Bexley Hall’s Uncertain Fate Rests in Hands of Board
Published: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012 02:12
For the first time in 40 years, Bexley Hall, the College’s only 19th century brick building, sits largely unoccupied. College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp, along with Director of Facilities Planning Tom Lepley and several others, have temporary offices in Bexley. But Bexley sits far off of main campus, and few students now have any reason to visit the building, which, together with the attached Colburn Hall, housed the Studio Art department from 1972 until this past spring.
Light fixtures are falling apart; an upstairs window is partially shattered; many floors, tables and chairs are coated with decades’ worth of paint. By no measure is Bexley Hall in complete disrepair, though.
“One of the things that amazes me is how solid this building still feels after all these years. You don’t even hear the floors creak,” Stamp said. After the Studio Art department’s move to the new Horvitz Hall, the College is looking into again making use of Bexley .
“We’re currently … doing an assessment of the building to see if it can be renovated into an administrative building,” Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said. The College has hired the Gund Partnership architectural firm, headed by Graham Gund ’63, to help evaluate the state of the Bexley-Colburn complex and the potential costs of renovating it. Kohlman hopes to present their findings to the Board of Trustees in April.
Kohlman expects that the process of restoring and remodeling the buildings will be costly. “Anywhere from eight to 12 million dollars is my current rough estimate,” he said. He also expressed doubts about how the College would raise those funds and added, “Until we have a firm grasp on where the funding would be to do the project, it’s not going to move forward.”
Bexley Hall originally served as the venue for the Bexley Hall seminary, Kenyon’s former graduate school of divinity. “People sometimes make the mistake of saying that … Kenyon was founded as a seminary — that’s not true. Kenyon was founded as a college with a seminary,” Stamp said.
In 1968, the seminary and Kenyon experienced a messy divorce. “The separation of finances wasn’t easy,” Stamp said. The seminary moved to Rochester, N.Y. and took with it its entire library, which it had kept in Colburn Hall.
It held onto its motto, though, which Kenyon shares: Magnanimiter Crucem Sustine, or, Valiantly bear the cross.
The Studio Art department moved into the buildings in 1972 after they underwent a minor remodeling, and vestiges from the department’s residency linger. Leftover canvases, sculptures and even an old, mammoth printing press sit idly in otherwise bare rooms. Stacks of empty drawers and cubbies abound.
Past art students have left their mark on the buildings, too. One of Bexley’s stairways retains a spray-painted message, “WHEN ARTISTS DREAM THEY DREAM IN COLOR,” and a faux-stained-glass installation still adorns Bexley’s interior. It is not clear whether the College will preserve those works, but Kohlman said most of the furniture left in the buildings — mainly stools, cabinets, desks and tables — would be either trashed or given away. “The stuff that we could use has already been removed from the building,” he said.
In its construction, Bexley Hall contrasts with most of the College’s other early buildings. Made of brick because it was cheaper than shale, Bexley’s exterior was skim-coated with gray plaster to match the look of Old Kenyon Residence Hall and other stone buildings on campus. The same is true of Colburn Hall, which the seminary erected in 1904. Bexley seminary removed the plaster from both buildings in 1958, although remnants still dot their exteriors.
Over time, the seminary and the College have covered most of the buildings’ original interior woodwork and windows with paint and planks. According to Stamp, however, “all the architectural detail’s still [there]; it just needs to be uncovered.” Kohlman indicated that such an uncovering is likely. The redesign, he said, will “be focused on restoring Bexley to something as close as possible to its original.”