- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

The cash-strapped University of the District of Columbia has spent more than $215,000 to renovate the campus residence of school President William L. Pollard — including more than $9,000 for Italian granite and marble countertops — while its academic facilities have deteriorated.

Exterior repairs have cost $79,225 and interior remodeling has totaled $136,748 at the three-story brick home in the 3500 block of Rittenhouse Street NW that serves as the UDC president’s official residence, according to purchasing records obtained by The Washington Times via the Freedom of Information Act.

The house had fallen into disrepair in the years before Mr. Pollard began living there last year, UDC administration officials have said. The roof had partially collapsed; the electrical wiring had become dangerously worn; the sidewalk had been shattered; and interior walls had chipped paint and torn wallpaper. Officials say repairing the private residence is key to attracting and entertaining potential donors.

The land-grant university’s public facilities also have fallen into disrepair. A campus tour last month by D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty uncovered dozens of maintenance problems, including crumbling stairs, broken elevators, leaky roofs, and torn, stained carpeting throughout the classrooms. UDC officials promised to quickly fix the long-standing problems.

Mr. Pollard’s home — a 4,863-square-foot house with four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half bathrooms — has undergone extensive improvements in the year since he took the helm of the District’s only public institution of higher learning. Among the $79,225 cost of exterior repairs, UDC spent $24,000 to replace the main roof, $24,000 to repair the driveway and $23,775 to replace the Florida room’s roof and refurbish two columns.

In addition, the $136,748 interior remodeling costs include $39,000 to replace wallpaper and paint the house, $24,907 for Ethan Allen furniture, $2,099 for a 52-inch Sony projection television and $900 for a Bose home-theater system.

“By anybody’s definition, that is too much money to be spent remodeling a house that is taxpayer subsidized,” said Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. “That’s disappointing.”

In a written statement, Mr. Pollard said his residence, which was built in 1980, is a “showcase” for the university and its repairs and remodeling were authorized by the school’s board of trustees.

“Since becoming president, I’ve had the privilege of hosting many students, faculty, alumni, potential donors, trustees and university guests in the University Residence,” he wrote. “The residence had been unoccupied for several years and had fallen into a general state of disrepair. Had it not been for the support and assistance of the university’s board of trustees, we would have missed these opportunities to showcase the university in a worthy manner.”

Mr. Pollard said that most repairs consisted of replacing “degraded or broken existing materials with those of a higher quality.” He also said the work would provide long-term savings because the new materials will last longer and require fewer repairs than “cheaper materials.”

“The same is also true of many of the internal furnishings,” Mr. Pollard wrote. “For example, the 52-inch projection television system in the residence was no longer functional. As such, it was replaced.”

Mr. Fenty, a member of the D.C. Council’s education committee, said the quality of the school’s facilities and academic offerings should be the primary priority at UDC, not its president’s residence.

“I really do hope this president is successful, but that is wasteful spending,” he said of Mr. Pollard’s home-improvement bill. “The real problem is that we are in austere times. The University of the District of Columbia has no money to spare.”

Mr. Pollard has blamed the District’s labyrinthine budget process for delaying repairs and maintenance in academic facilities.

“In order for us to get capital improvement, we have to go through three layers of city processes, and we are at various stages of all those processes,” he said on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU-FM (88.5) last month.

Taxpayer dollars spent on his residence did not follow the same budget process as capital projects for the rest of the campus, Mr. Pollard said.

Questions about expenditures on the president’s house were first raised June 27 on “The D.C. Politics Hour” on WAMU-FM, which reported the remodeling expenses had exceeded $100,000.

Faculty members expressed dismay at the cost of Mr. Pollard’s home improvements, saying little has been spent to improve academics since he took office.

Last year, UDC spent less than half the national average for instruction and research for its undergraduate students. The school spent about $5,023 per student, which amounted to 41.7 percent of its $64 million budget. The national average is $10,149 per student or about 56.8 percent of the average university budget.

Mr. Pollard has weathered criticism this year from faculty, students and the D.C. Council regarding his spending priorities and his hiring of friends for high-paying jobs.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether Mr. Pollard violated ethics rules in hiring a family friend as the school’s new provost. The investigation follows reports that first appeared July 11 in The Washington Times that the new provost and vice president of academic affairs, Wilhelmina M. Rueben-Cooke, apparently lacks the experience and education required for her $137,000-a-year job.

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