September 4, 2003



The 11th hour for Grinnell Mill

With the deadline looming for Antioch University to come up with a plan for the Grinnell Mill, things are looking bleak for Glen Helen’s historic structure. Based on comments from those involved in efforts to save the old mill, negotiations between the university and one interested local resident, Jim Hammond, have been held up by what appears to be misunderstandings by both parties. It’s the 11th hour for the mill, but more time can be granted to help move the talks along.

The Miami Township fire chief, Colin Altman, who declared the Grinnell Mill a fire hazard earlier this summer and gave Antioch 90 days to produce a plan to rehab the building, says that he would extend the deadline by another month if Antioch can show it’s in negotiations. Antioch, which has an offer for Mr. Hammond on the table, needs to press Chief Altman for more time.

As things stand now, Antioch has until the end of the work week to come up with a plan for the mill, or it is likely to be razed. The fire department plans to fine Antioch up to $1,000 a day if it fails to comply with the department’s mandate — a price Antioch’s vice chancellor of finance Glenn Watts, who is in charge of the university’s negotiations, has said Antioch cannot afford.

With no funds to maintain, let alone rehab the building, it’s not surprising that the mill soon may be lost. As Mr. Watts said earlier this summer, even if Antioch had the kind of money needed to fix up the mill, the university would put those funds into Antioch’s academic buildings.

It’s hard to get a handle on why the negotiations have stalled, though clearly both Mr. Hammond and Mr. Watts are frustrated with the process. Mr. Hammond, who has claimed that Antioch’s offers keep changing, says he wants to strike a deal that’s simple. Antioch, understandably trying to protect its interests and liability, says it legally cannot give away something of value to a private individual. Antioch appears to prefer leasing the mill to someone who would then rehab it, but the university may be better off selling the mill to Mr. Hammond.

If the mill cannot be saved, Antioch should either donate or sell off the milling equipment, which still sits inside the unoccupied building, and the mill’s large timbers.

Antioch and various institutions that have overseen Glen Helen, cash-poor and stretched too thin, have struggled with upkeep and preservation efforts, both on the Antioch campus and in the Glen. After all, the Grinnell Mill didn’t just fall into its dilapidated state overnight. The question is: Will the mill go the way of Day House, which was torn down in the 1990s, or South Hall, which sat empty for some 25 years until it was rehabbed more than a decade ago?

—Robert Mihalek