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Village Council — Site for Gaunt statue eyed

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Wheeling Gaunt will welcome those entering town from the north if the proposed location of a life-sized bronze statue of the generous 19th-century African-American resident is approved.

When complete in 2020, the statue may be erected in Hilda M. Rahn Park, a prominent location along U.S. 68 on the front lawn of the Yellow Springs train station.

According to Cheryl Durgans, head of the Yellow Springs Arts Council’s sculpture project committee, the site offers ideal access for local schools and walking tours, good views for drivers and walkers alike, and is a way to welcome visitors.

“The idea of him welcoming people to the community was the consideration,” Durgans said in a proposal to Council at its Oct. 15 meeting.

The topic was discussion only. Council members were supportive of the proposed location but said they wanted more public discussion. A formal vote on the final location of the statue will be held at a future Council meeting.

Durgans is leading the local effort to memorialize Gaunt in bronze, which began a little over a year ago. She heads the committee spearheading the project, which has raised 30 percent of the sculpture’s total estimated cost of $169,000.

Gaunt, who may have been the most wealthy black citizen of the state when he died in 1894, left a lasting legacy in the community. That legacy includes the eponymous Gaunt Park, located on nine acres of land he donated to the Village, and the annual Decembr holiday gifting of flour and sugar to local widows and widowers, which started as a stipulation in his will.

“Not what we have but what we share,” Gaunt is reported to have said. That quote will accompany the sculpture installation.

In addition, a large mural connected with the sculpture will be drawn, but its location has not yet been proposed. Various educational materials and activities will also be developed in conjunction with the statue, Durgans said.

Even though Gaunt is one of the village’s most well-known residents, there is more to share about his life and impact, according to Durgans.

“People know who [Gaunt] is, but they don’t really know why they know him,” Durgans said.

Gaunt was born into slavery on a tobacco plantation on the Ohio River in Carrollton, Ky., according to a News history book. He saved enough money — $900 — to buy himself out of slavery, and then purchased the freedom of his wife and another relative before moving to the village in the 1860s.

Gaunt amassed his wealth as a farmer, gardener and handyman and began buying government bonds and real estate in Yellow Springs and Xenia in 1864, according to an informational handout from the sculpture project committee.

A philanthropist in life and death, Gaunt bequeathed property to both Wilberforce University and the Village of Yellow Springs and money to the Central Chapel A.M.E. Church, where he was a member, among other gifts. Rent from use of Gaunt Park was to pay for an annual delivery of flour to local widows for Christmas, a tradition which the Village has continued and expanded.

According to Durgans, the project started out as a conversation around kitchen tables in town, including among villagers who live in properties once owned by Gaunt.

Local sculptor Brian Maughan is one such resident. He lives in a former Gaunt property, on North Walnut Street, and was also selected to produce the bronze. Recently he has been working on maquettes, or small models, of the final statue. He previously created a bust of Gaunt for the Yellow Springs Arts Council’s Permanent Collection.

Maughan has experience in life-sized bronze sculptures, and completed three statues of baseball legends erected in Miller Park in Milwaukee.

Durgans also brings significant experience to the project as an artist, educator and longtime village resident. Born and raised in Yellow Springs, Durgans received her MFA in studio art and worked as a project manager for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. She currently teaches at Wilberforce.

Other prominent members of the Wheeling Gaunt Sculpture Project committee are John Fleming, the first director of the National Afro American Museum and Cultural Center and Kevin McGruder, Antioch assistant professor of history.
Fundraising efforts have increased in recent weeks. In addition to private donations raised, the Ohio Arts Council granted $13,792 to the project this summer. Villagers interested in donating can do so via the YS Community Foundation’s website or through the YS Arts Council.

Other project partners include the James A. McKee Association, The 365 Project, Central Chapel AME Church, the Yellow Springs Historical Society, the YS Chamber of Commerce, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation and Wilberforce.

In other Council business —
• Arts commission at work
The Arts and Culture Commission got a new, more expanded, mission statement in a unanimous Council vote.

The commission, formerly known as the Public Art Commission, was initially founded in 2013 in response to a public art controversy over depictions of nudity and political content in a Women’s Voices Out Loud exhibit at the John Bryan Community Gallery.

Now the commission is more proactive, and with a new charge, looks to help “support village values through art and community,” especially when it comes to educating visitors, according to Council Member Lisa Kreeger, who is Council liaison to the commission.

“A lot of people come to Yellow Springs and they come because Yellow Springs has a certain reputation and persona for free thinking. But at a certain point tie-dye isn’t going to tell the story of the community,” Kreeger said.

