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At its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 14, YS Planning Commission reviewed and voted to recommend for approval a preliminary plan application for a planned unit development, or PUD, from YS Home, Inc., in regard to the local affordable housing nonprofit’s latest planned project: a 32-unit development on 1.8 acres along Marshall and Herman streets. Members of the commission voted 4–0 to recommend the approval; commission member Susan Stiles recused herself from discussion and voting as a member emeritus of the Home, Inc. board of directors.
The plan for the proposed housing development includes 22 affordable duplex and triplex rental units earmarked for seniors and 10 two-story townhomes to be sold at low cost to qualifying buyers of varying age demographics. Home, Inc. intends to complete the project in four phases as funds are raised, with the possibility of combining phases based on that fundraising.
The recommendation came following a detailed staff analysis of the application, which was presented by Village Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger. According to Swinger’s presentation, the land on which Home, Inc. intends to build was rezoned for PUD via an ordinance from Village Council in January 2019, in response to a previous senior housing plan from Home, Inc. that was ultimately not pursued for lack of funding. According to the 2019 ordinance, Planning Commission must “review the PUD request and the preliminary development plan … and shall make a recommendation to Village Council to approve, disapprove, or approve with modifications the request for PUD zoning and the preliminary development plan.”
The staff analysis found that the preliminary plan from Home, Inc. satisfied the necessary qualifying conditions for PUD approval, including “recognizable and substantial benefits”; that the development will be “served by public water and sanitary sewer”; that the proposed development be “under unified ownership or control, so one person or entity has proprietary responsibility for the full completion of the project”; that the proposed plan be “substantially consistent with the Village’s adopted Comprehensive Plan”; that it provide for “integrated, safe and abundant pedestrian and bicycle access”; that the planned architecture be “harmonious and visually integrated”; and that the plan “provide for safe and efficient vehicular movement within, into and out of” the site of the development.
Swinger’s presentation noted that the underlying zoning for the site is Residential-B, which places a density cap of 16 units for a lot of the size on which Home, Inc. intends to build. Home, Inc. requested a deviation from this cap, and the staff analysis stated that, because the units are planned to be “permanently affordable” and because the plan’s design accounts for additional bicycle, pedestrian and open space accommodations, the site qualifies for a “density bonus,” allowing Village Council to permit an increase in units.
The application also requested a variation for lot setbacks of 11 feet on the property’s East Herman Street side and 14 feet on the Marshall Street side; the zoning code’s minimum approved setback without a variation is 20 feet.
After a brief presentation from Home, Inc., Planning Commission member Stephen Green asked Home Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel whether the nonprofit would favor seniors currently living in Yellow Springs as potential candidates for the planned development.
“Is there some plan to try and make sure that it’s being used by Yellow Springs folks?” he asked.
Seibel replied that, due to fair housing law, Home, Inc. cannot give current Yellow Springs residents “priority placement,” but added that the nonprofit currently has an interest list of “over 200 households” for the proposed development.
“And more than half of those are folks who already live in Yellow Springs,” Seibel said, later adding that, because the expectation is that at least a portion of the units in the planned development will be rented by local seniors who currently own homes in the village, there likely will be “some freeing up of larger homes in Yellow Springs.”
During the public hearing, villagers Laura Curliss and Mitzie Miller expressed concern about the number of parking spots that will be available for residents of the proposed development; where typical zoning code requires 1.25 parking spots per residence — in this case, 40 spots for 32 residences — the PUD application for the development includes a variation of 32 on-site parking spots and five street parking spots.
“Old people have guests and workers come there, too,” Curliss said. “The people who live there will often have more than one vehicle, so you’re realistically going to be pushing a lot more parking out onto the street than five spaces, is my guess.”
Miller also had safety concerns about a planned stormwater retention pond for the site, citing a similar retention area at Home, Inc.’s Glen Cottages pocket neighborhood, where she said she had observed cyclists using the area “for tricks.”
“If you have a retention pond [you should] also consider some kind of safety measure around it,” Miller said.
Seibel responded to the concerns over parking by stating that providing one parking spot per unit has been “more than sufficient” for its past affordable rental housing projects, where not all residents have vehicles. With regard to safety concerns around the stormwater retention pond, Seibel said that the pond on the site of the planned development will not be as steep as the one at Glen Cottages, and that Home, Inc. will consider safety barriers moving ahead, adding that the nonprofit has begun installing plant barriers around the pond at Glen Cottages in response to neighborhood feedback.
