East of the main campus entrance, alongside Fowler Avenue and Alumni Drive, sits a house and a garage and a sign that reads: The Lifsey House, private quarters of the president. The house, which has been on that corner for more than a decade, is about 9,000 square feet, including 2,100 square feet of living space on the second floor. It is landscaped with fresh plants and flowers and was built using double T beams, giving the house a look different than that of other university buildings.
However, since being built, only one of USF’s presidents, Betty Castor, has lived there, and even during that tenure it was only part-time; yet, the house is used nonetheless — at the expense of the USF Foundation, its maintainers.
Jenna Felder, director of university special events and ceremonies within the President’s Office, said the Lifsey House was originally designed to be the President’s home and to facilitate a variety of social gatherings.
“We get a lot of use of the house when it’s used for gatherings,” Felder said.
Built in 1993 as a result of a design competition, the house was named after the late Julian Lifsey, a Tampa attorney and developer, and his wife, Mary Ann. The architect was Gene Leedy, a historically prominent Florida architect known for his design philosophy of structural expression and the use of precast double T beams. The house was privately funded by the Lifseys, an expense totaling $1.7 million — $1.2 million of which was for the home, Felder said.
Francis T. Borkowski, former USF president from 1988-1993, spearheaded the idea to build presidential living quarters on campus, Felder said.
“Mr. Lifsey was able to help that idea grow by funding the project,” Felder said.
What it looks like inside
When entering the house on the ground floor, visitors are greeted in a small foyer that is decorated in art donated by the university’s Contemporary Art Museum and Graphic Art Studio. Beyond the foyer is a large living and entertaining room with a fireplace; this room can fit about 150 people when entertaining. Taking a right from the foyer, visitors will be in a small dining room that leads into a large kitchen suitable for caterers. To the right of that is another living and entertaining room used primarily as a library, Felder said.. Both entertaining rooms have French doors that open to a courtyard and a walled garden. A guest room and restrooms also can be found on the first floor.
“Deans and vice provosts also have the ability to use the house for meetings that are university-related,” Felder said. “They must be conducting university business, though.”
The private family quarters are located on the second floor and include a study, a living room, four bedrooms and a laundry room.
All the rooms are furnished, and the art in each room is from art students or graduates of the university.
A private two-car garage for the use of the president and family is located on the West side of the house. The house is also connected to the Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center on its East side via a walkway.
“People are in very much awe of the house when they come for gatherings,” Felder said. “They get a kick of coming to the ‘president’s house.'”
Maintaining the house
Felder said the USF Foundation, which is an entity through which private investments are made, has a Lifsey House account. The account pays for the general maintenance of the house, including gardening and upkeep, along with the staff of the house and materials such as computers and phones lines.
Felder added that the annual maintenance cost of the house is $40,000.
“No state funds are used; it all comes from the Foundation,” she said.
During the years, Felder said the house has required some major maintenance, such as renovating the wood floors, fixing the roof, and so on.
“These are the type of things that any regular homeowner would have to do, too,” she said.
President Genshaft and the house
In her transition from New York to Tampa, USF President Judy Genshaft stayed at the Lifsey House for six weeks; however, since then she has not.
“I think having two young sons, living in the house would be hard to do,” Felder said.
Genshaft said when she was interviewing for the job at USF, her two sons were three and six and half.
“That house was not conducive enough for two small boys,” Genshaft said. “So my husband and I decided to build our own house in a neighborhood.”
The President’s contract states that the president can be provided “free housing” or a housing allowance if the choice is not to stay at the Lifsey House. Genshaft said when she opted out of the Lifsey House she did not take the housing allowance because it was her decision not to live on campus.
Although she does not stay at the house, Genshaft said she thinks the house is great for large gatherings and meetings.
“It is a very lovely house,” she said. “Sometimes we even rent the house out for weddings or parties and I think it is so nice that is also connects to the Alumni Association. It’s an important place.”
Other state university president houses
The University of Central Florida also has presidential living quarters on campus. The house, christened the Burnett House, is named after Nancy and Al Burnett because of a gift of $500,000 they gave to UCF. John C. Hitt, the university’s president, and his wife Martha, live in the house and have been the house’s only residents thus far since January 1998..
Tom Evelyn, assistant director, news and information at UCF, The Burnett House is a total of 14,393 square feet and cost $1.6 million to build. The maintenance for the house is $112,151 for the 2004 fiscal year, which includes maintenance, electric and orders.
Florida State University does not currently have presidential living quarters on or around campus, said Browning Brooks, director of media relations for FSU. There has been a committee of community leaders put together to discuss the issue of whether the university needs a house, where would it be located, etc.
Brooks added that if FSU does have a house a built, all the funding for building would have to be raised from private donators and would not use university funds.
Steve Orlando, of the University of Florida’s news and public affairs department, said UF does have a president’s house that is located right across from the campus and was built back in the 1950s. The house is about 7,000 square feet and has housed all of UF’s presidents to date, Orlando said.
“It is stated in their contract that they get free housing,” he said.
The UF house is maintain by UF maintenance and is considered be university property, the cost of upkeep per year is about $58,000, but since the house is so old it has had upgrades, Orlando said.
Exiting the Lifsey House, visitors catch a glimpse of the library and the communications building, along with a field of green grass and a circular driveway.
“People really enjoy the house when they come,” Felder said. “Every little gathering is good, and the house should be used on a more regular basis (with these gatherings).”