Board Committee Discusses Future Of The Ridges

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The Ohio University Board of Trustees received an update on the future of The Ridges on Thursday, which included what could be a decade-long timeline on the project.

At the Joint Academic/Resources Committee meeting held Thursday morning at OU’s Southern Campus, a “framework plan” was presented by Shawna Bolin, Director of University Planning and Space Management and Dr. Joseph Shields, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate College.

The framework plan uses a vision that stems from the historic roots of the more than 700-acre property, Bolin said. She told the committee that studies of the buildings found them to be “structurally sound,” but that more planning will be needed to utilize the property in the best way for the university.

“We want to celebrate the natural elements,” Bolin said, specifically referring to the “historic green,” or the main piece of land including the iconic buildings known formerly at the Athens Lunatic Asylum. “We need to find ways to connect it to the campus and enhance the arboretum as well.”

A former asylum in Traverse City, Michigan, was studied as a model for the potential uses of The Ridges. That property has been made into a dining and shopping facility, condos and office space, Shields explained.

The framework plan breaks down the property into separate zones, recommending specific purposes for all the zones. A “land lab” on the north side of the property could be used for recreation opportunities, along with another open piece of land to the south of the property.

The plan also makes recommendations for trails connecting the property and for expanded use of the Dairy Lane “corridor.”

The topography of some of the land will present a challenge, according to Bolin, but she recommended working with the city and making efforts to maintain the “natural integrity” of the property.

The buildings themselves, while structurally sound, would need “resources…to make them useful,” Bolin told the committee members. A “strategic removal of non-essential structures” along with possible “strategic additions” could also be in the works for the property, she said.

While the property could be adapted for use by the university, Shields said it will take some time the plan to bring to fruition.

“It may require years or decades in order to realize the potential we’ve identified,” Shields said.

OU President Roderick McDavis praised the work of Bolin, Shields and The Ridges Advisory Committee that has been working with the university and community on plans for the facility. He said he hoped critics of the project would take notice of the progress the project has made.

“We’re a long way from where we want to be, but we have come so far,” McDavis said.

The framework plan is expected to be complete by the end of July, according to Shields. In August, a workshop is planned to discuss ideas for the project and a draft of the master comprehensive plan for the property should be completed between October and December. Shields said the earliest they expect to present the plan for approval by the board is January 2016.