The original Kirkbride buildings are among multiple buildings within The Ridges complex being considered for renovation and preservation. Pictured here are unoccupied Buildings 2 and 3.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
The Ridges first opened in 1874 as the Athens Lunatic Asylum and followed the Kirkbride Plan, inspired by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. The buildings and extensive grounds were believed to be a central component of patient care.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
Jun 5, 2014
By Gretchen Gregory
Ohio University’s Kirkbride buildings, which house the Kennedy Art Museum and studio space for artists at The Ridges, have been steeped in history ever since it first opened in 1874 as the Athens Lunatic Asylum.
Inspired by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, who promoted a set of principles that influenced the construction and operation of many American asylums built in the late 19th century, the buildings and extensive grounds were a central component of patient care, known as the Kirkbride Plan, which suggested that placing patients in a more natural environment was important for effective treatments.
As a centralized structure located at The Ridges, the original Kirkbride buildings consist of Lin Hall, home to the Kennedy Art Museum, which once served as the administration building for the asylum, as well as an east and west wing where patients once resided. The east wing now houses artists’ studios, and the west wing is largely unoccupied.
The original Kirkbride buildings are among multiple buildings within The Ridges complex being considered for renovation, preservation and overall utilization by the Ridges Master Plan Committee, which last week announced the selection of Schooley Caldwell Associates, a Columbus-based architectural and engineering firm, to aid the team of Ohio University employees and Athens-area community members in crafting an updated master plan for the area.
When completed in spring 2015, the master plan will highlight strategies the University could take to preserve, sustain and renovate The Ridges in a way that benefits both the community and University.
Ben Stuart, a professor in OHIO’s Department of Civil Engineering, serves as chair of the Existing Buildings Strategy Subcommittee and is executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment. Stuart, who believes there’s potential for the Kirkbride buildings to be renovated, said they are home to a plethora of mosaic tiles, hardwood floors and other special features reflective of the time period in which they were constructed.
Although Lin Hall and the lower floors of the eastern wing have been renovated, including extensive roof repairs and replacement, a variety of other structural integrity issues are in need of expensive corrective efforts in order for the buildings to return to their former grandeur.
Stuart believes the Kirkbride buildings are not beyond repair, but it’s too early to estimate the cost of renovating the buildings. “There’s so much potential inside,” he said. “There’s wide woodwork, wide hallways, tile floors all over the place, but there’s paint peeling and plaster falling. Anyone can stand inside and see lots of ugly, but they also can see the potential too.”
In his own personal tours inside the facility, Stuart said he hasn’t seen anything that’s beyond repair. “Some people choose to tear things down, and some people put in an effort to repair and restore. It’s my personal opinion to restore, an opinion shared by others on my subcommittee,” he said.
Stuart said he doesn’t believe the Kirkbride buildings need to be demolished due to safety concerns or cost. “I don’t think we’re at that point, and we can take care of the repairs, but the timeliness of those repairs is important,” he said. “Every year is another year of damage, taking it closer to where it can’t be repaired.”
“The reality is there’s about 700,000 square feet of building up there, and right now a little more than half is unoccupied,” he continued. “Basically the unoccupied buildings are mothballed where the University heats them and conducts periodic inspections. There is a decent amount of space to consider.”
The Existing Buildings Strategy Subcommittee is looking at several things, including ways to protect The Ridges from deterioration by preserving and stabilizing the buildings prior to any renovation effort.
“When the roof leaks, it allows wood to stay wet, so we’re looking at replacing the Kirkbride roof,” Stuart continued. “One of the things that we’ll be helping the consultants with is the scope of the short-term work in protecting the buildings, which would include patching or doing temporary repairs on the roof, versus a complete roof restoration.”
While Stuart is optimistic about the future of The Ridges, he realizes much work needs to be done. “The consultant is evaluating the opportunities for creating public and private partnerships,” he said. “A key factor will be working with the community, the city, the county and the state to find the best strategic partners. I would not be part of this process if I didn’t believe in it. It’s not just a bunch of people writing another report, but I think there’s something being done.”