Like many of you, I make daily trips to our village downtown. I pick up our mail at the post office and our newspaper at the College Bookstore. I shop for ice cream (to share, of course) at the Village Market. I grab a sandwich (typically the “Hillary,” with no tomato) at the Gambier Deli. And, at a frequency I’m a little embarrassed to admit, a mid-afternoon, emergency chocolate chip cookie at Wiggin Street Coffee.
Of greater importance, the village is where I encounter students, colleagues and friends; where I exchange a bit of local gossip and swap complaints about the performance of Cleveland sports teams; and where my dogs beg unsuspecting passers-by for attention.
This is our village commons: a walkable meeting ground where coffee and conversation, books and groceries, mail and a bite to eat are catalysts for friendship and daily life. The village is our campus crossroads.
In conversations that informed the Kenyon 2020 Strategic Plan priorities, the importance of connecting with others at Kenyon emerged again and again. When we discussed the campus’s physical environment, the Kenyon community and local residents alike asserted the value of our village — its convenient hometown grocery, gas station, restaurants and all the bookstore offers, from textbooks to dry cleaning.
Over the past few decades, some buildings in the village have declined and a more institutional feel has crept in. Farr Hall, which replaced traditional, Ohio small-town shops with an undistinguished building, is now showing its age. The building that housed the old Gambier Grill had declined to the point that prospective restaurant owners found it unusable. The old bank building was stripped of its character before the College purchased it nearly 20 years ago and since that time has exuded a vibe of “abandoned chic” on one of our most important corners — Chase Avenue and Brooklyn Street.
Sometimes preserving a community’s core values can mean adaptation and change, and that’s particularly apparent in our built environment. This is the reason why we are moving forward with a plan to restore and revitalize the village core, which emerged as a part of the broader Campus Master Plan.
Our restoration plan preserves and adapts much of the original character of the village. The clapboard buildings envisioned on Gaskin Avenue revive the streetscape’s original character, before the 1960s-era construction of Farr Hall and the bookstore. It corrects eyesores, notably the asphalt back alley of College Park Drive that will become greenspace and a home for student housing. It ushers community resources, notably our prayer and meditation center now in a basement under the Village Inn, to more appropriate and accessible headquarters
Our plan also replaces buildings that, through age or design, no longer function well enough to best serve the community, and that includes the old bank building, now the Black Box Theater. As we imagine the future vitality of the village, a new building for the Village Market will transform an underutilized downtown corner into an active center of daily life in our community. At the same time, we will identify and provide better student performance spaces elsewhere on our campus for Black Box performances. To have what we care about — a vibrant village that will thrive in the future — some things must change.
Why is the village plan a priority for the College and our 2020 vision for its future? I see it as a fundamental commitment to community and to our current and future students. We’ll support a village that keeps us near home for the essentials of daily life in a walkable, welcoming environment. More students will live in the community center in new housing. And when prospective Kenyon students visit, our inviting village will be a living illustration of how we live and work together. That welcoming “living room” is crucial to admissions, to faculty recruitment and to the growing number of visitors who come to us through our summer programs.
In the weeks ahead, I’ll be writing more about these emerging plans to bring out the best in our cherished village. With so many good things ahead, it’s a story I look forward to sharing.