Seibel expressed a concern that the text of the staff analysis of Home, Inc.’s application recommended that the nonprofit incur all infrastructure fees related to the development — including a sewer relining that was performed in 2019 when Home, Inc. was working to approve its previous, 54-unit proposed project at the site — as a condition of the application’s approval.
“I think it would give us more comfort if we could make that part of the discussion around the final approval,” Seibel said. “When we agreed to pay for the sewer relining, it was tied to the Village granting tap fee waivers as part of the 54-unit project.”
Planning Commission recommended the application for approval with no changes to the text as written in the staff analysis.
Zoning code text amendments
Planning Commission also held a public hearing for text amendments to portions of the current zoning code. The proposed text amendments follow the commission’s Feb. 14 meeting, in which the commission heard a proposal from zoning reform advocacy group Neighbors for More Neighbors YS. That group asked that the commission consider zoning changes that would make it simpler for builders or developers to create multifamily and nontraditional housing, with the stated goal of allowing for additional and diverse housing options in the village.
At the Feb. 14 meeting, Planning Commission approved initiating text amendments in the code to allow as conditional use multifamily, two-family and attached single-family dwellings in Residential-A zones, which currently only allow single-family residences; to allow dwellings in industrial zones by conditional use; and to allow dwellings above street-level businesses by permitted use.
In addition, Planning Commission moved at the March 14 meeting to initiate text amendments with regard to land that is annexed into the Village. Where the zoning code currently states that annexed land is automatically zoned Residential-A, which allows single-family homes at low density, the commission suggested changing the designation of annexed land to moderate-density Residential-B, which allows as a permitted use single-family attached and two-family units, such as duplexes, and, as a conditional use, multifamily units, including apartment buildings.
Planning Commission member Susan Stiles suggested that, ahead of voting, the commission consider instead amending the zoning code to designate annexed land as Residential-C, which would allow multifamily dwellings as a permitted use rather than conditional. Such a change would potentially bypass the need for a conditional use hearing before the Planning Commission and members of the public.
“My concern is, we want more affordable housing,” Stiles said. “We are more likely to have affordable housing through apartments, duplexes, that type of thing. And I think a developer is more likely to be open to doing it in Yellow Springs when they don’t have to go through a process that’s conditional.”
Zoning Administrator Swinger countered that augmenting the zoning of annexed land to Residential-C would remove the ability of community members to comment publicly at a hearing on their opinions or questions about any proposed development. Yellow Springs, she said, has always been “a very engaged community,” and she said she felt that continuing to require conditional use hearings would not be unreasonable or a hurdle for potential developers.
“It literally is not that big of a hoop to go through,” Swinger said, later adding: “I’ve been in this position for eight years, and we’ve never denied a conditional-use application. I think people are thinking it’s much more than it is.”
Members of Planning Commission voted unanimously to change the zoning density for any land annexation from Residential-A to Residential-B.
The commission also voted 4–1 to amend zoning code text to allow multifamily, two-family and attached single-family dwellings as a conditional use in Residential-A zones; members Stiles, Green, Gary Zaremsky and Scott Osterholm voted for the amendment, with Council Liaison Carmen Brown voting against it.
Several members of the public spoke ahead of the vote, with Curliss noting her concern that augmenting what dwellings are allowed in Residential-A zones might affect the property values of single-family homes in those areas, and suggested that the Village instead zone some land specifically for multifamily dwellings outside of areas with single-family homes.
“These folks seem bound and determined to get rid of single-family housing,” she said, adding: “I think you’re going to have a fight on your hands if you take away people’s value, and you take away their single-family zoning.”
Stiles clarified in response to Curliss that the proposed text amendments would not ban single-family homes.
“This doesn’t stop anybody from having their single-family home on their big lot,” Stiles said. “I think it does give more opportunities; my guess is there aren’t going to be a whole lot that are going to use this, but it opens up that possibility.”
She added: “We can see how it goes. In a couple of years, there may be more changes that are needed. But I think probably this is a step in the right direction.”
Members of Planning Commission voted to table the remaining zoning code text amendments under consideration until the commission’s next meeting on Tuesday, April 11.
