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Concerns continue over Antioch campus shutdown

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As representatives of Antioch College alumni and the Antioch University trustees continue their talks on the possibility of creating an independent college, the shutdown of the college campus continues. In recent weeks, concerns from local Antioch College supporters about the shutdown have escalated, and include questions on fire safety, the fate of historic buildings and the disposal of campus furniture and equipment.

In an interview last week, Antioch University McGregor Chief Operating Officer Milt Thompson, who is responsible for carrying out the shutdown effort, stated that the university is doing its best to handle the shutdown in a way that honors the possibility that the college might reopen.

“We’re doing everything we can to preserve the assets of the institution,” he said. “We want to make sure we can keep as much in place as possible and still uphold the codes.”

Antioch College Alumni Board President Nancy Crow stated in an interview last week that, while she has heard concerns from local alumni about the possible destruction of useable furniture, the alumni board trusts the university to do the right thing.

“We have been in contact with the administration and they may be doing us a service,” by throwing away subpar items, she said of the university’s recent disposal of furniture and equipment from the college buildings.

Other shutdown concerns center on the fate of the unheated old buildings on campus when cold weather comes, since university leaders have turned off the college power plant and stated that they will not turn the heat on again, due to cost considerations. Last week a group of college supporters met to draw attention to the situation, which they fear will result in unnecessary destruction of historic structures.

“As a longtime faculty member, I have the utmost respect for the college’s academic programs and quality of education,” said former Antioch College faculty member Peter Townsend, one of the organizers of the October 1st Committee to Save Antioch College. “It’s just caring about the place.”

A task force of two alumni representatives, Lee Morgan and Matt Derr, and two university board representatives, Dan Fallon and Jack Merselis, have been meeting since early July in an attempt to reach agreement on a process and plan for an independent college under the control of the alumni board. Alumni board President Crow and Morgan have both stated that they hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

In an interview this week, Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke, who oversees the campus shutdown, said the current task force efforts toward the possibility of reopening the college “don’t affect at all” the shutdown efforts.

Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock was unavailable to speak about the shutdown, according to Antioch University spokesperson Lynda Sirk.

Fire safety concerns

Several weeks ago, Faecke and Thompson met with Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman, Greene County Building Inspector Chief Al Kuzma and Interim Village Manager John Weithofer for the first time to discuss the campus shutdown, which officially began June 30. The meeting, which was organized by Weithofer, was successful in that those in attendance agreed on measures that must be taken to ensure campus safety, according to both Altman and Kuzma.

“Overall, it was a good meeting,” Altman said. “Finally, it was a chance to sit down and be in the same room. Our goal was to make sure they’re compliant with the codes and to help them become compliant.”

The university leaders, he said, were “open and receptive” to his advice.

His main message to college administrators was the need to remove flammable items from most campus buildings, which had been officially closed for about a month, Altman said.

“Any kind of reduction of combustible materials reduces the threat of fire,” Altman said.

A few of the college’s newer and recently remodeled buildings, such as the Coretta Scott King Center, Weston Hall and South Hall, are protected by sprinkler systems, and the water in those buildings’ sprinklers has been left on, which complies with the state fire code. In those buildings, the need to remove flammables is much less pressing due to the sprinklers, Altman said.

But the majority of campus buildings do not have sprinkler systems and are vulnerable to fire or mischief that could occur from vandals, Altman said. Legally, these older buildings — which include Main Building, the art building, the science building, the library, the gym, the McGregor building and many others — are not officially out of compliance with the fire code since they only have to meet the fire codes in existence when they were built, but they remain a fire risk regardless, according to Altman.

“The more stuff they can remove, the better,” he said.

Thompson agreed that the university has recently intensified its effort to remove flammables from the buildings to reduce the fire risk. Because there are only two people doing the job, the effort will continue into the fall, he said.

What’s getting tossed?

The appearance in recent weeks of dumpsters on campus has stirred concerns about what, exactly, is getting tossed from the buildings, especially in the light that even worn items could be usable given the ongoing talks toward separating the college from the university. In an interview last week, Thompson said that the university is only throwing away “old, tattered, torn, ripped and broken down furniture.”

In an interview this week, Faecke, who oversees the shutdown, stated that the university “is not getting rid of anything that has value, just rubbish that has accumulated.”

