By Gabriel Brison-Tresize
For the first time in 40 years, Bexley Hall, the Colleges only 19th century brick building, sits largely unoccupied. College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp, along with Director of Facilities Planning Tom Lepley and several others, have temporary offices in Bexley. But Bexley sits far off of main campus, and few students now have any reason to visit the building, which, together with the attached Colburn Hall, housed the Studio Art department from 1972 until this past spring.
Light fixtures are falling apart; an upstairs window is partially shattered; many floors, tables and chairs are coated with decades worth of paint. By no measure is Bexley Hall in complete disrepair, though.
One of the things that amazes me is how solid this building still feels after all these years. You dont even hear the floors creak, Stamp said. After the Studio Art departments move to the new Horvitz Hall, the College is looking into again making use of Bexley .
Were currently doing an assessment of the building to see if it can be renovated into an administrative building, Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said. The College has hired the Gund Partnership architectural firm, headed by Graham Gund 63, to help evaluate the state of the Bexley-Colburn complex and the potential costs of renovating it. Kohlman hopes to present their findings to the Board of Trustees in April.
Kohlman expects that the process of restoring and remodeling the buildings will be costly. Anywhere from eight to 12 million dollars is my current rough estimate, he said. He also expressed doubts about how the College would raise those funds and added, Until we have a firm grasp on where the funding would be to do the project, its not going to move forward.
Bexley Hall originally served as the venue for the Bexley Hall seminary, Kenyons former graduate school of divinity. People sometimes make the mistake of saying that Kenyon was founded as a seminary thats not true. Kenyon was founded as a college with a seminary, Stamp said.
In 1968, the seminary and Kenyon experienced a messy divorce. The separation of finances wasnt easy, Stamp said. The seminary moved to Rochester, N.Y. and took with it its entire library, which it had kept in Colburn Hall.
It held onto its motto, though, which Kenyon shares: Magnanimiter Crucem Sustine, or, Valiantly bear the cross.
The Studio Art department moved into the buildings in 1972 after they underwent a minor remodeling, and vestiges from the departments residency linger. Leftover canvases, sculptures and even an old, mammoth printing press sit idly in otherwise bare rooms. Stacks of empty drawers and cubbies abound.
Past art students have left their mark on the buildings, too. One of Bexleys stairways retains a spray-painted message, WHEN ARTISTS DREAM THEY DREAM IN COLOR, and a faux-stained-glass installation still adorns Bexleys interior. It is not clear whether the College will preserve those works, but Kohlman said most of the furniture left in the buildings mainly stools, cabinets, desks and tables would be either trashed or given away. The stuff that we could use has already been removed from the building, he said.
In its construction, Bexley Hall contrasts with most of the Colleges other early buildings. Made of brick because it was cheaper than shale, Bexleys exterior was skim-coated with gray plaster to match the look of Old Kenyon Residence Hall and other stone buildings on campus. The same is true of Colburn Hall, which the seminary erected in 1904. Bexley seminary removed the plaster from both buildings in 1958, although remnants still dot their exteriors.
Over time, the seminary and the College have covered most of the buildings original interior woodwork and windows with paint and planks. According to Stamp, however, all the architectural details still [there]; it just needs to be uncovered. Kohlman indicated that such an uncovering is likely. The redesign, he said, will be focused on restoring Bexley to something as close as possible to its original.
The temperature control in the buildings poses another significant concern; they have an antiquated heating system and no central air, both issues the College plans to address. One of the major parts of what will have to be done in the building is upgrading the whole heating and air conditioning system. We know that for sure, Kohlman said.
Its a wonderful building and I think, really, overall in amazingly good shape for its age, Stamp said. Kohlman added that he hopes to have Bexleys upper two floors converted, temporarily, into some sort of space for students. He expects that when students come back in the fall, there will be some use for it.
Stamps dream for Colburn Hall is for the College to turn it into a sort of alumni welcome center, which, he said, we have never had and which we desperately need.
Boy, that would be nice, Lepley agreed. The pair may get their wish. It could be used for events and other things, Kohlman said, listing an alumni welcome center as an option.
For now, though, the drink machine in Bexleys eastern stairwell remains out of stock and forgotten. Rows of folded tables and empty display cases line Bexleys halls as Middle Paths northern bookend passes each day in near-hibernation.