The Ridges

Pictured is one building of the former Athens Lunatic Asylum, now known as The Ridges.

Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Oct. 30 newspaper on Page A1.

The 150-year-old complex known as The Ridges is really coming to life.

After years of careful consideration, plans to fully repurpose the former “asylum on the hill” are coming together. Members of the Ridges Advisory Committee recently met to provide updates on all the ongoing projects.

Here are five takeaways of what is in the works for The Ridges:

Renovating Buildings

In the decades since obtaining The Ridges, Ohio University has moved numerous services over there such as the campus mail and printing offices.

As previously reported, there are more OU offices headed across the river. The OU Police Department is perhaps the most noteworthy, though other campus employees in areas like legal affairs, finance, planning and real estate are moving to The Ridges as well.

They will be housed in Buildings 13, 14 and 18, located on the eastern portion of the large Kirkbride asylum complex.

Those buildings are under renovation. New windows are being installed and workers plan to refurbish the original wrought-iron gates, OU Chief Facilities Officer Steve Wood said in a news release detailing the project.

This work is set to be completed next March.

“The renovation of a major Kirkbride facility for academic use is a major accomplishment,” said Shawna Bolin, an associate vice president for university planning and a co-chair of the Ridges Advisory Committee. “This project fulfills a community goal of maintaining these important buildings while addressing the needs of Ohio University.”

Renovating Space

The road surrounding the main building, known as Ridges Circle, is also being redone. OU reported that many bricks in the roadway have deteriorated.

Part of the road is getting rebuilt with a concrete surface. Salvageable bricks from those sections will be put to good use — placed (where needed) on exterior brick surfaces throughout The Ridges.

Also, a walkway connecting the hilltop to the lower sidewalk and pedestrian tunnel off of Route 682 is said to be complete.

Using the Land

The committee has identified a large patch of land northwest of Dairy Land and south of the Ridges Land Lab as being “Ridges Conservation Land.”

Joseph Shields, an OU research official who is also a Ridges committee co-chair, said in a news release the goal is to allow for public access to this land while maintaining the area’s character. The hope is to make it available for academic research and training along with recreation like hiking.

OU also wants to install an “outdoor museum” throughout The Ridges trail system. This would feature various panels and signage on the grounds to teach visitors about The Ridges’ long history.

Housing at The Ridges?

Officials at Ohio University and the City of Athens alike have long eyed The Ridges as an area to add more local housing.

Specifically, it is believed Buildings 2, 3 and 4 on the west side of the Kirkbride complex could be used as housing. The committee’s news release states OU will seek developers’ proposals on how they could renovate those three buildings for future use.

The Messenger previously reported that committee members see potential for apartments in those buildings — especially for senior citizens, with some being assisted living spaces.

Athens City Council members have additionally discussed the possibility of low-cost housing being developed at The Ridges.

Looking Ahead

Much of this work (besides the long-term housing developments) should be completed by next summer. Once it’s done, OU wants to host a celebration to highlight these projects.

A separate event is being teased by the Ridges Advisory Committee, though details are still in the planning stages.

Members are proposing OU host a national conference of “Kirkbride building aficionados” at some point in the near future.

Dr. Thomas Kirkbride popularized his “Kirkbride Plan” in the mid-19th Century that laid out a comprehensive design for America’s asylums. There were dozens of Kirkbride asylums built across the United States, including the one in Athens. Only about 30 remain standing and they remain popular attractions for historians and paranormal experts.

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