However, some alumni reported seeing in dumpsters items that did not fit that description, including metal beds that appeared to be useable and that were not flammable.

In response to that concern, Thompson said that he has had to make tough decisions during the shutdown process.

“I’m charged with making some decisions that most people don’t agree with,” he said. “I acknowledge that some people consider these items useable.”

Rumors that all campus computers except very recent ones are being destroyed are not accurate, according to Antioch University Chief Information Officer Bill Marshall in an interview last week.

“We‘re throwing away very little,” he said, stating that only nonworking computers are being tossed out. The others are being stored on campus, including in a garage behind the Kettering building. There are no plans to destroy useable computers, he said.

Due to the concerns of local college supporters regarding the equipment disposal, the alumni board has requested that a local alumni group be allowed to work with the university leaders to identify items of importance that should not be destroyed, Crow said. However, this week Faecke stated that he would not approve of such an arrangement, and that any collaboration between the alumni and university regarding the shutdown would have to come through the task force.

However, he said that in the past several weeks alumni board representatives and their consultants toured the campus “to get a feel of the condition of the campus.”

Other building concerns

A group of college supporters recently formed in order to raise awareness about what they perceive as the threat of cold weather on unheated campus buildings.

“Our plan is to illuminate the situation as clearly and accurately as we can,” said Peter Townsend in a recent interview.

Preservation Services Manager Glenn Harper of the Ohio Historical Society wrote a letter to university leaders this summer stating his concerns about the effect of cold weather on the buildings. Harper urged Faecke and Murdock to maintain a minimal level of heat — at least above freezing — to prevent the possible rapid deterioration of buildings, he said in an interview last week. Faecke has stated publicly that the buildings will not be heated this winter, due to cost considerations.

“It’s hard to speculate about specifics, but there’s the potential for damage,” Harper said last week of the unheated buildings in cold weather.“If it were only a few weeks, there would be less of an impact.”

The damage could include the deterioration of paint and plaster, which would be accelerated if there were moisture. If the pipes were not adequately drained and burst, the water would further deteriorate wood and plaster.

“It will be all the more costly to repair and rehab the buildings when the time comes,” Harper said.

All unheated buildings are threatened by such deterioration, but the problems are greater in historic buildings, such as those on the Antioch campus, because the buildings are “harder to repair and replace, and they have architectural significance,” Harper said.

In response to Harper’s concerns, Faecke said this week that “we don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Harper’s assessment.” He said there was no plan to supply minimal heat to the buildings, unless the alumni board offers the money to do so.

The group begun by Townsend and other college supporters calls itself the October 1st Committee to Save Antioch College because they are calling on university officials to restart the college boiler system, and they believe that process must begin by Oct. 1 to heat the campus before freezing weather in November. The group met last Saturday for the first time, and also invited university officials to attend. However, none did so, according to Townsend this week.

According to Gary Brookins, the Antioch College power plant’s former chief engineer for the past 19 years, it would cost about $400,000 to heat the buildings at a minimal level through the winter, based on past college fuel bills and his experience with the college heating system. If the buildings are not heated, group members believe that the financial loss could be substantially more than that amount.

In an interview Brookins stated his concerns about bursting pipes. He believes that, based on the relatively short amount of time college employees spent draining pipes, that the pipes were not adequate drained, and that air was not blown through the pipes to make sure all water had dried. He also raised concerns that traps in radiators had not been adequately drained.

“If the college has not prepped the buildings right for cold weather, there will be lots of damage,” Brookins said.

Also concerned about the preparation of college buildings for cold weather is one of the two college employees whose job it was to drain the buildings’ pipes. According to Allen Stockdale, a six-year veteran of the college maintenance staff who has been in the plumbing trade for 20 years, he and his colleague, Steven Sprague, were not given enough time to do a thorough job. While they began the work on several buildings, they were repeatedly pulled off the job to move furniture in other buildings, he said, and most of the buildings’ pipes have not been drained so far. He and Sprague were laid off at the end of June.

“It’s a bad situation,” he said. “People should be concerned.”

This week Faecke said that the university is following standard procedures for draining the pipes and therefore is adequately preparing the buildings for winter. Consultants are advising the university on the process, according to Faecke, who said he did not wish to identify the consultants’ names or firms.

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