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City Plans to Demolish Historic Building on Public Health Campus

Brent Warren Brent Warren City Plans to Demolish Historic Building on Public Health CampusThe South Dormitory building. All photos by Brent Warren.
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A city-owned building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places could be demolished this fall to make way for a parking lot.

The building, which is known as the South Dormitory and was built in 1935, sits directly to the south of the main Columbus Public Health building, at 240 Parsons Ave.

Myles Bell, a Columbus Public Health spokesperson, said that the land the building sits on would be “used for additional parking for the expanding health department staff and services.”

In 2001, the city spent over $20 million renovating the campus’ much larger main building, which was built in 1874 to hold the Institution for the Blind, and was later home to the Ohio Department of Highway Safety.

Becky West, Executive Director of Columbus Landmarks, said that two dormitory buildings were built for students to live in after it was determined that blind children sleeping on the third and fourth floors of the main building – with no fire escapes – was unsafe. The North Dormitory held boys, while the South Dormitory held girls, with each building accommodating 132 students and four matrons.

“John Schooley, Sr. was State Architect at the time of the construction of the dorms and designed these in a lovely Jacobethan Revival Style with materials and details that cannot be matched or afforded today,” West said.

Columbus Public Health has occupied the first two floors of the main building since the 2001 renovation, and the department’s Population Health and Environmental Health Divisions have their offices in the North Dormitory building, which is not slated for demolition.

In addition to the need for parking, Bell cited the building’s condition as a reason for tearing it down, saying it hasn’t been occupied in almost 25 years.

The demolition request is scheduled to be heard by the Near East Area Commission on October 14. Although a no vote from the neighborhood group could potentially slow down the process, it would not be enough to stop the demolition.

Bell said that “the target date for demolition is early November.”

Both of the dormitory buildings are included in the National Register of Historic Places designation for the larger site, according to West, and the buildings are also considered contributing structures to the Near East Historic District (which was listed in 1978 on the National Register).

“The dormitories are important additions reflecting the ongoing significance of the facility in state and local history,” she said.

The inclusion of a property on the National Register does not mean it can’t be demolished, however, unless it is federally-owned or “is involved in a project that receives Federal assistance,” according to the National Park Service.

In addition to the aesthetic, cultural and historic value of the building, West said she hopes the city will also consider the environmental impact of tearing down the South Dormitory.

“Reusing an existing building with all its embodied energy reduces new construction, which in turn saves carbon emissions. It also keeps tons of materials out of our landfills,” she said, referring to goals laid out in the city’s Climate Action Plan. “Our city recognizes that we have a carbon budget and that it is finite. However, we will not achieve our carbon neutral goals without reusing and repurposing our existing buildings.”

“So let’s start with this historically and architecturally significant one that is 100% preservation worthy,” West added. “The South Dormitory should be leveraged to address our city’s housing crisis, not demolished for another surface parking lot.”

More information on the Near East Area Commission is available here.

The South Dormitory building sits on the East Main Street side of the campus.
A close-up view of the building, with the main Columbus Public Health building in the background.
A view of the building from the two-level parking structure that sits on the east side of the site.
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