The Ridges

The Ridges. Art by Sarah Donaldson.

More than a dozen properties owned by Ohio University — including parts of The Ridges, several buildings in Uptown Athens and the largest known remnant of the original forest of southeastern Ohio — may be listed as surplus and available for sale if the Board of Trustees approves.

The list of 13 properties was included in a Sept. 29 press release about the October 7–8 board meeting. The release touted plans to rename McCracken Hall; the agenda item about surplus property appears about a third of the way down.

The "portfolio reduction plan," as it is described in the agenda, will be presented on Oct. 7. (The presentation is scheduled for 2:15 p.m.) The body will then decide whether to approve the university's request to declare the properties “as surplus” and available for lease or sale. The properties would be included in "the State's impending land conveyance bill,” according to a memo from Joseph Trubacz, interim vice president for finance and administration, Dominick Brook, director of real estate and Shawna Wolfe, associate vice president for university planning. 

A land conveyance bill authorizes the sale of real property within the three-year period after passage of the bill; it does not require the sale if an alternative is chosen.

Reducing the university's real estate portfolio was discussed at the board's April 2021 meeting as "Re-imagining Space Utiiization & Our Physical Footprint."  That presentation said the university spends $35 million to maintain facilities on the Athens campus and $4.9 million at the regional campuses. Utilities cost over $14 million per year, plus $2 million annually on wi-fi and internet. Those costs did not include parking or funds in individual department budgets for the physical plant, the presentation noted. The offices of University Planning, Facilities and Real Estate would work to "right-size university space" by identifying vacant or underused properties and deciding what to do with them, according to the April presentation.

Seven of the 13 properties to be discussed on Thursday were identified in the April presentation: the Horse Park and the CDC at Southern Campus; Crewson House, Lasher Hall, Haning Hall, the Central Classroom Building and 31 S. Court St.

In April, the university projected that the sale or demolition of 10 identified properties would reduce the university's phyislcal plant by 316,00 gross square feet and save $1.5 million annually, as well as provide $465,000 to $1.5 million in rental revenue. Eliminating additional properties would increase the cost savings by $5.1 million annually.

The October agenda memo estimates savings of at least $10.3 million in deferred maintenance and $455,358 in operations and management.  

The real properties identified for divestment “were selected after review of several key factors such as utilization, property location, alignment with university strategic needs, and financial impact,” according to the Sept. 29 press release.

Different courses of action will be pursued for each of the properties, the release said. In some cases, attempts will first be made to lease the properties. In others, only portions of the properties identified would be considered for sale.

In a few instances, the university “has already been approached by potential buyers of the land in question,” the release stated, adding that “in many cases, any sale would include any deed restrictions necessary to ensure that property uses are compatible with the mission and strategy of the university.”

The property divestments come as Ohio University continues to recover from a financial crisis that was first revealed in 2017 and was deepened by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, former Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer told the trustees that the university expects to incur nearly $300 million in losses in coming years, even after laying off hundreds of employees and mandating furloughs, The Athens NEWS reported.

In June 2021, Shaffer told the board that since the pandemic’s start, the university has lost roughly $84 million in revenue while dealing with nearly $47 million in additional expenses.

Also on the trustees’ agenda for Thursday:

  • Voluntary separation/retirement offer for tenure-track faculty and tenured staff beginning January 2022. The proposed offer would provide 100% of the individual’s 2022 base salary in four payouts (June 2022, December 2022, June 2023 and December 2023) plus $20,000 to buy external health insurance if enrolled in OU’s insurance plan. The offer would be limited to departments the university wishes to downsize.
  • Adding a non-voting board seat for a representative from the region. The board will appoint the regional trustee for a three-year term. The first appointee’s term will run from October 2021 to June 30, 2024.
  • Review of the university’s research strategy, including possible expansion of work in medicine and health services and administrative support for faculty applying for and working with federal grants.
  • Update on enrollment following the official census on Sept. 6. Current enrollment stands at 28,770, a drop of 5.7% from last year. Total undergraduate enrollment on the Athens campus is 14,779. Enrollment on the regional campsues is down nearly 16% from 2020.
  • Financial update, including costs for COVID-19 testing and vaccine incentives and FY22 projections.
  • Renaming McCracken Hall as Gladys W. and David H. Patton Hall. The college will identify an interior space to be named for Thomas Cooke McCracken, first provost of Ohio University and dean of the College of Education.
  • Accepting a gift of 289 acres of land from the daughters of President Emeritus John Baker. Much of the Baker Preserve at the intersection of U.S. Rt. 50 and State Route 690 are under a conservation easement with the Athens Conservancy.
  • Approval of capital projects totalling $30.8 million. About half of the total is for upgrades to electrical, HVAC and fire systems in the Convocation Center. Another $3.62 million would pay for the demolition of Scott Quad.

The board will meet in executive session at 8 a.m. Thursday. The agenda is schedule to resume at 10:30 a.m. and end around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday's meeting is a retreat with President Hugh Sherman.

This story was updated October 4 to include other items on the trustees' agenda.

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