In other Planning Commission business:
Planning Commission approved the design of a new parking lot at Glen Helen near the nature preserve’s entrance on State Route 343. The lot will have 82 parking spaces, including three ADA-compliant spaces, as well as a gate and a small shelter for a parking attendant.
The design was presented by Dirk Lackovich-Van Gorp, a volunteer for the Glen Helen Property Committee, who said the new lot is being constructed to allow “better access to that area of the Glen, because part of the Glen’s plan is to build an ADA-compliant trail.”
The design was approved pending submission of a stormwater mitigation plan and with a request from the commission that the Glen work with the Village Public Works director regarding any future utility service to the site and provide a guarantee that the plan will allow for adequate access to the parking lot for emergency services.
After presenting eight potential options for school facilities upgrades to the community at a February listening session, the Board of Education discussed preliminary budget figures for each of those options at its regular meeting on Thursday, March 9.
The discussion was overseen by district contracted architect Mike Ruetschle, of Ruetschle Architects, who broke down a draft of costs for each option, which range from $30.8 million to $73 million, with six of the eight options qualifying for 27% construction cost rebates via the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC. A chart outlining each plan and associated preliminary cost estimates, as well as figures for qualifying rebates from the OFCC, is on page 11.
Options A1 and A2, which would provide either critical or complete renovations of Mills Lawn Elementary School and McKinney Middle and Yellow Springs High schools, do not qualify for OFCC rebates. Because the OFCC will only offer rebates on state-approved plans for campuses serving 350 students or more, rebates would be available for Options B1 and B2, which would combine all district students in one facility at the current location of the middle and high schools on East Enon Road by either building a new school on the site or renovating and adding new construction at the site.
Ruetschle cited future enrollment estimates of 270 for elementary school students, 133 for middle school students and 268 for high school students; he added that the enrollment estimates are not final, and could result in changes in square footage and cost for all of the OFCC-supported plans.
OFCC rebates would also be available for portions of upgrades outlined in Options C1–C4, which involve maintaining the current two campuses but reconfiguring the schools for grades K–4 at the Mills Lawn site and grades 5–12 at East Enon Road through either completely new construction at both sites, renovation at both sites or a combination of new construction and renovation. The reconfiguring of the schools, moving fifth and sixth grades to the East Enon Road campus, would help the district meet the 350-student requirement for an OFCC rebate.
Ruetschle stressed that, though the cost estimates for Options A1 and A2 were discussed at length as the charge of the Facilities Committee, which met from March through December last year, the estimates for Options B1–C4 are “new information.” The process of determining the new estimates for these plans, he said, involved looking through program requirements supplied by the OFCC and meeting with Superintendent Terri Holden and Principals Megan Winston and Jack Hatert to “review specifically, space by space, what the needs would be for both a K–12 [school] and a 5–12 [school].”
The square footage of each plan outlined in Options B1–C4, Ruetschle said, was based on the maximum allotted square footage the OFCC will support for its rebate program, based on student enrollment.
“Each number of students gets a certain square footage assigned by the state,” he said.
Options B1–C4 all include plans with square footage above what would be supported by the OFCC’s rebate plan, Ruetschle said, based on educational needs outlined by the superintendent and principals in their meetings with him. Some of those educational needs, he said, included expanded space in special education, music and band classrooms beyond what the OFCC recommends.
“In my experience with other districts, the state square footage that they provide and co-fund generally isn’t sufficient to meet educational needs,” Ruetschle said, and added that any square footage outside of that approved by OFCC will not be included in calculations for a state-funded rebate.
Board members expressed some concerns over the budget estimates with regard to storm shelter requirements; because Gov. Mike DeWine in January signed into law a bill that, among other things, removed storm shelter requirements by the state, none of the plans currently being considered have storm shelters folded into their costs.
Ruetschle said there would be “opportunities” in many of the plans to harden walls in portions of the buildings to serve as storm shelters. However, he clarified, Option A1, which would include the destruction of the modular building currently serving as the band room at Mills Lawn but does not include the construction of a new band room, will need further scrutiny in terms of space for a storm shelter if the board decides to pursue the plan.
“That would be something that the board would likely want us to drill down on — does your safety team feel like there’s sufficient space to do that?” Ruetschle said.
