided to go in a different direction with the construction."

After pulling their original proposal, FE&P changed some of the construction materials and planned for a different foundation for the new sections of the building. FE&P resubmitted its proposal last month to work with the contractor WS Bellows, who also built the original President's House back in 1946.

Although Zebdaoui said construction on Huff House has been approved, the contractor cannot start renovating the structure until Zebdaoui receives a physical yellow form permit to place on the door of the building.

Construction on the Huff House was blocked for four and a half months, Zebdaoui said. Even though the project has been pushed back, the schedule should allow the building to be fully functional again in the second week of July.

Since construction was originally anticipated to start in December, Zebdaoui said the Center for Student Professional Development and the Alumni Affairs & University Events were relocated earlier than needed. Both departments have been in their new locations since November, but they are still offering their normal services to students and alumni, according to Ann Peterson, executive director of Alumni Affairs, and Beth Jablinski (Baker '08), Professional Development Assistant for CSPD. Alumni Affairs moved to the Greenbriar Building, and CSPD is currently split between the Morton L. Rich Health and Wellness Center and Keck Hall.

While waiting for the new proposal to be approved, FE&P made use of the time the Huff House was empty to remove the artwork and decorations to prepare for the construction, Zebdaoui said. They also tested the floor in the building before the partial demolition starts.

"It's actually good that the users were not there," Zebdaoui said. "It would have been a pain to disturb them while they were conducting interviews."

According to Zebdaoui,the general construction plan is to increase space for both the CSPD and Alumni Affairs. In order to host the major events they want to, she said, both offices require a more open space, including a larger conference room able to seat 100 people, a storage room, two extra offices for Alumni Affairs and a studio for CSPD for media projects and interviews.

Peterson said that Alumni Affairs had anticipated having a 100- seat lounge when they first moved to Huff House in 2006, and are now looking forward to using the new lounge to host their alumni board.

According to Associate Vice President for Development Kevin Foyle, there has been an ongoing need for renovation on Huff House for many years. However, since the work needed was not essential, the university deferred construction until it could raise the funds for it.

The donors for this construction, Peter and Nancy Huff, first spoke to the university about making a lasting contribution to Rice when Peter Huff celebrated the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Rice. Peter Huff (Will Rice '60) earned a bachelor's of arts in Liberal Arts and a bachelor's of science in Mechanical Engineering at Rice. He served as president of the Student Association his senior year, and was one of the students to participate in the dare between Will Rice College and Baker College that evolved into the tradition of Beer Bike.

"Huff wanted to help fund a project that would impact both alumni and students," Foyle said.

When the President's House - which had been home to five university presidents since 1949 - was first renovated in 2004 for the relocation of Alumni Affairs and what was then the Career Services Center, it was renamed the O'Connor House after Ralph S. O'Connor, a board of trustees emeritus and donor. However, O'Connor, who helped found Martel College and currently serves as an associate there, believed that the house should be named after an alumnus, which he was not, Foyle said.

Zebdaoui will be the liaison from Rice who will oversee the architecture firm and construction company as they remodel Huff House. The planning team has been sure to make the additional wings and rooms blend in with the historical look of the building, since the Huff House is so important historically to the campus, she said. Zebdaoui cited the usage of brick, which is used on buildings all across campus to give them an aged look while being sturdy, as one such example.

"We made sure that what we did would maintain the integrity of the architecture," Zebdaoui said.

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