SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — When former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano takes over as president of the University of California later this month, she will live in leased accommodations that the college system is renting for nearly $10,000 a month.

While the price tag is several thousand dollars less than what the university spent leasing her predecessor’s home, some university officials say it might be more cost-effective in the long run to fix up a vacant mansion that housed previous university presidents.

A committee of the University of California’s governing board agreed Tuesday to spend $620,000 toward the multi-million cost of renovating the historic Blake House, which is located not far from UC Berkeley and has been unoccupied since 2008. The full Board of Regents must review the request, which it is scheduled to do on Wednesday.

The money will be used to repair the roof and to study if the three-bedroom, seven-bath house and its 10 acres of gardens should again be used as the president’s official residence, reconfigured for some other purpose or sold off.

“We should focus on what is the best use of this piece of property, is it sale, renovations, divisions, or rezoning it,” Regent Hadi Makarechian said. “We shouldn’t just spend money to fix the roof and then do nothing about it for another three or four years.”

The house has been unoccupied for the last five years, a period in which the university spent more than $100,000 a year renting houses for the president Napolitano is replacing. It will cost an estimated $3.5 million to $6 million to completely renovate the stately, but run-down abode, where the university’s president is expected to entertain and hold meetings, as well as live.

Money for both the repairs and the rent for an alternative presidential residence come from a private endowment.

The house, built in 1924 and located in the hills not far from UC Berkeley, was bequeathed to the university by wealthy alumni and became home to President Charles Hitch in 1968.

The university has leased Napolitano a 3,500-square-foot residence in Oakland as she begins her new job on Sept. 30, Montiel said. At $9,950 a month, the rent is $2,250 less than the home where outgoing president Mark Yudof and his wife have spent the past three years and $3,400 less than the house they rented for two years before that.

Yudof is now among the officials arguing that it would be more cost-effective to fix up Blake House and have future presidents live and host university-related functions there. A report prepared for the Regents’ Committee on Grounds and Buildings states the officials considered buying another house for that purpose this year, but were unable to locate one under $5 million. What’s more, selling Blake House is complicated because its gardens were donated to the Berkeley campus to train future landscape architects.

To get the house into shape, officials are thinking about strengthening its ability to withstand earthquakes, repairing the plumbing and electrical systems, enlarging one of the first-floor kitchens to better accommodate large functions, and improving overall security by adding gates, barriers and surveillance cameras connected to the UC Berkeley police. Plans also call for adding a laundry, kitchen and upgraded bathrooms to the 4,300-square-foot private living quarters.

Although money for the project would come from the private endowment, which as of July was valued at $188 million with annual earnings estimated at $6.5 million, UC officials historically have been reluctant to spend money on routine maintenance at Blake House, much less a complete renovation.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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