Fountain Place (President's House, three-quarter view), Photo property of Ithaca College

ITHACA, N.Y. — At its Board of Trustees meeting last week, Ithaca College announced its intent to sell 2 Fountain Place, the historic mansion that housed the college’s presidents for nearly eighty years.

“As you might expect from a group that so recognizes and respects the history and traditions of Ithaca College, this decision was not made lightly,” said board chairman Tom Grape in the press release from the college. “We have been discussing the benefits and constraints of Fountain Place and examining our options for several years, hoping to identify a feasible means of improving how it could be used for the benefit of the college community. We ultimately determined that retaining the property for either a presidential home or for other college uses posed both financial and logistical challenges that outweighed our sentimental attachments.”

Reasons cited for the decision to sell the property include its distance from Ithaca College’s campus, lack of off-street parking, the expense in maintaining the nearly 130-year old building, and difficulties in using the building and property to host large events on the college’s behalf. “We decided that the costs to renovate and maintain it for our needs for the foreseeable future were just too great. The college has otherwise done a tremendous job of taking care of both the house and the landscape around it, and we look forward to finding a buyer who will cherish the property as much as we have done for so many years,” said college trustee Doug Weinstein, chairman of the board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee.

It was previously reported back in May that incoming Ithaca College president Shirley Collado would not be living in the mansion while the college debated future plans for the 9,100 square-foot property in the city of Ithaca’s East Hill neighborhood. Designed by influential Ithaca architect William Henry Miller and built in 1891 for a lawyer’s private residence, it was one of the first houses in Ithaca to be wired for electricity. Ithaca College purchased the property in 1938, back when the college was based out of downtown Ithaca.

Zoning on the site pretty much leaves the options at private residence, group homes, or a fancy bed and breakfast inn. The building is also a contributing member of the East Hill Historic District, which gives it significant protections and protects the exterior of the building from alterations that may not fit with its historic character. Tompkins County last had the mansion assessed at just under $2 million, so a sale of the 7-bedroom, 5-bath property would likely return it to the tax rolls, and deposit some green into municipal coffers.

The sale of the property would also give Ithaca College the money it needs to start building a new president’s mansion in a South Hill location. Plans are being drawn up for a new residence, but have yet to be released for public consumption. Expect something new and expect something grand to host large functions, but also expect that if the future presidential site isn’t already tax-exempt, it will be once the college purchases it.

“It’s been a bittersweet decision to part with Fountain Place, especially during a year in which we are celebrating the college’s proud history,” said Grape. “But I am very excited to move forward with planning for a president’s residence that meets the needs of the IC community both now and well into the future.”

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.