New digs: Kappa Sigma moves on

Less than a year after Kappa Sigma lost its Ivy Road national headquarters in a bitter legal dispute, the fraternity is preparing to break ground on new headquarters near Monticello that fraternity leaders call a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.

"This was our greatest year," says New Mexico-based Kevin Kaplan, the fraternity's Worthy Grand Master (a position akin to president). "What better way to celebrate?"

Some might say that's a pretty positive spin on a year that marked some decided lows for his organization.

In late 2003, the state Supreme Court stripped the fraternity of its claim to ownership of Colridge, a posh Ivy Road mansion that had housed the national fraternity since 1966.

By December, the fraternity had packed its belongings and moved into a corrugated steel and brick office park called the Astec Center on Avon Street Extended– a far cry from the white columns, high ceilings, and 17 lush acres of Colridge.

Downscale living won't last for long, however, judging from plans recently posted on the group's website.

Kappa Sigma members and alumni have raised $4.3 million in the past six months for the "Renaissance Campaign," the site claims, and Kaplan says he has high hopes that the final goal of $9 million will be reached. That sum, he explains, will cover the cost of the land and construction– together about $6.5 million– with enough left over to create an endowment for the maintenance of the property in perpetuity.

The new building, designed by the Richmond architecture firm Glavé and Holmes in the "Jefferson spirit," will be a brick mansion complete with Colridge-esque white columns. Monticello spokesman Wayne Mogielnicki says he "hasn't heard anything about it."

The new headquarters will feature a conference center to accommodate 300, as well as a library and a museum featuring mementos from the Fraternity's 135-year history.

"This is the headquarters for hopefully the next 135 years," says Kaplan.

Not all Fraternity members are thrilled with the expenditure, however.

"The sad part is that here we have the Kappa Sigma Memorial Foundation, and yet it's shunned to the side, and that's where all the wealth is," says an out-of-state Kappa Sigma alumnus who contacted the Hook following the recent cover story.

That brother asked that his name not be used because he fears the consequences of speaking out. "You're considered a traitor," he explains. "The brotherhood and Greek system are like a religion."

While that brother is feeling frustrated, both Kaplan and members of the Memorial Foundation board, which is now trying to sell Colridge, seem to have made peace with the past.

Foundation president John Birkelbach confirms that communication between the Fraternity and the Foundation has resumed, and he says he holds no grudges.

"It looks to be a very nice facility," he says.

The court battle pitted the Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group that the fraternity claimed existed only to hold the house in trust, against the fraternity. The Foundation claimed its nonprofit status required that it charge market rent to the Fraternity, which for nearly 40 years had occupied the property nearly rent-free, paying only property taxes and upkeep.

Although the ruling from Albemarle Circuit Judge Paul Peatross favored the Fraternity and would have essentially dismantled the Foundation, the Supreme Court saw things differently.

While there's nothing to officially report on the sale of Colridge, Birkelbach says, "there are several interested parties."

For now, however, the property sits empty, and nearby residents– who for years cast their ballots at the Kappa Sigma auditorium– will head to the Miller Center on Old Ivy Road come Election Day.

Any remaining sense of a split is an illusion, Kaplan says, confirming that he's been in touch with members of the Foundation.

"Clearly, there's only one group," he maintains.

"Our focus is totally on the future and our new home," he says. "It's clear that everyone is very excited– just look at the results."

An architectural drawing on the Kappa Sigma website suggests the new headquarters near Monticello will have a Jeffersonian look.


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