by Emily Birnbaum
Sticking out among the white North Campus Apartments is a mysterious blue house that is seemingly empty. Some students even joke that the house might be haunted.
However, the house is neither empty nor haunted. A residence converted into an office space, it now serves as the headquarters of the Five Colleges of Ohio consortium (Ohio5). The Ohio5 is an association comprised of the College of Wooster, Denison University, Oberlin College, Ohio Wesleyan University and Kenyon. The consortium provides a forum for faculty and students of the five colleges to discuss issues of mutual concern.
“The Ohio5 was founded in 1995 primarily to coordinate both administrative and academic programs,” Brenda Howard, who serves as the Ohio5’s account and budget assistant and manages its website, said. “We are supposed to look at resource-sharing and find ways of enhancing quality while reducing cost. Any time there’s interest in working with other colleges, we’re interested in helping with that.”
The Ohio5 also works to unite the colleges academically. It is responsible for bringing OhioLINK to the colleges, which is an interlibrary loan system for students at any of the five schools to borrow books from the participating colleges’ libraries. This past February, the consortium united 60 students and faculty members at Oberlin College for the first Ohio5 Dance Conference, where performers were able to share their ideas and styles. The second dance conference will be held at Kenyon this spring, with such performances at the other colleges in subsequent seasons.
Howard, Procurement Specialist Christine Kimball and Executive Director Susan Palmer are all in charge of scheduling and mediating the meetings between members of the five colleges.
Though the Ohio5 has always had its main office in various Kenyon buildings, it moved to the Allen House in 2003.
Before 2003, the “blue house “was officially titled “Allen House.” It was used as a residential space that housed faculty members and their families. In 2003, Kenyon transformed the house into an office space and painted it blue. Since then, the house’s first floor has been dedicated to Ohio5 work while the second floor is office space.
While Howard, Kimball and Palmer are the only employees who are dedicated full-time to Ohio5 operations at Kenyon, many faculty and staff members on campus have been involved in Ohio5 procedures. The consortium’s board of trustees is made up of the presidents of all the colleges, so Kenyon President Sean Decatur’s input has a bearing on Ohio5 policy. Additionally, Todd Burson, Kenyon’s associate vice president for finance, and Mark Kohlman, Kenyon’s chief business officer, are both involved in Ohio5 work.
“[Decatur, Burson and Kohlman] serve on one of our main committees, the Operating Committee,” Palmer said. “They are charged with creating consortial projects on the business and administrative side.”
The Kenyon Ohio5 office is currently focusing on a procurement project, according to Howard.
“The procurement project will make it so that an administrative assistant can go to a website online that has access to a lot of vendors with whom we have contracts,” Howard said. “If we have contracts with these vendors, then we can get the products for cheaper when we make orders.”
According to Palmer, the largest expenses come from the maintenance and equipment used to run college life, such as cleaning supplies, paper towels, fertilizer and paint. The Ohio5 is collaborating with faculty and staff members from all five colleges on this project.
“The staff members in charge of purchasing at each college are working with accounting people to make sure the payments are handled properly,” Palmer said.
According to the Ohio 5 website, the goal of the project is to acquire a web-based procurement system to allow for shared purchasing practices across the colleges. All purchasing will be done through the same online system.
Both Palmer and Howard say the relationship between the Allen House office space and the surrounding student residential life is peaceful. Neither side impedes on the other. In fact, the relationship is so minimal that Kenyon students are not even aware there is a relationship.
“We saw someone was in the window one night when we were passing by and we got freaked out because we’d never seen a person there before,” Audrey Davis ’15 said. “We had no idea that anyone was in that house for any purpose until recently.”