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UT Foundation gilds new president’s digs

$194,218 spent to furnish house 

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    New University of Toledo presidential home at 2646 Forestvale Road in Ottawa Hills.

    THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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CTY-uthomes15p-2

New University of Toledo presidential home at 2646 Forestvale Road in Ottawa Hills.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

At the University of Toledo, a properly appointed presidential house comes furnished.

There’s the $746 gilded trefoil table, $11,900 for oriental rugs, and more than $19,000 spent on audiovisual equipment — all part of a $194,218 tab to furnish and equip a sprawling Ottawa Hills house that serves as the new home for UT President Sharon Gaber and her successors.

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A combination of university general fund money and private UT Foundation dollars was used to outfit the 7,253-square foot home purchased for $922,000 by the foundation in April. The foundation also paid about $272,000 to renovate the house.

Next came the shopping spree — sofas, cocktail tables, a voranado scrolling console, sound system, an upholstered bed, and rugs. 

Officials thought of even the smallest details — an umbrella stand, potted plants, linens for the guest bathroom, and floor mats.

The foundation spent $134,808 to furnish and equip the house, according to public records requested by The Blade and released Thursday by the university. The bulk of its bill paid for more than two dozen pieces of furniture, costing $84,138. Most of the furnishings will fill common areas on the first floor where the president hosts guests.

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The university spent an additional $59,410 for an assortment of odds-and-ends to entertain at the home. UT’s tab includes $1,502 for linens for the guest bath and dining rooms, $343 for umbrellas and an umbrella stand, and $26,285 for 25 dozen sets of Libbey Glass dinnerware bearing the UT logo for use at the house and around campus.

The Forestvale Road house, built in 1984, replaces the Levis House on Bancroft Street, which served as the presidential residence for a quarter of a century. Foundation officials sought a larger house with a more open floor plan to better accommodate donor dinners and gatherings.

Foundation and university officials contend the new furnishings and entertainment equipment — purchased as UT battles an $11.5 million budget shortfall — further those fund-raising activities.

The furnished home “creates an environment for fund-raising and elevates the stature of the university,” said Brenda Lee, foundation president.

“I think it’s part of the bigger picture. It’s an investment, and sometimes you have to make an investment in order to get the return back,” she said. “It’s not very opulent. It probably looks that way or may look that way to some people, but it is not. We were very thoughtful about how we staged the house.”

Although the foundation purchased the house and acts as landlord, UT pays rent. A 20-year lease between the foundation and university calls for UT to pay $100,000 a year in rent for this fiscal year and next. Rent will increase by 3 percent in the third year and increase every second year thereafter. By July, 2033, UT will owe $130,477 annually.

By comparison, UT paid $77,250 in annual rent for the Levis House.

The older home, built in 1920, was appraised at $835,000 and will be listed for sale within the next month, said Ms. Lee. The foundation has not finalized an asking price or selected a broker.

Former UT President Lloyd Jacobs moved out of the house this summer, and the foundation has made “minimal” repairs, such as painting and repairing holes in the walls where pictures hung, Ms. Lee said.

Furniture in the Levis House’s common areas will remain in the home to stage the property for sale. Other items, described by Ms. Lee as “shabby” and “pretty run down,” were donated to the Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Late last month, the resale store picked up a truckload of boxes from the Levis property. The donated items included pieces of furniture with University of Toledo stamps on the backs. Housewares such as martini and highball glasses and plates made up most of the haul, said store manager Tom Farmer, who praised the donation as large and full of “great stuff.”

The items included simple, white dinner plates — the kind one might find at a banquet hall or country club, he said — and wine glasses, which the store tagged at 99 cents each.

The merchandise had been “flying off the shelves,” but it was difficult to estimate how much the store might make from the contribution, he said.

Ms. Lee said the foundation didn’t appraise the items before they were donated or try to sell them because officials “didn’t feel it was probably worth it.” Instead, giving the goods to the resale store “seemed to be a win-win for everybody,” she said.

The foundation worked with the university’s in-house interior designer to select replacement items and furnishings for the new house. The pieces complement the more modern architectural style of the newer home without cluttering it up, Ms. Lee said.

Most of the furniture came from R.J. Thomas, a wholesaler in Troy, Mich. Some other items were purchased from area businesses, including Jamiesons’ Audio/​Video on Monroe Street.

The mix of local and out-of-state vendors was an attempt to support area retailers but also balance that with a “cost-conscious” approach, UT spokesman Jon Strunk said.

Ms. Gaber had no input in choosing the new furnishings, which were ordered prior to her arrival, Ms. Lee said. The items will remain with the home. The president’s personal furniture fills the Forestvale house’s upstairs spaces and the first-floor sunroom.

The foundation purchased a bed for the master bedroom because Ms. Gaber arrived before movers delivered her belongings.

“It was a quick transition for her. She moved very quickly. We wanted to be able to hit the ground running and have a place for her to sleep and be able to walk in her house and have it ready to roll,” Ms. Lee said.

Ms. Gaber was selected as president in March and started the job July 1 after signing a five-year contract that pays her $450,000 annually plus a bonus and other perks, such as living in the Ottawa Hills home. She has repeatedly stated that raising more money for UT is among her top priorities.

Ms. Gaber did not comment on the house expenditures. The university instead issued a statement through her spokesman.

“The decisions made regarding the Forestvale residence occurred several months prior to Dr. Gaber assuming the presidency. Since July 1, the president has made increased philanthropy and the stronger national reputation fund-raising can help build her top priorities to advance UT,” Mr. Strunk said.

So far, the president’s house has held seven university events.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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