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Friday, Jul 19, 2019

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Historic Jennings House gets a facelift


Many elements contribute to the charm and appeal of Ohio University’s campus. The rolling hills surrounding Athens provide a pleasing backdrop for Ohio’s first university. Brick walkways and large shade trees provide a sense of history in a natural setting. Newer buildings complement historic structures dating back to the 1800s. Step away from the iconic College Green in any direction, and you will encounter the houses that add warmth and architectural diversity to OHIO’s campus. One of those houses, the Greek Revival style Jennings House, located between Trisolini House and Yamada International House on East Union Street, recently received some much-needed exterior work.

Built in 1854 for Johnson Welch, Jennings House was home to several families, including that of OHIO’s sixth president Solomon Howard, before Omega Beta Pi Fraternity purchased it in 1925. Ohio University purchased the house in 1929 and after renovations were completed, it became the Home Management House, occupied by the Home Economics department. The building housed the Home Economics Nursery School, organized in 1930 as a laboratory for students enrolled in the child development course. During it’s tenure as the Home Management House, the building also housed groups of women students as part of their training in home management. The house stood empty for many years after the Home Economics Department relocated, until the College of Fine Arts administration moved in after a renovation in 1984.

Jennings House is named in honor of C.E.M. Jennings. He was born in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, and raised in Ohio. At the age of 15, he started working for the Lancaster Gazette learning the trade of a printer. He was editor of the Hocking Valley Republican, and chief clerk to the Provost Marshall-General of Ohio. In 1868, he purchased the Athens Messenger, and ran it until 1896.

Chief Facilities Officer Steve Wood described the Jennings House project as a successful team effort. The project, which included roofing, lead-based paint abatement, and painting, utilized deferred maintenance funding. “Using in-house personnel to address exterior building elements was a cost-effective way to revitalize the house in alignment with our Small House Strategy,” said Wood. “The skill and experience of the Maintenance and Operations team was on display throughout this project as exemplified by details such as hand-making unique trim elements to replace those that were weather damaged.”

The Small House Study Booklet published by University Planning in 2016 described the condition of Jennings House as needing significant deferred maintenance. No one seems to know the last time Jennings House was painted. When Facilities received a work order for painting at the building and sent staff to inspect the building, they found rotten soffit and fascia, according to Assistant Director of Building Trades Jeff McGlamery. The project, with a cost of about $163,000, kicked off in June and concluded in early December.

McGlamery coordinated the repairs, but credited the team of 14 masons, carpenters, painters, and sheet metal workers with the positive results. The carpenters and sheet metal workers tore off the old roof and replaced it with new sheeting and shingles, in addition to replacing all the soffit and fascia, and creating decorative corbels to match the original trim features.

“The team is pretty incredible and the things they can do never cease to amaze me,” McGlamery said. “I am proud of the effort they all put into Jennings House. They truly are artists and I am glad this is a project the entire community can see.”

College of Fine Arts faculty and staff who work in Jennings House were pleased with the repairs to their building.

 “It is such a pleasure and honor for the College of Fine Arts to have its administrative offices housed in this beautiful historic house,” said the College’s dean, Matthew Shaftel. “Now the much-needed refurbishment of the Jennings House exterior allows our artistic and creative beacon to shine brightly across the College Green, reminding all members of our Athens community that the arts are thriving here at Ohio University!”

Administrative Specialist Sharon Ball, a long-time employee of the College of Fine Arts, is delighted with the work performed by OHIO Facilities staff. According to Ball, Jennings House had become prone to animal intrusion because of holes around the eaves. “The carpenters did an amazing job!” Ball said. “All the roof lines match, including those corbels that were added all around the building (not just those that were already on the original section of the house). The workmanship is just stunning.” 

Associate Dean Jody Lamb also has an office in Jennings House. “We are incredibly pleased with the careful work that Facilities staff did on our building,” Lamb said. “Ohio University is most fortunate to have the master carpenters who so beautifully and carefully restored this building. They are extremely talented and restored much of the building’s former elegance.” 

The Facilities team that completed the repairs to Jennings House included: Anthony Pennington and Denton Guthrie from the Carpentry Shop; Roger Milstead, Emmette Sanders, Neil Giles, and Joshua Moritz from the Sheetmetal Shop; Christopher Dillie, Christopher Rosser, Brent Keirns, David Dunfee, and Lisa Kisor from the Paint Shop.

Jennings House exterior

Jennings House before exterior repairs

Jennings House with scaffolding

Jennings House surrounded by scaffolding at the start of the repair project

Jennings house

Jennings House after exterior repairs

Facilities staff

Facilities Management staff who completed repairs to Jennings House (from left to right): Neil Giles, Anthony Pennington, Christopher Dillie, Denton Guthrie, Christopher Rosser, David Dunfee, Joshua Moritz, Brent Keirns, Emmette Sanders, and Roger Milstead (photo courtesy of Jeff McGlamery