Concerns also arose over cost estimates for Options C1 and C3, the estimates for which fluctuate by about $10 million within the scope of each plan. These cost differences, Ruetschle said, are based on the fact that both potential plans include renovation at one or both campuses, and those renovations are based on the numbers calculated for plans A1 and A2 — that is, either addressing critical upgrades or pursuing renovation to “like-new” conditions.
Board member Luisa Bieri Rios raised a concern that the cost estimates for the A1 plan are based on an assumption of cost savings of around $8 million. These potential savings were identified in January by members of the Facilities Committee, who highlighted items that they believed could cost less than the estimates provided by maintenance plan advisor Motz Engineering and structural engineering firm THP Limited last year, pending further facilities evaluations.
“I would want us to be able to corroborate with [Ruetschle] and kind of get to some stronger, concrete numbers,” Bieri Rios said.
“With [Ruetschle], we should have these conversations with [Motz Engineering] and THP to come to some final [estimates],” board member Judith Hempfling said in response.
Bieri Rios also asked how the board should consider the efficiencies that could be created in a school where multiple grade levels — K–12 or 5–12 — would share space, like a gym, kitchen, music room or media center, and how that consideration might affect what plan to pursue.
“There are some things [in the current school buildings] that just are inefficient by the fact that they’re currently undersized,” Ruetschle said. “So you almost have to go line by line through it and kind of drill down into the details.”
Board Vice President Dorothée Bouquet agreed, but said that, because the board is not yet sure of the “big picture” in terms of whether it intends to pursue a single-campus, two campuses, new construction, renovation or a hybrid plan, it’s difficult currently to “go through the line-by-line.”
“So the numbers to watch right now are square footage, and as those numbers change, the budget,” board member Amy Magnus suggested.
“Absolutely,” Ruetschle replied.
To view documents presented at the board meeting, including more detailed budget drafts and an OFCC worksheet detailing square footage allowances, go to ysschools.org/board-of-education and click on “BoardDocs” in the upper left corner. To view the March 9 meeting in full, visit the “Yellow Springs Schools Board Meetings” channel on YouTube.
For over 40 years, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, PISAB, “a national, multiracial, anti-racist collective of organizers and educators,” has been working with the aim to “undo racism and other forms of oppression” in the United States, reaching thousands of people since the organization’s inception.
This year, two of the New Orleans-based institute’s veteran trainers, PISAB co-founder Diana Dunn and anti-racist Barbara Major, will be on hand along with Coretta Scott King Center Director Shadia Alvarez to train individuals from local community organizations during a two-day “Getting to the Root” workshop on April 26 and 27, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., at the Coretta Scott King Center on the Antioch College campus.
Historian and anti-racist organizer David Billings will also present at the workshop. Billings is an ordained Methodist minister based in New York and has spent the last 50 years doing civil rights work.
The purpose of the workshop is to strengthen “current anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the region.”
On the first day of Getting to the Root, participants will “analyze the construction of racism, the construction of whiteness, and what it means, as well as look at both the historical and the contemporary impact of racism,” Coretta Scott King Center Executive Director Shadia Alvarez told the News in a recent interview. “Then on the second day, we talk about how to organize against [racism], how to dismantle it, and what are the things that we can do as everyday citizens to undo the damages of racism over time.”
The workshop returns as an in-person event on campus after going virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A key component of PISAB work is to move beyond the symptoms of racism, and according to the PISAB mission statement on the organization website, they do so through a “national, multiracial, anti-racist collective of organizers and educators,” utilizing the organization’s trademarked “Undoing Racism®/Community Organizing Workshops, technical/human assistance and partnerships, to support nationwide community efforts” to undo the causes of racism.
According to Alvarez, Getting to the Root’s own roots were “born out of PISAB,” whose roots were in turn, born out of the Yellow Springs nonprofit and human rights organization, H.U.M.A.N. — Help Us Make a Nation.
H.U.M.A.N. was formed in 1978 following a human rights conference held at Antioch College and was founded by Antioch professors William D. Chappelle and James N. Dunn and community activist Glynna Garrett. PISAB was founded by the late James N. Dunn, his wife, Diana Dunn, and civil rights leader the Rev. C.T. Vivian in 1980.
