Dail House will serve as chancellor’s residence again — or not

The future purpose of the ECU chancellor’s residence on East Fifth Street remains unsettled even after those responsible for guiding its historic use received a tour of the property this week led by university trustees and administrators.

On Tuesday, members of the Greenville Historic Preservation Commission took part in a tour and question-answer session hosted by Max Joyner Jr., an ECU trustee, at the Dail House, the former home of ECU chancellors located at 605 E. Fifth St. The Daily Reflector was not notified of the meeting.

William Bagnell, ECU associate vice chancellor for operations, followed the tour with an appearance at the commission’s scheduled meeting to clarify the situation and answer further questions. Bagnell confirmed the stated belief of commission members that the Star Hill Farm house purchased this month by the private nonprofit ECU Foundation will serve only as a transitional home for current chancellor, Cecil Staton and his wife, while the Dail House is being rebuilt for future chancellors’ residential use.

After telling them “that is accurate,” Bagnell seemingly contradicted himself and said a committee of the ECU Board of Trustees is assigned to determine how the Dail House will be used in the long run for the “highest and best use of the institution.”

“Whether that is as a residence, an event location or a combination of both is still undetermined, and it’s going to take a little bit of time to process through” Bagnell said.

Commission chairwoman Candace Pearce then told Bagnell that as the commissioners understood it, the reason the university’s original plans to renovate the Dail House was scrapped is because the “state institution” (the UNC Board of Governors) would not approve the renovation.

Bagnell told Pearce, “We could not get the administrative (Board of Governors) approval we needed to move forward with that renovation and expansion plan.”

Bagnell did not tell the commissioners what his ECU administrative colleagues had previously confirmed: that the ECU trustees removed the proposal from the governors’ table before they considered it, based on the belief it would be rejected because of its $3.5-million price tag.

Bagnell did confirm that fact to The Daily Reflector after he spoke to the commissioners.

One of the historic preservation commissioners asked Bagnell if the Board of Governors gave the university a reason why it rejected the proposal. Once more, Bagnell did not tell the commissioners that ECU pulled the request before the governors could make their decision.

“I don’t know that I could speak for the Board of Governors,” Bagnell told them.

“Don’t they have to give an explanation?” the commissioner asked him.

“I don’t know that I can answer that question, either,” Bagnell said. “We sent them a request for $3.5 million for capital improvement and could not get that approval at that time. It could be the expense; it could be the perception of where we were spending our money when there’s lots of deferred things. …”

Bagnell told Pearce that the university is using operating funds for the renovation project, funds that reset every year.

The commissioners — the group that approved ECU’s initial plan — have been seeking clarification from ECU administrators about the university’s intentions for the future of the residence and four adjoining properties.

On Feb. 27, the commissioners had received a copy of a memo from Jim Hopf, Chancellor Cecil Staton’s chief of staff, to City Manager Ann Wall intended to address any questions the city might have and “allay any concerns expressed about ECU’s commitment to the Dail House property.”

The letter left the commission members still seeking clarification on the matter, so they requested direct consultation with ECU administrators.

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The Daily Reflector, 3/30/18