It was about 34 years ago when Cal Poly’s new president Jeffrey Armstrong stood on the lawn at a function at the president’s house at Murray State University. He was among the other students there to be honored for receiving scholarships, and he realized how amazing it was to be at the president’s house on campus, he said.
Starting May 1, students won’t be the only Mustangs living on campus anymore. Armstrong said he too plans to live on campus in the University House.
At the first four universities Armstrong was associated with, the president lived on campus. Although the decision to live on campus may not be right for every president, it was the right decision for him, Armstrong said.
“The idea of the president being on campus and being that much more connected with the students was such a positive that it outweighed any other factor,” Armstrong said. “I couldn’t picture anything other than living on campus. What else would I do?”
The two-story University House was built in 1928 with four bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. It is located adjacent to the Health Center, and as Armstrong said, the Recreation Center is right in his backyard.
The last person to live in the house was former Cal Poly president, Warren Baker, until about six years ago. At that time, Baker moved out to live in a private home he built near Pismo Beach.
Before Armstrong moves in, the house needs to undergo necessary renovations, which include upgrades on the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, windows, electricity, light fixtures, kitchen and bathrooms as well as partial re-roofing — which is happening now.
Cal Poly Vice President for Administration and Finance Larry Kelley said he predicts the finished project will be $150,000 to $200,000, at the most, and will not cause any additional costs to the students, since it is a state building and is funded accordingly.
“(The funding) comes out of the same source as the care of the other 99 or so buildings we have on campus,” Kelley said. “If we need to repair or replace a roof, we try to have the money available to that.”
The renovations are scheduled to be finished by May 1, Kelley said.
Until then, Armstrong will live in the house Cal Poly provided for Robert Glidden when he served as interim president. The house is about a five minute drive from campus, Armstrong said.
While living there, Armstrong will receive a housing allowance, which has yet to be disclosed. When Glidden lived there, his housing allowance was $5,000, Kelley said.
When Armstrong does live on campus, he will no longer receive a housing allowance, but his mere walk of a commute to his office is something Armstrong looks forward to, he said.
“For the last 14 years, I’ve had a five to eight minute commute,” Armstrong said. “Now, I’m going to have a five to eight minute walk.”
On the walk, and even around San Luis Obispo, Armstrong said he hopes students feel comfortable enough to say hello or even give him a high five if they’d like.
Biological sciences senior Colin Malcolm said he thinks that with Armstrong on campus it will help his relationship with the students because if he lived across town, he would be detached from the university.
“I think it’s a good idea because he will be closer to the student body,” Malcolm said. “He’ll understand what it’s like to live in this area.”
Malcolm doesn’t expect to see the president around campus much, because of his busy schedule, so he hopes to see him in more casual settings, he said.
“If I want to go out and get barbecue or go to the movies, we could be going to the same places,” Malcolm said. “If we see him around town, that will make (students) feel closer to him.”
The University House’s main purpose has recently been to host social events, and Armstrong said he plans to carry on this tradition.
“The university needs additional space where they can entertain, so we’re going to entertain — there is no doubt about it,” Armstrong said. “The house is a good place to break bread or have a drink or just sit back relax and get to know people better.”
Armstrong’s first official day as Cal Poly president is Feb. 1, and he compared the decision to live on campus with advice his dad gave him on his wedding day, he said.
“Make a decision, and make it right,” Armstrong said.