Closing of Antioch College campus—Shutdown prompts safety concerns
- Published: July 3, 2008
At the June trustees meeting, Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke presented a report from the Stanley Consultants, who were hired by the university to provide an analysis of 29 college campus facilities. The analysis process took several months, Faecke said at the meeting.
The Stanley group recommended that the university reduce the number of operating buildings by about 50 percent. They also evaluated the physical condition of all facilities, and recommended that a number of buildings be replaced or torn down, including Mills Hall, the gym, Pennell Hall, Weston Hall, the Glen Helen building, the theater building, the art building, the photography house, the student union and Antioch Inn.
In response to questions from the trustees, Faecke said that the university is not moving ahead with renovating or demolishing buildings, and will not do so without approval from the trustees.
The shutdown of the Antioch College campus began last week with buildings put at risk and a violation of the Ohio Fire Code when university officials dismantled the fire protection system without removing furniture from the buildings.
“If the water has been turned off and there are still flammables in the building, it’s a violation of the fire code,” according to Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman on Friday.
While that was the situation on campus for at least several days last week, university officials this Tuesday stated they want to rectify the situation as soon as possible, according to Altman.
“We’re willing to work with them to get them back up to compliance,” he said.
In the first steps of the shutdown last week Antioch University employees turned off water to all unused buildings and drained the pipes. However, the Ohio fire code requires that in “mothballed” buildings, such as the vacant buildings on campus, “Fire alarm, sprinkler and standpipe systems shall be maintained in an operable condition at all times,” according to a letter faxed by Altman to university officials on June 26.
The fire code stipulates one exception in which fire protection systems can be dismantled, according to the letter. In that exception, “if the heat and fire protection systems will be exposed to freezing temperatures, fire alarm and sprinkler systems are permitted to be placed out of service and standpipes are permitted to be maintained as dry systems (without an automatic water supply) provided the building has no contents or storage and windows, doors and other openings are secured to prohibit entry to unauthorized persons.” The letter further says that all combustible materials must be removed if the fire system is dismantled.
However, on Friday University Vice President for Student Services Milt Thompson said that water in all unused buildings had been turned off, thus dismantling the fire protection, and that many buildings still had furniture inside. According to Thompson, who was on vacation, he had not seen the letter from Altman and was not aware that this situation violated the fire code.
“We’re not trying to violate any kind of code,” he said. There had not been time to remove all furniture and other combustibles from the buildings because “things happened pretty fast,” he said.
Decisions regarding the shutdown were made by Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke, according to Faecke in an interview several weeks ago.
Faecke, University Chancellor Toni Murdock and University Board President Art Zucker were not available for comment last week or this week due to family and travel conflicts around the Fourth of July holiday, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk. Faecke and Murdock did not respond to calls seeking comment, and Zucker did not respond to an e-mail request. Thompson was on vacation last week, and returned this Monday.
A breakdown in communication seemed to have led to the fire code violation, according to Altman, who said he had been in communication with college physical plant employee Darryl Cook, who then was laid off, and that Cook apparently didn’t communicate Altman’s concerns to Thompson. University administrators, including Faecke, had not made contact with the fire department, according to Altman on Friday.
“The problem has been the university has not been forthcoming in their plans for fire protection for the buildings,” he said. “No one has contacted us.”
The university now has several options in order to comply with the fire code, Altman said. University officials had planned to change from a “wet” to a “dry” fire protection system, and if the valve needed to make the change can be procured quickly, they may be able to make the change in a matter of days, Altman said. If not, the university will need to “recharge the system,” and put water back into the pipes.
In the meantime, according to Altman, the vacant buildings need to be under a “fire watch,” in which a responsible person walks through the vacant buildings at least once an hour. According to Thompson last week, buildings still in use on campus are the theater, the library, Main Building and the Kettering building, where university offices are housed.
Ideally, making a change from a wet to a dry fire protection system should first be approved by the Greene County building inspector, Altman said last week. But the building inspectors have not received any communication from university leaders regarding plans for the shutdown, according to Chief Building Official Al Kuzma on Friday.
“We’re in the dark,” Kuzma said.
Building owners are supposed to go through a formal process before shutting down buildings, according to Kuzma. This process includes submitting a letter from a design professional, such as an architect, identifying the reasons for the shutdown and the plans for securing the buildings. The building inspector then has 30 days to approve the application.
“They should go through this process before they shut down the buildings,” Kuzma said.
According to Thompson Friday, he had attended meetings at which university leaders and consultants stated that they would contact the building officials, but Kuzma said that contact had not yet taken place.
June 30 was the date for campus closure identified a year ago when the trustees announced the college would be suspended due to financial exigency. While since then there have been two attempts by college alumni groups to reach agreement with the trustees to keep the college open, those attempts appeared to have failed and plans for the shutdown continued.
