City plans to tear down historic building on public health campus

A city-owned building listed on the National Register of Historic Places may be torn down this fall to make way for parking.

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

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

In 2001, the city spent more than $20 million to renovate the campus’ much larger Main Building, which was built in 1874 to house the Institution for the Blind, and later housed the Department of Traffic Safety of Ohio.

Becky West, executive director of Columbus Landmarks, said two dormitories 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 emergency exit – n weren’t sure. The North Dormitory housed boys, while the South Dormitory housed girls, with each building accommodating 132 students and four matrons.

“John Schooley, Sr. was state architect at the time the dormitories were built and designed them in a lovely Jacobethan Revival style with materials and details that cannot be matched or offered 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 to be demolished.

In addition to the need for parking, Bell cited the condition of the building as a reason for demolishing it, saying it had not been occupied for nearly 25 years.

The demolition request is due to be heard by the Near East Region Commission on October 14. While a no vote from the neighborhood group could potentially slow down the process, it wouldn’t be enough to stop the demolition.

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

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

“The dormitories are significant additions reflecting the facility’s continued significance in state and local history,” she said.

Listing a property on the National Registry does not mean it cannot be demolished unless it is owned by the federal government or “is involved in a project that receives federal assistance,” according to the National Park Service.

In addition to the building’s aesthetic, cultural and historical value, West said she hopes the city will also consider the environmental impact of demolishing the South Dormitory.

“Reusing an existing building with all of its embodied energy reduces new construction, which in turn reduces carbon emissions. It also helps prevent tons of material from ending up in our landfills,” she said, referring to targets set out in the city’s climate action plan. “Our city recognizes that we have a carbon budget and that it is finished. However, we will not achieve our carbon neutral goals without reusing and repurposing our existing buildings. »

“So let’s start with this one, which is historically and architecturally significant and deserves 100% preservation,” West added. “The South Dorm should be put to good use in solving our city’s housing crisis, not demolished for another surface parking lot.”

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

The South Dorm Building is on the East Main Street side of 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.

Bonny J. Streater