Diana Dunn is a former clinical microbiology and immunology professor who taught at Wright University School of Medicine and was also active with H.U.M.A.N. “Diana has been with us a couple of times this year, working with mostly white groups, but for this training, she and Barbara [Major] will be working as a team,” Alvarez said.
Major is also a community activist and co-author, alongside the Rev. Joseph Brandt, of the book “Deconstructing Racism: A Path toward Lasting Change.”
Major co-chaired the Rebuilding New Orleans Commission with former president George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina decimated the city in 2005.
“She’s an amazing trainer, but most importantly, she was one of the key organizers during Hurricane Katrina that sat down with President George Bush and basically said, ‘This is what we need to keep New Orleans alive.’ She represents over 40 years of history,” Alvarez said.
According to Alvarez, PISAB came together with the belief that undoing racism was necessary for a better world. Alvarez — who graduated from Antioch in 1996 — said the institute has a long history of partnership with the college.
“They came and did a lot of undoing racism workshops here while I was a student,” she said.
According to Alvarez, the workshops are for people who believe that racism is an issue in the United States and want to better understand ways to undo it.
“It is for everyone — from leaders, nonprofits, schools. We’ve done this work around this nation with hospitals. We’ve done it with school systems, we’ve done it with Chase Manhattan bank, we’ve done it with an assortment of corporate entities which is new to us,” Alvarez said, adding that she believes interest garnered from businesses has to do with a response to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Alvarez said that people should expect to work as a community during the workshop, alongside 25 to 30 other participants.
“Most of the work that we are sharing is a framework, so we’ll be counting on things that you have experienced as a human being, to help us move through the framework. … And what we want folks to be able to see is what are the commonalities of those experiences, and how they’ve been framed by our positionality in the world,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez emphasized that the training done by PISAB is built on 40 years of strong community work.
“I will tell you, my family attended, my mother, my father, my sister, who’s a union organizer. It’s good work. It’s deep work, and I think it clarifies a lot of the confusion, around what racism is and what it is not, that we have in this nation,” she said.
Antioch students and faculty have an opportunity to participate free of charge. Scholarships are also available for Yellow Springs residents. The cost for the two-day workshop is $350. For registration information, visit the Coretta Scott King Center webpage at antiochcollege.edu/coretta-scott-king-center.
By Chris Wyatt
Ten months ago, we bought a piece of property in southwest Ohio. It’s tiny — a capsule property really — but it carries weight. We have lived in Ohio for 16 years now, having moved here from Cellardyke in The Kingdom of Fife, Scotland. Not that any of us are actually Scottish, other than the precocious older child who was born in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. We are a unit. A scientist, an artist and two boys who are teetering on the brink of being whatever they want to be.
This writing won’t be as much about us as it will be about the small plot of land we now own. Although as I write, many aspects of us will obviously rise to the fore. We read a lot, Karen, and I. We have had no television for 16 years now, we read everything. The first book I started reading when I sat down in the little house on the plot was a diary by the British filmmaker Derek Jarman. It was a day-to-day account of his life in the cottage he owned in the ass-end-of-nowhere on the south coast of England. It detailed daily things and his thoughts in an eloquent, exact and an entirely non-boring way. That “non-boring way” is a little daunting to try and emulate, but I hope to be able to convey the magic that is there on the plot of land that we now own.
The plot of land we now own thrums with “magic.” It’s very odd. I’m a scientist. I have been very well trained. I have worked at elite universities. I am left-brain focused and precise in the way I approach the world. Magic is something I use in Dungeons & Dragons, not something that exists in the real world. Yet, the 1.8 acres of land I bought in April 2022 are not simply dirt. The space is more than a place. It’s a place with history, where people lived, loved, partied, farmed, hid, rejoiced, loved more and finally died.
When we bought this place, we bought more than 1.8 acres of woodland and vegetable beds — we discovered a place that had been loved. Really, really loved. You cannot ignore that. It resonates. It thrums.
In early 2022, Jim Prether died. He was in his late 80s and lived out on a small property that he farmed. This is the property we now own. His daughter Shawnee and siblings put the property on the market but were terrified that someone would buy it who would not love the spot like they did. This is 1.8 acres of forest and wild, surrounded by corn and beans. It could easily be more corn and beans. They did not want it to be corn and beans. Nor did I. I had been looking for a two-acre plot of woods for a decade, and when Jim’s property hit the market I was fascinated. It was exactly what I had been looking for, and there was a little house there. It was a broken little house, but it was a house, and we could make it work.
