November 27, 2003


Residents ponder ways to save mill

Trying to work together in a constructive manner seemed to be the challenge of the 40 local residents who gathered at the Glen Helen Building last Thursday night to talk about Grinnell Mill. The forum indicated that options to save the historic structure are available if the community is willing to help and if Antioch University is willing to accept it.

Many present were so energized by the discussion that Bob Whyte, executive director of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute, was still herding people out the door an hour after the meeting ended. Residents appeared eager to get involved, but comments showed that some people distrust whether the university is a reliable steward of historic property.

Through about 30 photos, David Neuhardt, president of the Yellow Springs Historical Society, placed Grinnell Mill in the context of the Little Miami River’s milling history. Neuhardt laid the foundation for Timber Framers Guild member Brian Beals, who discussed options available to preserve the mill’s original form or restore the structure for a modern use.

The Glen Helen Ecology Institute organized the meeting last week to discuss organizing a project to preserve the mill, through the Timber Framers. Last summer, Miami Township Fire-Rescue declared the mill a fire hazard and ordered Antioch University to rehab the structure.

Whyte facilitated the meeting but refrained from speaking for the university. Instead, he said, he came to listen to the community’s ideas and gauge the willingness of local residents to help save the mill.

Residents also had lots of questions about potential restoration costs, the soundness of the mill’s structure, fundraising for a preservation project and Antioch’s role in a community effort to rebuild the mill. The only materials in the mill that have maintained their structural integrity are the virgin white oak timber frames and potentially the stone foundation, Beals said. The envelope, or exterior, is not worth saving.

Renovation costs depend entirely on the type of reconstruction the community decides is necessary and could vary from $20,000 for vandal proofing to $1 million for a complete rehabilitation project.

If the community meets the Timber Framers’ requirements, the guild will help provide professional builders to teach volunteers to rebuild the mill, Beals said. Volunteers would pay a fee to help offset the reconstruction costs.

The guild has three main criteria the community must meet before it would get involved with the project. The community must show it has an interest in saving the structure, that it has agreed on a public use for the building and that at least some of financing is available.

“This building belongs to this community, and if no one is willing to support this project to find a use for the mill and identify funding, there’s not much point to doing anything,” Beals said.

Though residents had not yet discussed a public use, those at the meeting were confident in their ability to gather community funds for the project. And at least one local builder, Chris Salazar, expressed interest in participating as an apprentice.

Because Antioch was unable to reach an agreement with local resident Jim Hammond to restore the mill, residents expressed concern with what Antioch would allow them to do. Did Antioch need the mill to turn a profit? one resident asked. Would Antioch sell the mill? another asked.

Whyte offered his opinion that the mill should stay in the Glen as a heritage center and educational resource that provided information about the natural and cultural history of the area. Antioch College would not require the mill to generate money, but it could not be a financial drain on the institution, he said.

Beals said that if an agreement could not be reached with Antioch the mill could be relocated. Most timber structures are taken down for repair and reassembled afterward, he said.

Local preservationist Mike Wright said that securing the structure was a low-cost option but eventually residents would have to identify a use for it.

“The biggest problem with a historical structure is, how is it going to support itself?” he said. “Every building has to pay its bills.”

Most of the stakeholders involved were present at the forum, and even more would have been nice, several people commented after the meeting. The fire department, the Ohio Historical Preservation office, and a broader range of villagers were some of the parties who were missing, Pitchin resident Carol Gabriel noted. There was also a noticeable lack of upper-level Antioch administrators present, though Glenn Watts, the university vice chancellor who has led Antioch’s efforts to preserve the mill, was out of the country.

Residents agreed that more discussion was needed in order to figure out a use for the mill. John Feinberg, a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, will be coming to Yellow Springs in December to talk about other options for the mill, and residents said that they wanted to be prepared.

“There is no way the mill is ever going to be restored as it was before, but there were a lot of people in there interested in doing something,” Salazar said after the meeting. “People would chain themselves to that mill before they’d let it be torn down.”

—Lauren Heaton