Debbie Erlandson came to a May 5 open house at the Wright Center to see if the former Buckeye Candy building still smelled the same.
“When I was a little girl, my mom would bring me almost every week, and coming in that back door you could smell tobacco and candy and bubble gum. Oh, man, it was floor-to-ceiling candy!” she said. “I never missed a chance to help her come and buy candy for the music boosters.”
Several hundred people shared her curiosity and toured the building as part of Mount Vernon’s First Friday monthly festival. The former warehouse at 400 S. Main St. has been a community landmark for a century. Erlandson said, “This building is Mount Vernon.”
“I had been impressed at how they retained the exterior look and signage of the building without making it look too modern, and I wanted to see how they handled the inside,” said Victor Stanson, a retired engineer living in Knox County’s Apple Valley community. “I am 100 percent impressed.”
The Ariel Foundation helped Kenyon acquire the warehouse in 2015, with additional support from the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County and gifts by private donors. The building is named for the children of the philanthropist who has revitalized a host of Mount Vernon landmarks. Karen Buchwald Wright P’05 ’09 is chairman, president and CEO of Ariel Corporation, a leading manufacturer of compressors used in the natural gas industry. Her sons who attended Kenyon are Alexander Wright ’05, married to Libby Wright ’05, and Hunter Wright ’09, married to Katherine Wright ’10. Alexander Wright is a member of the Kenyon College Board of Trustees.
The $6 million effort to renovate the warehouse places Kenyon in a downtown education corridor that includes Mount Vernon Nazarene University and Central Ohio Technical College. The 1910 building now features state-of-the-art film production equipment in a two-story film studio, classrooms with 75-inch screens, a 30-seat screening room and a room devoted to teaching post-production editing.
Ed Hohman of Mount Vernon was on the cleanup crew that prepared the building for the renovation work.
“It’s just amazing to see it now. You’d never know it was the same building,” he said. Visiting a second-floor seminar room, Hohman said, “This room was stacked full of old books. Boxes and boxes of books, and we had only one narrow staircase to get up and down. But we got it all out of here.”
The Wright Center also houses the Office for Community Partnerships at Kenyon and SPI, a nonprofit organization that promotes informal science education for children through play. SPI had occupied different storefronts in downtown Mount Vernon before moving into its new, larger space at the Wright Center this spring. The new space has a climbing structure, a sunlit amphitheater inside the arched windows and a circuit bench to explore electricity.
“I really liked seeing the little SPI area for the kids,” said Betty McLaughlin, who lives in Apple Valley. “We’ve been watching the construction, so I was anxious to come down and see it. We figured that if Kenyon was doing the work, it would be good.”