It was a really broken little house.
And I couldn’t afford it.
However, I knew Shawnee. We live in a small town, and while we do not know each other well, we have chatted, and I have a lot of admiration for what she has done with her life. I offered the family what I could afford. Which was a lot less than what they were asking. Shawnee met us out at the place, and Karen and I wandered the woods. It was sunny and the pines were whispering in the wind. I could see Karen’s face.
They accepted our offer, and we took on ownership of the place where Shawnee’s father had lived for 50 years, where she was raised — 1.8 acres of forest and beautifully tended vegetable beds that needed more than just a little attention.
We were landowners and my heart was full.
It was April in Ohio. I think it was the 23rd when we signed the deeds, which is St. George’s day and therefore very important — but maybe it wasn’t, who really cares? We owned an amazing plot of land.
Over the next six months we replaced the roof on the house, rebuilt the chimney, replumbed the house, evicted the coyotes from under the house, grew amazing vegetables, harvested Jim’s amazing volunteer vegetables and began to cut wood. Because the only heat in the house is a wood-burning stove, and when it gets cold in Ohio, it gets cold. I need to cut more wood — forever.
That’s how it began. My hope is to update frequently about what we are doing, and how things are going. I want to dive much more deeply into the day-to-day things. Not just that I cut wood but what species, how it was cut, where I am drying it, how it burns. When Karen kills honeysuckle, I’ll detail where and how much, because in these first six months the woman was a machine. Honeysuckle is incredibly invasive, but no match for a woman with some fancy Fiskars loppers and a husband with a brand-new Stihl chainsaw. As we grow vegetables I will detail what works and what doesn’t and how we might change everything. I’ll probably detail how my family moves and evolves and loves as well. How could I not?
*Originally from Manchester, England, Chris Wyatt is an associate professor of neuroscience, cell biology and physiology at Wright State University. He has lived in Yellow Springs for 16 years, is married and has two teenage children and two insane Patterdale terriers.
If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to dance in midair, you may get your chance starting this month: On March 27, villagers Maya Trujillo and Kayla Graham will begin offering aerial movement classes at the Wellness Center, where folks can learn to hoist themselves high via aerial fabrics.
The duo of creatives — Trujillo, with a background in dance and circus arts, and Graham, with a background in theater and stage movement — came together last year when both worked with students on the YS Schools’ production of “Peter Pan and Wendy.” That production employed the use of harnesses and aerial fabrics to communicate flight and underwater movement, under Trujillo’s instruction, as well as dashing stage swordplay, coordinated by Graham.
“We worked really well together and wanted to find more ways to partner,” Graham told the News in an interview with both artists last week. “Maya asked, ‘Do you want to learn aerial?’ And I was like, “Abso-freaking-lutely!”
Trujillo came to Yellow Springs by way of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Born and raised there, she told the News that she had studied dance — ballet, Flamenco, modern — in her youth, and had intended to pursue dance as a career. When she left high school at 17 before graduating, she said she wasn’t sure what was next for her — until she met Canadian artist Nisha Ferguson, the founder of aerial circus troupe GravityWorks.
“Like a lot of foreigners, [Ferguson] had moved to San Miguel because it’s an artsy town,” Trujillo said. “She saw that I was struggling, and she said, ‘Come to circus class.”
At first, Trujillo was hesitant — “I was like, ‘No, I’m a dancer, I don’t do gymnastics or whatever it is you guys do,’” she said — but Ferguson won her over, and soon she was learning aerial acrobatics, trapeze and other circus arts.
“The studio became a second home to me — I was there every single day,” Trujillo said. “It became like a little family.”
Trujillo said she soon learned that, as much as she enjoyed performing aerial movement, she really loved teaching it. Trujillo took the reins at GravityWorks’ school for young performers, teaching not only aerial arts, but such skills as fire spinning and hula hoop.
By the time she was 20, however, Trujillo said she was ready for a change; she moved to Chicago, where she spent the next seven years teaching at Aerial Dance Chicago and eventually becoming the school’s youth company director.
