Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For sale: Presidential digs

University of Winnipeg divesting itself of north River Heights property

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Every liberal-arts school should have as sharp an eye for a good investment as the University of Winnipeg.

Back in the day, 1955 to be specific, someone in the downtown academe thought it would be a good idea to buy a 1930 north River Heights house for $26,500 to serve as the president's official digs.

Monday, that house at 49 Oak St. goes on the market for $789,900.

Set midway between Academy Road and Wellington Crescent, the 3,160-square-foot home has four bedrooms and has been lived in gently for six decades by the university's presidents and their families.

The U of W's retiring president, Lloyd Axworthy and his wife, have already moved into a house they bought elsewhere in Winnipeg, said Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and adviser to the president.

"Presidents' houses in general are used by presidents to entertain," said Read.

With the extensive renovations to Convocation Hall on the main campus, and with the opening of the Elements restaurant in the new science building, "We have some nicely appointed spaces now" for entertaining and holding social functions, said Read.

Offering a residence has become less of an attraction for recruiting candidates, said Read -- potential presidents tend to want to own their own home and build up equity while serving as president, he said.

"There are a number of universities that have divested themselves of their homes," he said.

Only nine of 20 western Canadian universities still have a president's house, Read said.

The University of Manitoba has a president's house near the Red River, just south of the Fort Garry campus, and has no plans to sell it.

Read said proceeds from the sale would go into the U of W's capital fund, while saving the university all the annual operating costs of an upscale older home.

"It's a gorgeous location, right off Wellington Crescent," he pointed out.

The house received some unwanted attention about a dozen years ago, around the time the U of W bought out the late Constance Rooke as president.

Rooke spent almost $226,000 over three years for extensive improvements and expansion to the house, including a new deck and winterizing a sunroom so she could entertain.

The city complained the U of W had obtained barely $16,000 in building permits for the work, and city staff were having difficulty getting access to the house to conduct a reassessment -- it was valued at $238,900 prior to any of the work Rooke conducted.

The city and school property taxes run about $10,000, said Read.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 B1

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