Regents move forward with renovation plans for UC presidential mansion

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SAN FRANCISCO — The UC Board of Regents moved forward Tuesday with plans to repair the university-owned Blake House, an abandoned mansion that traditionally has housed the UC president and served as a space for UC functions in the Bay Area.

The planned renovations will cost $370,000 and are the beginning of a discussion about how to handle the property. The regents also approved a $250,000 plan to survey various options, ranging from full-scale renovation to selling the estate.

This money will come exclusively from the Searles Fund — a private endowment typically used by the university for housing presidents and chancellors. Initial renovation plans include roof repair and restoration of water-damaged facilities.

“We should focus on what’s the best use for this piece of property,” said UC Regent Hadi Makarechian. “Is it sale, renovations, divisions? We shouldn’t just spend money to fix the roof and then do nothing.”

The regents’ talk of renovation follows years of neglect.

The Blake House has been vacant since 2008, when plans to renovate the landmark fell to the wayside in light of the economic crisis. The 1920s mansion, first given to the university in 1957, lies four miles north of the UC Berkeley campus, and former UC president Robert Dynes was the last to live there.

Regent Frederick Ruiz suggested at the meeting that the university look into selling the property instead of seeking costly renovations. He expressed concern that the house’s location was “not adequate” for entertaining.

“Why don’t we put 2 million in and sell it and find better use for that money?” Ruiz said.

However, Nathan Brostrom, the university’s executive vice president for business operations, said selling the Blake House is not a viable option for the university. UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design maintains control of the estate’s expansive gardens and uses them for teaching and research. If the university sells the Blake House, the money from the sale will go exclusively to an endowment for the college and not toward the purchase of another home for the UC president, Brostrom said.

The regents’ agenda said renovating the Blake House will be cheaper for the university over a 15-year span than continuing to lease housing for the UC president and renting facilities for UC events.

Janet Napolitano, the incoming UC president, will live in an alternative Oakland residence whose monthly rent of $9,950 is paid by the university. The university signed a two-year lease for the home that began Sept. 1, according to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel.

The university will discuss potential long-term plans for the property as early as January, according to Patrick Lenz, the UC Office of the President’s vice president of budget and capital resources.

“We have a sense of the problem, but we will not know the specific dollar amounts until we go through the process of getting an assessment of what it’s going to cost,” Lenz said at the meeting.

The university estimates the total cost of the renovations will be between $3.5 million and $6 million. Lenz said the university also will want to confer with Napolitano before moving forward with any plans.

The regents also examined the university’s overall financial situation at their meeting Wednesday, discussing the 2014-15 budget as well as their long-term budget model. Brostrom urged the regents to consider moderate tuition hikes in the long-term plan, despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s request that the university freeze tuition in the next few years.

​“For the quality of the university, if we could have steady, predictable increases, that is the kind of compact that we should have with our students and their families,” Brostrom said.

The regents will vote on the 2014-15 budget — which they discussed only preliminarily at this meeting — in November.

Contact Libby Rainey and Shannon Carroll at [email protected]