by Henri Gendreau
For the first time since it moved from Worthington, Ohio in 1828, Kenyon is coming to a new location: Mount Vernon.
The College is converting the former Buckeye Candy & Tobacco building at 400 South Main Street into Kenyon classrooms, community outreach offices and a new home for a local children’s science museum, pending the Board of Trustees’ approval in April.
With three grants from the Ariel Foundation, Kenyon hopes to throw open the doors of its newest facility by mid-to-late 2016. The grants — the amounts of which won’t be publicly disclosed until Kenyon’s board approves the plan, as is expected — help cover the assessment of the building, its purchase at $172,500 and the building’s renovation. It was not disclosed how much of Kenyon’s own funds it expects to put toward the building.
“We were approached by the Ariel Foundation, [which asked if we would] be interested in having a space in Mount Vernon if we could get it as a gift?” President Sean Decatur said. “And it just seemed like … too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
The three-story building, at 18,000 square feet, will house classrooms, though plans for specific departments won’t be determined until the Board meeting. Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said the College expects classrooms to be available as early as the fall of 2016 and is working on a plan to provide transportation to Mount Vernon. Decatur confirmed that the department of dance, drama and film is one candidate for some of the space. The building will also host offices for community outreach, with most of the first floor taken up by the nonprofit Science Play-Space Initiative, or SPI Spot, which currently sits kitty-corner to the building at 225-7 South Main Street.
“It was important for us that the partnership with SPI Spot be there, and Kenyon was very open to that and excited about that,” Jan Reynolds, executive director of the Ariel Foundation, said.
Kenyon has previously partnered with SPI Spot to host STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — festivals for middle and high schoolers. SPI Spot is also working to involve Kenyon students, having posted a position Saturday on Kenyon’s Symplicity network for a summer intern.
“We’ve been interested in increasing both our connections between Kenyon and Mount Vernon and Knox County,” Decatur said. “Especially providing more support and infrastructure for the students who volunteer in Mount Vernon and also for the community-based research and learning classes that are happening on campus.”
Rachel Garcia, executive director of SPI Spot, said the organization was excited to move into a new facility better suited to its needs and to continue its relationship with Kenyon.
“That’s one reason we’re partnering with Kenyon, is that we can help provide community outreach,” Garcia said. “I think it will mean that people will be able to see Kenyon as part of the community, as opposed to those people over there on the Hill.”
Kenyon had expressed interest last summer in establishing its presence at the newly formed Ariel-Foundation Park, according to Reynolds. But with the Buckeye building vacant and SPI Spot in need of a new location, the Ariel Foundation held a meeting with Kohlman, Lisa Schott, advisor for sustainability and community initiatives, and Mark Ramser, owner of Knox County Properties, LLC, which owns the building.
“The three entities — Kenyon, the Ariel Foundation and Mark Ramser — got together, went through the building and things blossomed from there,” Reynolds said.
“Sean Decatur wanting for Kenyon to become a part of the community, I think, is so important,” Reynolds said. “There are so many things that Kenyon can bring to this community that aren’t here right now with the student aspect as well as the staff and professor input. We’re excited about what Kenyon can bring and that will be developing and it will be fun watching it unfold and blossom, and we’ll be happy to be a part of that.”
Ramser said he was happy to see Kenyon join Mount Vernon Nazarene University and Central Ohio Technical College in having facilities in Mount Vernon.
“I think it’s going to be really nice that actually all three colleges and universities that hold classes and grant degrees here in Knox County are going to have [a] physical presence downtown,” Ramser said. “I think it’s really good to repurpose some of these larger buildings that were built in downtown Mount Vernon for a different use, a good use.”
The building opened Friday, May 6, 1910 as the Kelser-Dowds Company, which was a grocery wholesaler, according to an article in The Democrat Banner, Mount Vernon’s newspaper at the time. The brick-and-concrete structure was built fire-proof and had a rail line that ran into the building, where goods could then be sent to the upper floors via a hydraulic-powered elevator and chute. The building then became the Buckeye Candy & Tobacco Company and later an antique store, according to Ramser.
Now, after 105 years, the downtown mainstay will be host to an outsider, seeking to become an insider.
“Really, Mount Vernon is our front door — it’s where prospective students and families come in to actually get to campus,” Decatur said. “We have a really strong interest in the city and the county actually being places that are thriving.”