Gambier villagers were ready with a barrage of questions about the College’s Master Plan during a common-hour “talkback” forum President Sean Decatur hosted on Thursday, March 24.
The forum, in Peirce Pub, was meant to gather input from the Kenyon and Gambier communities regarding how the College intends to carry out the aspects of the Master Plan relating to the Village — which includes the proposed construction of three NCA-style residences on the site of the former Gambier Grill and a new market and residence building where the Black Box Theater now sits.
The College received a demolition permit for the Black Box Theater from the Village earlier this month.
“I think that the people who really are concerned, and care enough to go to a session like this, are the Village residents,” said Jacob Griffith-Rosenberger ’16, who attended the meeting as a representative of Kenyon’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, which regularly discusses proposed alterations to the Village, and said he was not concerned by the low student attendance.
Four students and about a dozen community members attended the forum.
For Griffith-Rosenberger, the most unexpected product of the discussion was the reemergence of tensions between Gambier residents and students living off-campus. Multiple community members who spoke at the talkback expressed concerns over the noise, scattered or uncollected trash, and foul language at times associated with off-campus student living. The worry that this behavior might become more prevalent arose in response to the prospect of increased student housing in the Village.
“That’s certainly not something that students tend to think is a pressing issue,” Griffith-Rosenberger said.
Decatur, who moderated the discussion along with Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman and Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, vice president for student affairs, encountered some resistance to plans for the removal of the Scott Lane cut-through, which connects Gaskin and Chase Avenues, and the relocation of the market.
On March 15, the Village’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the College’s request for a demolition permit for the Black Box Theater, which sits at the corner of Brooklyn Street and Chase Avenue. The Black Box will not be demolished before the end of the school year, Kohlman said.
The approval of this permit occurred over the protests of some Villagers in attendance that the building holds historical significance.
Originally a bank, the structure was constructed around 1904 and robbed by members of John Dillinger’s gang in the 1930s.
The College plans to replace the building with an 8,500-square-foot building with a first-floor market and three apartments housing a total of 16 students on the second floor. That project is expected to be complete by fall 2017. The Master Plan shows new buildings where the Village Market sits in Farr Hall.
Three townhouses will sit on the lot where the Gambier Grill sat, and will house 24 students. Construction will begin in July and is expected to last a year.
If the Master Plan’s downtown designs are realized, “the entire character of the central part of the Village is going to change,” Villager Ree Metcalf said at the Planning and Zoning meeting.
“I really don’t want to see North Campus Apartments in downtown Gambier. Or students living there, either,” Metcalf said. “The design for the North Campus Apartments was fine when we didn’t have to look at it.”
Shellenbarger Contracting of Mount Vernon carried out the demolition of the Grill over spring break. At the beginning of the semester, the College announced it would not renew its lease with the Grill, meaning the business would have to close on or before the end of its lease on June 30.
Destructive behavior by students leading to damage preceded owner Andy Durbin closing the Grill early, and the College advanced the demolition schedule accordingly. The building had stood on the site since the 1970s.
The College salvaged one piece from the wreckage — Kohlman said the administration placed the bar into storage because of its historical significance. The bar had previously been located at Dorothy’s Lunch, a now-defunct establishment frequented by Paul Newman ’49 after his student days at the College.
“At some point, they took the bar out of Dorothy’s Lunch, and put it in the first Gambier Grill operation,” Kohlman said. “It’s going into storage until we figure out what the appropriate use is.”