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Lovely to Look At, Costly to Keep Up

Antioch Hall towersAntioch Hall, opened in 1853, is among Antioch College buildings that are now empty and unused. (Chronicle photographs by Lawrence Biemiller)

Antioch Hall towersYellow Springs, Ohio — Antioch College has a beautiful campus, with a trio of eclectic 1853 buildings surrounded by whole textbook’s worth of Modernist structures, some of them very good. The strange thing is, though, that right now there are almost exactly as many buildings (34) as students (33), and the 200-acre campus—which once accommodated as many as 2,000 students—feels eerily empty. Now and then a student crosses from Eero Saarinen’s 1948 Birch Hall, the one open dorm, to the library or the only open classroom building, and occasionally a neighbor walking a dog wanders by. But for the most part a visitor is alone among shuttered buildings and tall trees.

This will change over time, administrators at the reopened institution promise—about 160 students have been offered admission for next fall, in the expectation that about 75 will accept. North Hall, one of the three original buildings, is under renovation to house next year’s class, and architects from the Pittsburgh firm Mac­Lachlan, Cornelius & Filoni are working out a plan to reopen half of two floors of the four-story science building. You can read about the college’s plans in an article in this week’s Chronicle.

In the meantime, though, the college has a lot of mothballed buildings to keep tabs on and a lot of grass to mow. Two extremely unfortunate incidents in December 2008 and January 2009—before Antioch University agreed to turn Antioch College and its campus over to its alumni—give a sense of the challenges and costs.

Antioch Hall lobbyHaving shuttered the college the summer before, the university had also shut down the campus steam plant, so the buildings were unheated. On December 24, a frozen sprinkler pipe burst in North Hall, flooding that building, and on February 7 a pipe burst in Antioch Hall, flooding it too. A WHIO-TV report includes video of water falling like rain inside the building, and of dampness soaking through the brick walls. The university hired damage-control experts to stabilize the building, but by then a lot of damage had been done.

There have been no other disasters since. And teams of alumni volunteers appear every month to help the college’s maintenance crews keep up with chores. Still, it’s eery seeing furniture piled in the windows of the empty student center, and leaves gathered by the cantilvered doorway of Corry Hall, a striking 1955 dorm by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

For the time being, individual heating and cooling units are being brought in for campus buildings that are being reopened—except for North Hall, where the $5.4-million renovation will add a geothermal system as well as solar panels. Mark Roosevelt, the college’s president, says he’s not sure yet how big the institution will aim to become—between 600 and 1,000 students is his best guess right now—but in any case Antioch has more buildings than it’s likely to need. At some point, Mr. Roosevelt says, that’s a problem the college will have to make some decisions about.

Antioch Hall

Antioch Hall was designed by A.M. Merrifield, the contractor who built it. Its original three-story interior was replaced with four stories in a 1959 renovation.

Antioch Hall stepsThe building’s original front faced east, across a wide lawn. This entrance was later closed and a new entrance was built on the west side.

Antioch Hall close-upThe building’s brickwork is showing its age.

Birch HallBirch Hall, designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1948, is home to this year’s students.

North HallNorth Hall, another of the 1853 buildings, is being renovated and modernized. It will house students in 52 double rooms.

Nixon graffito from North HallContractors working on North Hall cut out a section of a men’s-room wall containing this 1969 portrait of Richard Nixon, which is now preserved in the college archives.


 

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