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A college village in Antioch’s future?

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On a recent visit to Antioch College, architects from MacGlachlan, Cornelius and Filoni, who have designed for dozens of schools in the Northwest, noted the unique level of integration between the college and the village of Yellow Springs. According to Antioch College President Mark Roosevelt, the visitors said “they had never been to a college as closely tied to a village as we are.”

From Olive Kettering Library and Curl Gym to Rockford Chapel, the tennis courts and WYSO, the spaces and services that are shared between the college and village are both deep and historic. And the tradition has worked so well for so long, that Roosevelt for one sees value in perpetuating the overlap.

“We’re a small college and a small village, and there are a lot of things it makes sense to do together — it would be kooky not to share these between the college and the village.”

So while the college and the village collaborate to fund the new wellness center, the theater building and the Glen, there is one more horizon of integration the college has begun planning for. The issue of community housing on the college campus became public several months ago when the Village of Yellow Springs dug into the final stages of its zoning code revision. Antioch facilities manager Reggie Stratton appeared at several Village Council and zoning meetings stating the college’s need to include residential uses within its E-1 education zone.

The possibilities are wide open and the plans for housing won’t happen for another five to 10 years, Roosevelt said. But the idea, in its nascent conceptual phase, is that the college could in the future host an energy-efficient single and multi-family housing complex on its campus for faculty, staff, alumni and villagers who are as committed to the future of the college community as they are to their own.

The idea of creating an Antioch College village is the ultimate collaboration between the college and the surrounding community of residents. It’s also an opportunity for the college to have a continuing source of revenue and support. And though the target residents have yet to be defined, the community would ideally be composed of a mix of ages and include people who are looking specifically to become generative members of the community.

“We would offer something that’s the opposite of isolation, with healthy food, the Glen, wellness, the theater,” Roosevelt said. “This is offering people an opportunity to contribute and be part of something — because people have a yearning to be part of a community.”

Developing housing on campus would not be unprecedented at Antioch. According to Antioch archivist Scott Sanders, the college has a tradition of providing housing for its faculty and staff as a way of attracting the best minds to campus. The college established apartments for young faculty as early as the 19th century in Birch Hall and North and South halls. In the early 1920s, the college began buying homes within the Limestone, Phillips, West Davis and West Whiteman blocks for its faculty and staff. In the late 1930s, the college worked with Hugh Taylor Birch to purchase land for faculty homes south of campus as well, along Rice Road and President Street. The college also purchased homes in the village for student housing, such as the former Mills House (on Mills Lawn) and Greywood (now owned by Anthrotech).

But building the kind of campus community Roosevelt wants is different from the college’s previous models. And because it’s an undefined concept so far, “there is no language for it because it doesn’t exist yet,” he said last week. But Roosevelt knows what the community is not: a retirement community.

According to a 2007 article in the Journal on Active Aging, university-based retirement communities have been on the rise for 20 years and currently exist on over 60 campuses both small and large across the country, including Oberlin, Dartmouth, Penn State and Lasell College in Massachussetts. But those models stress the cultural advantages for seniors “in their golden years” and often include continuing care facilities, infantalizing their aging residents into passive, restful roles.

What Roosevelt envisions is something much more dynamic, for a wider range of lifestyles, including “next-chapter individuals” who are “at retirement age but have no interest in retiring,” he said.

This year is set to be a banner fundraising year for the college, which expects to bring in $21 million by the end of December. But that level of giving is hardly sustainable, Roosevelt said, and cannot be relied on to fill what the college anticipates will be a significant gap between costs and revenues. Once the college is functioning with 600 students, annual operating costs are expected to reach about $10–15 million, but anticipated revenues will likely only total $6–9 million. And judging by the challenges of many liberal arts colleges around the country, Antioch must prepare for a different financial model than it had in the past — one that involves a lot of resource sharing.

The location for campus housing has not been chosen, but the college does own vacant property all along the western side of Livermore Street at North, Center and South College streets, as well as the area behind the former student union building and along President Street. And if the union/Antioch Inn and the Sontag-Fels buildings are torn down in the next few years, there could be quite a bit more property available on the perimeter of the campus to use for housing that would benefit both communities.

Several organizations in Yellow Springs, including Friends Care Community and Home, Inc., have attempted to fill what they see as a need for senior housing in the village. Both Friends and Home, Inc. tried to develop a multi-family unit on the Barr property, and having run into road blocks, both entities are regrouping for projects elsewhere in the village; Friends on its Herman Street campus, Home, Inc. at an undisclosed location in the village.

While the college is sensitive to other housing efforts in the village, they haven’t forged any partnerships because they’re not sure just yet what they want to create. So while they focus on accreditation, building faculty and student numbers and renovating the core campus, the idea of housing has plenty of time to mature. Stratton knows that there is a lot to do before community housing comes to the fore.

“Our focus right now is accreditation because we need to get on solid financial ground for stability first,” Stratton said last week.

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