However, at their regular meeting a month ago, the trustees surprised college supporters by passing a resolution seeking an independent college and asking the alumni board to present a process and a plan for achieving that goal. Alumni leaders are moving ahead quickly to respond to the resolution and will meet this week with representatives of the trustees, according to alumni at last week’s reunion.
Several alumni who specialize in building preservation have sought the opportunity to examine the buildings before the shutdown but have not been given permission to do so, Jordan said.
“We have a deep concern about the facilities,” she said. “The air conditioning issue is critical. By the end of July we hope to have a more definite understanding of what needs to be done and to move ahead. Time is not on our side.”
Trustees request consultation
At the university trustees June meeting, Faecke presented the plan for the campus closure, which was approved by the trustees. At an open session of that meeting, Trustee Sharon Merriman requested that Faecke consult with an expert in the preservation of historic buildings and he agreed to do so, according to an audio recording of the meeting.
In an interview several weeks ago, Faecke said that the board had “suggested” that he consult with an expert rather than directing him to do so, and that he planned to meet with Illinois architect John Padour, who had worked with the Stanley Consultants, the firm the university hired to conduct a facilities analysis.
While Faecke agreed to meet with a consultant, he did not feel obligated to take the consultant’s advice, Faecke said in that interview. He also said it was premature to speak about whether he would follow a consultant’s advice because he did not yet know what that advice would be.
However, he said, “We will do everything within our means to preserve the buildings.”
At the June trustees meeting, Faecke also reported to the trustees that he would follow standard procedures for mothballing buildings. However, several aspects of the campus shutdown so far vary considerably from guidelines for mothballing buildings as set out in the National Park Service Brief 32, which is considered the standard for the procedure, according to Glenn Harper, the manager of preservation for the Ohio Historical Society. Especially, Faecke has stated that, due to cost factors, the university will not provide minimal heat for buildings in winter nor air conditioning in summer.
Harper, who is also an alumnus of Antioch, sent a letter to Murdock and Zucker in early June regarding his concerns about the campus shutdown.
“Our office is concerned that without at least minimal measures to mothball and stabilize the historic campus buildings during the period in which they will be closed, significant damage may occur,” Harper wrote. “We strongly suggest that forced air ventilation be provided in the summer and at least minimal heat (45 to 50 degrees) be provided during the winter months. According to the National Park Service Brief 32, “Mothballing Historic Buildings,” though closed up, a building’s interior can still be affected by exterior temperatures. Without proper ventilation and heating, moisture from condensation may damage plaster, cause paint to peel, stain woodwork and warp floors. If such conditions are allowed to continue, structural damage may occur from rot or insects attracted to moist conditions.”
According to Faecke, if the consultant he meets with suggests maintaining a certain level of heat and ventilation, he will “probably not” follow the expert’s advice, due to cost considerations.
Faecke said he had responded to Harper’s letter, but declined to discuss his response. Asked if he agreed with recommendations that minimal heating and ventilation be maintained in mothballed buildings, Faecke said he did not.
“There are a lot of opinions on this subject,” he said.
Murdock response to Village
Critical to the mothballing effort is securing the building from vandals, break-ins and other natural disasters, according to the National Park Service brief.
“Because historic buildings are irreplaceable, it is vital that vulnerable entry points are sealed,” the report states. “Mothballed buildings are usually boarded up, particularly on the first floor and basement, to protect fragile glass windows from breaking and to reinforce entry points.” The report also suggests that windows be covered with wooden or pre-formed panels, for example.
According to a letter to Village Manager Eric Swansen dated June 13, in response to a letter of concerns from Swansen, Murdock wrote that “primary security will be from video surveillance cameras and some motion sensor devices in selected buildings… . Other security measures will be taken and in the interest of safety, those measures will remain confidential.”
The National Park Service brief also emphasizes the importance of maintaining adequate ventilation in closed buildings.
“Without adequate air exchange, humidity may rise to unsafe levels, and mold, rot and insect infestation are likely to thrive,” the report states, adding that ventilation is especially important in “masonry buildings in humid climates.”
The report states that the minimum air exchange for most mothballed buildings be one to four air exchanges each hour. “Even this minimal exchange may foster mold and mildew in damp climates and so monitoring the property during the stabilization period and after the building has been secured will provide useful information on the effectiveness of the ventilation solution,” the brief states.
According to the letter from Murdock, “our plan calls for periodic assessment of all buildings to inspect for evidence of moisture and mold.”
Regarding ventilation, Thompson said on Friday that “we’ll be in and out of the buildings. We’re not worried about ventilation.”