29 Park Place sunroom

This sunroom at 29 Park Place will be part of the renovation project that OU will be getting under way soon. Photo by Conor Morris.

Ohio University hosted an open house Tuesday at 29 Park Place, the former OU President's Residence, to illustrate to students, staff and community members how the university plans to renovate the building.

The university is set to begin a $3.5 million renovation project for the building soon, with hopes to complete that project by next July. When the work is complete, the main building will be used as an “academic engagement center” for students, staff and the community, as well as lounge and study space for OU’s Cutler Scholars Program. Meanwhile, the carriage house for 29 Park Place is being renovated as a part of the project, and will house OU’s Center for Campus and Community Engagement and Office for Experiential Learning.

Built in 1899 by the Clinton L. Poston (a wealthy local coal mine owner), 29 Park Place was occupied by OU presidents and their spouses from 1952 to 2015. Former President Roderick McDavis and First Lady Deborah McDavis were the last OU presidents to live in the home. They were moved from the building by the university in a controversial series of events into a private, off-campus home owned by a prominent OU donor in 2015, and ever since, the building has been vacant. Current President Duane Nellis and First Lady Ruthie Nellis live in a South Side Athens home they purchased in May 2017 for $650,000. They receive a $5,000 monthly stipend from the university to help pay for that housing.

OU Project Manager Gem Stone, who works in OU’s architecture and planning office, explained that the three-story building will be renovated to support the new purposes outlined above, but the university does not plan to change much about the aesthetics of the old, historic building.

Stone explained that the first floor mainly will be used as space for OU and community events (which will be a student lounge-like space when events aren’t going on), as well as a large seminar room to be located in the sunroom on the building’s west end. The second floor will have a series of small offices and meeting spaces, while the third floor will be a dedicated student lounge.

Jennifer Kirksey, chief of staff of OU’s President’s Office, explained that over the years, 29 Park Place was utilized in different ways by different OU presidents. For example, the McDavises lived on the third floor for the most part, treating the rest of the house as entertainment space, while other presidents utilized the second floor for bedrooms for their family (some had children at the time).

Kirksey said she hopes the open house event will help people begin to feel welcome in the space.

“The reason we had the open house was so people would start to feel that this was a welcoming space for the community,” she explained. “This is intended in its next life to be open to the community to be that place to go if you’re trying to navigate other aspects and ways to partner with the university.”

The renovation project was initially budgeted by the university to cost about $1.2 million less than the current $3.5 million project cost.

The NEWS previously reported that the increased cost is due to “an increase in material costs due to current market conditions, an increase in the overall cost due to the strength of the economy, and unforeseen costs due to utility and code requirements” to convert the building from residential occupancy to a business use, according to the OU Board of Trustees’ agenda materials from August.

The university Honors Program cohort also has increased from 300 to 425 students, and that program will continue to grow under OU President Duane Nellis (who has said he wishes to expand the program), the agenda states.

Finally, OU is under the gun to complete this project quickly, so it can’t wait for a “more favorable bid climate,” according to the materials.

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