The commission is currently restoring the jungle mural in Kieth’s Alley and organizing a banner project during Women’s History month next March. It also seasonally gives out a Village Inspiration in Design Award, curates the John Bryan Community Gallery and recently partnered on Porchfest, according to Kreeger.

Previously, the group drafted a policy on street busking, upgraded the Skate Park, organized a bronze sculpture symposium, erected the KIND NESS banners and supported the Yellow Springs Arts Council’s Permanent Collection.

Other members of the commission are Brittany Baum, theater artist John Fleming, Catherine Roma and Nancy Mellon.

• Utility roundup now official
Council unanimously passed the second reading of an ordinance to create a utility roundup program, in which some utility customers choose to intentionally overpay their bills to help others struggling to pay theirs.

After the bill’s passage, Kreeger, who has worked for more than a year on the legislation, said she would now pivot to promoting the program.

“This program will only be effective if people can support other people — that’s what this has been about,” Kreeger said.

From the audience, Chrissy Cruz thanked Council for its efforts to pass a law for which she initially had the idea.

“It really pleases me,” Cruz said. “Thank you for all you’re doing. It’s so important.”

• Home, Inc. zoning discussed
Council gave a green light to Planning Commission to consider a request from Home, Inc., which is seeking planned unit development, or PUD, zoning for a 54-unit senior apartment complex between East Herman and East Marshall streets.
Village Planning and Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger brought the matter before Council because the site is less than two acres, while local codes require PUDs to be at least five acres in size.

“We thought we’d come to you to see if this was a possibility before it goes through the process and is denied based upon size,” Swinger explained.

According to a memo from Swinger, to accommodate the project the Village would need to re-line the nearby sewer, which would cost $27,500. That infrastructure improvement would be the Village’s responsibility.

Meanwhile, Home, Inc. will be responsible for covering “aid to construction” costs estimated at $29,000 for water main and meter taps and an electric transformer, the memo states.

Home, Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel confirmed at the meeting that the nonprofit would pay these fees.

“It appears likely that the development budget can reasonably absorb those costs,” Seibel said, adding, “We want to do everything we can to be good partners to the Village.”

Council members agreed that the Planning Commission should consider Home, Inc.’s proposal.

• Village donation history
Village Manager Bates prepared a brief for Council on other Village cash and in-kind donations to local organizations since 2011. Previously, at Council’s Oct. 1 meeting, Bates prepared a summary of municipal support for Home, Inc.

Among the other beneficiaries of Village support in recent years were:
Glen Helen, for selling the Sutton Farm in 2016 at 75 percent of appraised value and other fees associated with the sale, a total forgiveness of $95,420.
Creative Memories, for a $30,000 forgivable loan in 2011 that was forgiven in 2014.

Tecumseh Land Trust, for $20,000 of in-kind services to develop a wetland on the Glass Farm in 2015 and additional money from the greenspace fund.

John Bryan Community Pottery, for rent-free use of the pot shop building since 2012, with the Village responsible for building maintenance.

Antioch College, for forgiven water and sewer fees of $1,669.20 for the initial fill of the Wellness Center pool in 2014.

YS Arts Council, for use of the Bryan Center gallery space from 2012–2014.

• Setting better housing goals
The Village housing goals proposed by housing consultant Patrick Bowen in an August Council meeting may be too ambitious, according to Council Vice President MacQueen, who reported on a recent meeting of the Village Manager’s Housing Advisory Board.

Instead, the Village should work to develop 300 to 500 new units over a period of 10 to 15 years, aiming for about 60 percent of the units to be rentals and 40 percent to be owned, MacQueen said.

That would mean increasing the current building rate of 10 to 12 new units each year to 20 to 30, less than Bowen’s suggested rate of 50–100 units per year, MacQueen noted in a memo.

Attendees at the meeting, held last month, also encouraged the Village to work with larger developers and make more concerted efforts to market the community to African Americans, according to MacQueen.

The next step for the advisory group is to develop strategies to meet the goals, and “that’s where the hard work comes,” MacQueen said.

Present at the housing meeting were: Mario Basora, Rick Kristensen, Brittany Keller, Kineta Sanford, Ted Donnell, Karen Wintrow, Andrew Kline, Teresa Dunphy, Sheila Dunphy, Monica Hasek, Kevin McGruder, Judith Hempfling, Karen Wolford, Emily Seibel, Susan Stiles, Denise Swinger, Mike Montgomery, Bates and MacQueen.

• Future meetings
Council will meet next for a budget work session on Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 9 a.m. to noon. Its next regular meeting is Monday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be in Council chambers.

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