Though their paths never crossed, Graham said she was also in Chicago at the same time as Trujillo; she studied theater at Columbia College Chicago. While there, she said, she experienced theater that employed aerial movement in its storytelling, and hoped that one day she could learn the skill herself.
“Fast-forward 10 years, and my opportunity showed itself,” she said.
Having grown up in Yellow Springs, Graham said her time in Chicago made her wonder: “Why can’t we have quality theater in places that aren’t major cities?” With that in mind, after college, Graham returned to the Miami Valley, becoming one of the founders of the Yellow Springs Theater Company, and later joined the Dayton Theater Guild and the Columbus-based all-female improv troupe Sassy Do.
“I’m really into creating things that I want to see — I felt like I got lost in the shuffle in the bigger cities, and I didn’t have the confidence or knowledge to create what I wanted,” Graham said. “It’s been really empowering to come to my hometown and create the theater that I want to see and be a part of.”
As Graham settled into the local and wider Ohio theater scene, Trujillo moved back to San Miguel; she had been tapped by GravityWorks’ director to take over the company. She ran the circus school for a few months.
“Then COVID hit and we lost the studio,” Trujillo said. “And I was just kind of like, ‘What do I do with my life?’”
When a friend invited her to come to Yellow Springs, Trujillo said, she took a chance. It was a gamble — she didn’t know anyone in the village, and the pandemic made it difficult to meet new people. Then, she said, she met local dancer and choreographer Jaimie Wilkie, who introduced her to performing arts teacher and “Peter Pan and Wendy” director Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp.
“My spark came back,” Trujillo said of teaching aerial movement to the young actors in the “Peter Pan and Wendy” cast. “I thought, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do.’”
Graham said, in working with Trujillo on the student production, the two felt an easy kinship — and a mutual desire to build a new creative community in the home they both loved.
“I’m really into storytelling through movement, and we just found that we had a lot of crossover and also different things that we can bring to creating something like aerial dance in Yellow Springs,” Graham said.
“I’m really new to the theater side of it,” Trujillo added. “But I’m very impressed and would love to utilize [Graham’s] skills to make something bigger.”
That “something bigger,” the two said, is a longterm goal to create an aerial community in Yellow Springs, including a school and youth ensemble that performs in and around the village. The first step in that goal, however, is to introduce more people to aerial movement through their classes.
For Graham, who is newer to the practice than her counterpart, learning aerial movement under Trujillo’s guidance has not only taught her more about that skill, she said, but also about herself. She credited Trujillo’s gentle support and simple pedagogical approach: Everyone learns at their own pace and in their own time.
“I would push myself to learn something I didn’t think I was capable of doing — and then I would do it,” Graham said. “It’s an environment where you feel like you learn to trust yourself, and it’s a safe place to fail and learn through the failure. [Trujillo] is able to see where she can challenge you to move to the next thing, but in a way that you feel confident and comfortable to get there.”
She added: “I’m afraid of heights, but for some reason, dangling on fabric from the ceiling, I’m like, ‘I feel fine up here!’”
Trujillo said she’s spoken to folks who are interested in learning aerial movement, but who are intimidated — either by heights, like Graham, or by the skill and strength required to stay aloft on the aerial fabrics. She added that she’s seen folks of a whole range of ages and body types learn aerial movement skills in her years of practice.
“I want people to understand that I don’t want this to be a fitness class,” Trujillo said. “It might take you a while to get somewhere small, like lifting yourself or climbing, but you’re not expected to get that on the first day — you might not even get it the first year. Finding movements through aerial and fabric is a whole journey.”
Trujillo and Graham aim for their first class to be a drop-in affair, where interested people can get a feel for the fabric and practice simple, repetitive movements. After that, they aim to teach eight-week courses for both beginners and intermediate learners.
Trujillo said she wants to stress that she doesn’t consider aerial movement a field for competitiveness, but rather for celebrating what an individual can do on their own terms.
“I think circus is great, because you’re there to lift each other up — literally,” she said. “I think anyone can do it.”
Graham added: “I think a lot of times we think that, if our thing looks different than someone else’s, that it’s not valuable. But really, that’s what makes it valuable.”
For more information on Trujillo and Graham’s upcoming aerial movement classes, go to antiochcollege.edu/wellness-center or gravityworkscircus.com.