Who really bankrolls luxe fraternity party pads?

Kappa
Sigma

Kappa Sigma fraternity

Georgia Tech
Built: 2013
Cost: $3.7 million
Features: 16,700 square feet; 24 sleeping rooms contain 49 beds
Architect: Hug Architects, Atlanta

Hug & Associates Architects

Sigma
Kappa

Sigma Kappa sorority

University of Florida
Built: 2016
Cost: $6.1 million
Features: Three stories; 25,300 square feet; sleeps 66 members
Architect: Hug Architects, Atlanta

Hug & Associates Architects

Psi
Upsilon

Psi Upsilon fraternity

University of Pennsylvania
Built: 1890
Cost: sold to University for $1 in 1920’s
Features: A mid-century Victorian suburban Gothic mansion made of limestone, “the Castle,” as it’s called, was featured in Transformers 2.
Architect: George W. Hewitt, Philadelphia

Wikimedia Commons

When architect Mike Hug was designing a new house for the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Georgia Tech, he says the frat brothers had one pressing question: “What are you going to do about The Pit?”

Over the years, Kappa Sigma members had transformed the basement of the 1950’s-era house into... well, a bar, known as The Pit. Now that they were tearing their home down and rebuilding, they were afraid of losing their hangout. So, Hug decided to design “a newer, better, version-on-steroids” of the Pit. The result: what looks like a full-on sports bar, (Hug calls it a “recreation room” since the fraternity doesn’t officially provide alcohol) complete with antique street signs, restaurant-style booths and a mezzanine from which partiers can look down at the action.

Delta
Gamma

Delta Gamma sorority

University of Alabama
Built: 2012
Cost: $7.8 million
Features: Three stories with basement; 36,500 square feet; 32 sleeping rooms contain 60 beds
Architect: Hug Architects, Atlanta

Hug & Associates Architects

Beta
Theta Pi

Beta Theta Pi fraternity

Columbia University
Built: 1900
Cost: This example of a New York City frat house was valued at $1.5 million in 2014-2015.
Features: Ping-pong tables, foosball, and basement sound system.

Flickr

Kappa
Delta

Kappa Delta Sorority

University of Alabama
Built: 2015
Cost: $11.9 million
Features: Kappa Delta is the oldest sorority at Alabama; new house can fit 66 members.
Architect: Barganier Davis Sims Architects Associated, Montgomery

Sarah McClure/Fusion

Hug has had to learn a lot about fraternities and sororities from the inside out. His Atlanta-based company, Hug & Associates Architects, is one of several firms in the country that specialize in Greek housing. And business is booming due to an expansion in student population and interest in Greek life. Among his projects is the Delta Gamma House at the University of Alabama. Over the past decade, about 30 Greek organizations at Alabama remodeled their houses or built new ones at the school with funds loaned by the school but paid back with private dollars for a combined cost of more than $200 million, according to records provided to The Associated Press.

Building or remodeling a modern-day fraternity or sorority house poses a complex and unique set of challenges. Financing can be hard to get, considering that houses will be inhabited by a rotating cast of teenagers and twentysomethings, not usually a bank’s favorite type of resident.

Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Georgia Tech —Hug & Associates Architects

Some Greek organizations have turned to Washington to help make the renovations easier. The Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (nicknamed by some “FratPAC”) donates tens of thousands of dollars to the congressional campaigns of fraternity and sorority alumni and “those who support the Greek experience” in Congress. Greek alumni in turn have often introduced legislation that benefits Greek organizations and their houses, like a bill to make federal grants available for installing fire alarms and sprinklers in fraternities and sororities. In the most recent Congress, a major PAC priority was passage of the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act (CHIA), something of a perennial bill that would revise the IRS code when it comes to Greek housing renovations and construction.

The bill, which had 94 co-sponsors, would allow Greek organizations to go from writing off just 30 percent of every housing-related donation, to claiming the entire amount as tax exempt. Supporters say the bill would create jobs and make college housing more affordable for students by enabling Greek organizations to provide cheaper alternatives to dorms and alleviate the housing crunch.

Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Georgia Tech —Hug & Associates Architects

The bill was introduced in both houses in early 2015 but never made it out of committee. Still Greek-related organizations and developers hope to convince lawmakers to help reduce the financial hurdles to fraternity and sorority construction.

For example, banks may want large cash down payments.

“What happens if the next class gets kicked off campus and you lose your charter?” asked Mike Halstead, whose Indianapolis firm has done work for Greek organizations in the Midwest. He said one of his renovation projects was cancelled because the chapter got kicked off campus.

The houses must be attractive enough to lure in new pledges every year, yet industrial enough to withstand heavy use. They have to meet building codes and university concerns like architectural character and height, sometimes get local historic preservation board approval, and still keep rents cheap enough that students don’t go back to the dorms or to off-campus apartments. Much of the work has to be completed during the summer when students are away, so it often must be done in three phases. All that can further drive up costs.

Phi
Mu

Phi Mu sorority

University of Alabama
Built: 2016
Cost: $13.6 million.
Features: chandeliers, grand piano
Architects: Holmes & Holmes, Mobile

Twitter/@PhiMuatUA

Theta
Chi

Theta Chi fraternity

San Diego State University
Built: 2015
Cost: $4 million
Features: This is the biggest fraternity house on the west coast; has 38 beds and an underground parking garage.
Architect: Treanor Architects, multiple locations nationwide

Facebook/Theta Chi SDSU

Beta
Theta Pi

Beta Theta Pi fraternity

University of Oklahoma
Built / renovated: 1928 / 2015
Cost: $11 million
Features: 90-bed house has original limestone facade and remains on the National Registry of Historic Places. It has a basketball court and a 75-seat study room with tiered seating.
Architect: Michael Hall of G2H Architects, Oklahoma City

Wikimedia Commons

On top of all that, fraternity and sorority house renovations require a delicate balance of safety and aesthetics.

Take the challenges facing Boston architect Alan Joslin. In 2013, Boston officials instituted a ban on all fraternity and sorority parties at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after a student fell four stories from the roof of one’s plexiglass dome skylights.

The move prompted a review of all the Greek houses, and Joslin’s firm was summoned to renovate the five-story Phi Beta Epsilon house at MIT. The 100-year-old brick fraternity house offered sweeping views of the Charles River, and its rooftop had become a popular party spot.

The staircase up to the roof was a “spindly thing [students] had jury-rigged,” Joslin recalled. When people started dancing, they’d be “jumping in sync, and the roof would go in and out. It was pretty scary.”

Joslin had the whole roof removed and structurally reinforced, making sure it would safely hold 300 dancing people. He fashioned railings so that they’re pointy, not flat -- so no one would sit on them or set down a beer.

But he also renovated to meet students’ changing academic and social needs. Joslin’s team added a glass and copper tower with an elevator, partly to meet standards for people with disabilities. The architects opened up walkways and walls to add natural light and community areas.

“One of the things about millennials is there’s a lot more group learning, group projects,” Joslin said. He was surprised to learn that today’s frat boys actually preferred shared rooms to singles. “They wanted suites. They wanted to live in groups.”

Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Georgia Tech —Hug & Associates Architects

In Los Angeles, the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity house at the University of Southern California was a far cry from the classic architecture of the northeast and the grand mansions of the south. Inside, it featured a stripper pole when architect Ana Henton of MASS Architecture & Design was hired to give the house a makeover. She found bros living in what she described to the Los Angeles Times as “squalor” amid beer bottles, bongs and graffiti. She got rid of the pole, incorporated Redwood and cedar lumber into the walls. Henton also added a salad bar because the guys wanted low-carb meals. In the end, as business booms in this niche industry, frat construction seems to reinforce one of life’s most basic lessons. Regardless of the original state in which the buildings are found, their future depends on just how well they can adapt.

For more on how these organizations operate in Washington, read: Greeks on the Hill. Scroll through to find out how much money your representative receives from the Greek system’s biggest DC political action committee.