In Preservationist Features

Shawna Wolfe (Bolin) – Athens State Hospital – Athens, OH

What do you consider to be unique about your specific building compared to other Kirkbrides?

The Athens Asylum, now called The Ridges, contains over 40 facilities. The Ridges is closely located to and is part of the University campus that is organized as greens, with the components featuring the buildings designated as The Ridges Green. The Ridges plays an important role in the academic mission including utilizing the grounds for research and recreational hiking and activities, and the buildings for academic teaching and research. Examples include the former central administration building for the asylum being repurposed as a museum complex featuring interdisciplinary activity between fine art, environment, and science. Other facilities have been repurposed, including the former horse barn that now serves as a child development center, and cottages that now house the Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs.

What has been your greatest challenge in preservation?

With over 700 thousand gross square feet of building space and over 700 acres, one of the greatest challenges in preserving has been aligning programmatic needs for facility repurpose and subsequently aligning financial resources to do so. Often the scale and magnitude of preservation is overwhelming. We are not positioned financially to invest in the facilities without programmatic repurpose aligned. We are able to invest when the university has a need that The Ridges Green facilities can fulfill. Our most recent renovation and example was an interconnected project plan whereby the rehabilitation of Ridges 13, 14, & 18, the east Kirkbride Wings, achieved fruition by repurposing for office relocations necessary to meet academic needs on core campus.

How did your community react to the idea of restoration, and did their reactions change after
completion of the project?

Ohio University’s ability to advance projects is linked to years of advocacy, planning, and local/state/national interest. There are many who contributed towards the project and have a passion for The Ridges, and what it has and will continue to provide towards our academic mission and our community. The University partnered with the community in our planning efforts during our Ridges Framework Plan Development. This collaboration ensured that there was mutual understanding and consideration for both the University and community needs. As such, projects we bring forth are widely supported and appreciated. It is important to note, at this time, that we have been unable to share the renovation of Ridges 13, 14, & 18 with the campus and community due to the pandemic. When it is safe to do so, we will share and I expect that the community will continue to be in support of the efforts.

What drove your decision for restoration vs demolition and what was the short- and long-
term financial impact?

With over 40 facilities at The Ridges, the strategy for rehabilitation is multi-pronged. In collaboration with our community, we recognized that there needed to balance between what is preserved, what the university can afford to invest in, and what we will offer for others to invest in. Our plan also included selective demolition, recognizing that some of the ancillary facilities, representing later additions to the building complex, by nature of their construction and location were better suited for demolition. Minimal investment in demolition allowed us to prioritize larger investments in the most historic elements of the plan.

What Kirkbride site, apart from your own, have you viewed as being most worthy of

The only other Kirkbride site I have visited is Traverse City.

What drew you to Kirkbride plan buildings?

One of my first jobs at Ohio University as a freshman was right after the university was given the former Athens Asylum by the State of Ohio. I painted interior spaces and helped with clean-up. I would venture through the facility and imagine both what activity had occurred there and thought of what activity could occur in future through repurpose. I fell in love with the beautiful place and elements that had been strategically incorporated to bring the natural environment in.

What is unique about your preservation efforts vs what is being done with similar projects elsewhere?

An element of our uniqueness is the strategic use of the facilities to support our academic mission.

What got you interested in preservation?

My grandparents first introduced me to preservation as their mentality was investment and care in what you had. As I began to study facilities, architecture, and planning, I fell in love with the creative reuses of older facilities. As the University planner of a campus that began its development in 1804, I am responsible for the stewardship and ensuring that we make sound decisions with respect to repurpose and future uses.

What got you interested in Kirkbride preservation, specifically?

As shared earlier, my first job was at The Ridges and I had a desire then to see what we could do with what had been given to us. When I had the honor to become the university planner, I felt a deep sense of responsibility in finding uses for the facility.

What unexpected thing did you learn from preserving a Kirkbride that you might pass along to
others in support of their efforts?

a. There are resources (knowledge, connections, financial or otherwise) that are accessible to the cause. Develop a plan to tap into them and work with these groups.
b. Develop a collaborative plan, with those who may have concerns on its development and those who are partners. Push boundaries where you can, and plan for flexible opportunities in the future. When it comes time to implement, depending on the interval between planning and implementation, ensure folks remember your plan and approach. The unexpected thing from doing just that, was the ease of acceptance in our approach. Communication, Collaboration, and transparency are key.

Would you be interested in supporting a museum exchange among Kirkbrides that enables exhibition materials, artifacts and ephemera to travel among participating Kirkbrides?