The $4.3 million special events house, pushed by University of Alabama Chancellor Finis St. The Board of Administration of UA, the data show.
Superintendent Bryce’s house, which was renovated last year, has seen very little use since its completion last August. The historic residence was part of the Bryce Mental Hospital campus purchased by the university and has been extensively renovated for educational purposes. But the Superintendent’s House became a controversy within the campus when St. John ordered the trustees to transfer it under the control of the University of Alabama System Office and voted to spend millions to create what many current and former employees described as a “party house” for themselves.
While two buildings in Pinehurst were renovated to provide permanent quarters for members of the UA Board of Trustees, the St. is held on football Saturdays and the rich and powerful can face each other.
Saint John’s notes for the board show that his plan was closely related to existing football rituals.
“We also proposed the use of the Overseer’s House to host key business, educational and political figures important to the interests of the System (not limited to UA interests and not strictly limited to advancement purposes). Such examples would be:
“• Selwyn [Vickers] and leading national members of his board of visitors
“• Mayors of important cities in Alabama
• Important business or political figures from the home country of the visiting teams
“• Strategically selected groups related to UAH, UAB or UABHS
“• Business or political leaders in Alabama important to the continuing interests of the System.
“The trustees would be involved and we would have these guests attend the pregame at the Mansion and sit in the President’s box,” wrote St. John in a June 15, 2021 memo to Trustees Stan Starnes and Karen Brooks.
St. John’s office has repeatedly ignored direct questions about the Overseer’s House. But an official open records request made on July 15 seeking the names and hours of organizations that have used the house, anyone who has stayed overnight there and any future events planned was answered on August 16. It did not list anyone who had stayed in any of the four large bedroom suites created during the renovation, but did offer a list of nine activities and functions that have taken place, or will take place later this semester.
10/26/21 – A tour by the Alabama Department of Mental Health;
11/3/21 – A dinner for the meeting of the UA Board of Administration;
12/1/21 – A meeting to discuss and review Bryce Main with UA Building Administration;
12/6/21 – A Tour for the Partlow Family;
1/25/22 — Used as a video filming location for the Boy Scouts of America;
25/3/22 – Saint John hosted a meeting of the chancellor and presidents;
4/1/22 – Used for a groundbreaking ceremony for Bryce’s Main and Randall Restoration Center;
6/8/22 – A dinner for the meeting of the UA Board of Administration;
6/14/22 – A dinner for the annual meeting of the Southeastern Conference Communicators Association.
So far, two upcoming events are also planned for the house this semester:
9/22/22 – Alexis de Tocqueville Society Event West Alabama United Way;
11/22/18 — Board Meeting for the College of Continuing Studies Board of Visitors.
Last summer, multiple employees who spoke on condition of anonymity said the house was being worked on around the clock in a frantic effort to finish it before the start of football season. A memorandum of understanding signed on January 22 last year appears to support these claims, as it states: “The project will be completed and the property fully available for possession, use and enjoyment by UAS no later than August 30, 2021.”
Also, in a November 4, 2020 memo, St. John identified the need for such a facility as a result of the decision to convert the two Pinehurst mansions into accommodations for members of the UA Board of Trustees. While trustees are not supposed to receive compensation for their service, they are routinely offered jewelry, air travel, hotels, food, alcohol, police escort and campus lodging, according to current and former employees familiar with their benefits.
One of the Pinehurst houses had previously been used as a residence for the chancellor, but former chancellor Bob Witt decided not to live there, and that house and another were extensively renovated to provide permanent housing for the trustees.
“Since the transformation of the Pinehurst properties from a chancellor’s residence, there has been no suitable facility to host and entertain the functions and guests of the System and the Board. During trustee meetings and game weekends, the Pinehurst properties are used to host trustees,” St. John wrote as he lobbied trustees to illuminate his vision for the Overseer’s House.
It is not clear whether the controversy surrounding St. John and the UA Board of Trustees spending $4.3 million to create a party venue for themselves caused the plans to change, but the house was not used for pregame gatherings last season and appears to have no current plans. to use it this way this season.
Office of the System officials have argued that there were never any official plans for the Overseer’s House before the UA Board’s vote to turn it into a special event space last year, but a 2015 article by the University of The Alabama News Center said it was planned to be used for graduate studies. While it has never been confirmed that the House of Representatives was redefined from becoming an academic structure to serve its new mission of hosting dignitaries and politicians, a document created in December 2021 outlining renovation costs curiously holds a caption reading “Hall of Graduates”.
That document lists more than $99,000 spent on home furnishings, including nearly $40,000 in window treatments. Furniture costs were $21,000 over budget.
The office of St. Lagniappe was able to obtain them from another source, revealing the creation of four-bedroom apartments on the second floor.