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Antioch College’s cohousing gets green light

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Antioch College Village is another step closer to reality. The college’s board of trustees voted last month to launch a 32-unit cohousing pilot project, the first phase of a larger vision for developing environmentally sustainable, multigenerational housing on campus. Though trustees have previously signaled their support for Antioch College Village — which also garnered community interest and input during a charrette, or public planning process, last spring — their approval of the cohousing pilot is significant, said Sandy Wiggins, a green building consultant hired by Antioch to lead the overall effort.

“We’re serious about moving this forward and [the cohousing pilot] is a good place to start,” he said last week.

In part, that’s because members of a local group called the Antioch Eco-Village Pioneers are ready to make a commitment to living in a cohousing community on campus, Wiggins said. That group, which coalesced around last spring’s charrette, has been meeting for well over a year, and some members have been interested in cohousing — a type of development that combines private homes with spaces and services shared in common — for many years. The college recently asked the Eco-Village Pioneers to survey its members to determine their readiness to be part of Antioch College Village, according to Eco-Village Pioneer member Pat Brown. Nearly 30 reported strong interest in either buying or renting a cohousing community home on the Antioch campus within the next couple of years, she said.

“That’s a remarkable level of support from the cohousing group,” Wiggins said. “It’s a strong motivator for taking on this piece first.”

Brown said last week she was “just so delighted” that the project, which has been in the idea phase for several years, was getting off the ground.

“There’s no question in my mind that this is going forward, and going forward rather quickly,” she said.

Architect selected

The college also recently announced the architect for the cohousing pilot: Jason McLennan, a green design pioneer. McLennan is the founder of the Living Building Challenge and Living Community Challenge, which offer the world’s most rigorous standards for environmentally sustainable design, according to Wiggins, incorporating ambitious measures such as net positive waste, water and energy, as well as criteria related to social equity and human health and happiness. In fact, only a few buildings worldwide have achieved full certification under the program, and no communities to date have received the Living Community designation, which was developed in 2014. The college aspires to meet the Living Community standards, Wiggins said.

“The feeling is, if anyone is going to do this, Antioch should,” he said.

At his recommendation, the college embraced the Living Community Challenge as its framework for the project early on, said Wiggins, who’s been involved as a consultant since early 2014. (Wiggins was first hired to undertake a feasibility study for the project; he subsequently led the spring 2015 charrette.) More recently, he approached McLennan about Antioch College Village and the architect agreed to provide design services — some of them pro bono — for the cohousing pilot.

“He’s volunteering some pro bono services to get this off the ground,” Wiggins said, emphasizing that McLennan’s involvement reflects not just his enthusiasm for the project, but for Antioch’s reinvention as a whole.

In a recent press release from the college, McLennan commented, “Our team is thrilled to help envision a new way of living and being at Antioch that is better for people, for community and for the environment for generations to come.”

McLennan will begin developing design concepts later in the summer. The college hopes to bring him to Yellow Springs for a “mini-charrette” for project stakeholders in August. In addition to providing input at that forum, prospective cohousing community members will be “intimately involved” in vetting designs as they are developed, said Wiggins.

Up until this point, the main decision-making bodies have been the college board of trustees and the Antioch College Village task force, appointed last year to keep the plan moving through the transition from former President Mark Roosevelt, who championed the idea, to current President Tom Manley, also a strong proponent of the concept. The task force consists of four trustees, two college staff members, an alumnus of the college and Wiggins. Those groups will stay deeply involved, but the cohousing group will now also be drawn into the decision-making process through a review of designs, Wiggins said.

The 32-unit cohousing pilot is slated to take three years to complete, including eight months to a year in the design and entitlement phase (including legal, planning, engineering and other activities), and 18 months to two years to build. The broader project — scoped to include at least 300 residences of different types and tenancies — could take up to a decade of phased development. The Antioch College Village master plan calls for housing to be clustered on the north and west side of the college. The cohousing pilot hasn’t been sited yet, said Wiggins, but will likely be located on North College Street.

A focus on fundraising

However, none of these plans can unfold without funds. Wiggins is actively fundraising for the project’s first phase, estimated to cost $2.2 million. That amount includes all planning, entitlement and design for the cohousing pilot, plus planning and entitlement required to get the first phases of the larger project to an approved, “shovel ready” state, according to Wiggins, who was engaged in April with a $20,000 contract to identify funding sources for the project. (That engagement has been extended to October, at additional cost to the college.)

Wiggins said he is approaching both philanthropic sources and so-called “impact investors” — those seeking investments that generate environmental, social and financial returns. Philanthropic equity from individuals and nonprofit institutions is the college’s preferred funding, but it may be hard to raise the entire amount from philanthropy alone, he said.

The $2.2 million does not include the cost of actually building the cohousing units. Those funds would come from construction loans and would total around $6.5 million for the cohousing pilot, according to Andi Adkins, Antioch’s vice president for finance and operations. Adkins added that fundraising efforts for the project are being carried out to avoid competing with other fundraising opportunities for the college.

Benefits to college and community

Once the project gets rolling, college leaders believe it will provide alternative income for Antioch, through sources such as rental income, ground lease income, service and maintenance income and fees for educational and cultural offerings.

“The project was developed and conceived as a revenue source for the college,” Adkins said last week.

And while that income stream is not expected to be large, it is part of the college’s vision for remaking the tuition-reliant financial model that currently supports liberal arts colleges, yet appears to be broken, she said.

College leaders expect the benefits of Antioch College Village to extend beyond the financial, however. Creating a community of lifelong learners, increasing college-village integration, addressing Yellow Springs’ housing needs and setting a world-class benchmark for environmental sustainability and stewardship are a few ways the project might reshape Antioch and the greater community, according to Wiggins and Adkins.

“It’s a unique proposition,” Wiggins said. “Who knows what might develop?”

Villagers interested in learning more are encouraged to contact Emily Armstrong at or Pat
Brown at .

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