Updated Wed, Jun 11, 2014 6:09 pm
Those in attendance at Wednesday’s public meeting with the architecture firm selected to aid Ohio University in The Ridges master plan appeared to be relieved as the firm announced that the main portion of the former Athens Mental Health Center is structurally sound.
Last month, OU announced that it had selected Schooley Caldwell Associates, a Columbus-based architectural and engineering firm, to help develop a master plan for The Ridges. SCA will partner with Columbus-based landscape architecture and planning firm MKSK on the project.
The Ridges Master Plan Committee selected the firm that will work with the newly formed The Ridges Advisory Committee, which is comprised of city, county and citizen representatives. The committees will present a master plan to OU President Roderick McDavis in March.
Bob Loversidge, president and CEO of SCA, talked about the team’s first impressions of their task after touring the main Kirkbride portion of The Ridges and gathering information from the university and community members.
He said that the main building and its wings are in very good structural condition, adding that water has been kept out of most portions of the facility. Loversidge said the 1874 structure was constructed to withstand centuries. He said the walls are two-feet thick and the design of the facility — such as the front towers, large windows and high ceilings — attributed to passive solar and good air quality for the hospital.
“The details of old buildings excite us,” Loversidge said. “The towers are exciting to us because no one builds towers anymore.”
Much of The Ridges was also built before asbestos was used. Loversidge said there is some asbestos in some of the buildings, but not much. Lead paint is another story though.
According to Loversidge, more than 80 percent of his firm’s work involves renovation of old structures. SCA has completed many projects on the Ohio University campus, including Building 21 at The Ridges where Wednesday’s meeting was held. The building currently houses the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
“This project is all about transformation,” he said. “We’re not afraid to make significant changes to give the buildings new life.”
Loversidge emphasized that his firm knows the historical significance of The Ridges — particularly the Kirkbridge portion.
There is approximately 750,000 square feet of building space at The Ridges, plus about 700 acres of land. One recommendation the firm made on Wednesday was to possibly divide the main building and its wings vertically for tenants — whomever they may be — instead of horizontally. Loversidge said there could possibly be separate entrances to the vertical spaces.
There was also discussion of how to make The Ridges seem more accessible to the rest of Ohio University campus. One of the reasons the former mental health facility seems distant from the campus is that the Hocking River was relocated and now separates the two.
Sarah Richardson, senior associate with MKSK, said that one way to bring more people to The Ridges is to have more programming at the facility to attract visitors. She also talked about the visibility of The Ridges from the other side of Route 682. She suggested maybe some trees could be removed to give residents and visitors a better view of the facility from downtown.
Other possible options would be to actually connect The Ridges to town via a bridge or even a gondola lift (cable car) to The Ridges.
Loversidge said that The Ridges needs a defined mission, funding and a practical implementation plan. He said the project also needs champions.
“We need you to sell it to the world,” he told the audience.
The firms then asked for suggestions from the audience about the facility on Wednesday.
OU professor Alyssa Bernstein said she’d like to see private businesses, such as a fine dining restaurant, at The Ridges and a history museum dedicated to the architectural history of the facility.
Walking paths around the buildings and public parking were other suggestions made.
George Eberts, a former Ridges employee who regularly gives walking tours of the outside of the facility for the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, encouraged the consultants to not deny reality of the place. He said one of the big hurdles is that people — particularly college students — believe the place is haunted.
SCA is encouraging community members to submit any information about The Ridges that they think the firm needs to know as they develop the master plan and also provide suggestions. People can submit their comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.