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Bobcats – past and present, near and far – celebrate grand opening of new residential housing complex

“It all begins today.”

That’s what Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis proclaimed in welcoming the crowd that gathered Aug. 29 on the southern end of OHIO’s Athens Campus to witness a historic moment for the University – the grand opening of Phase I of the University’s Housing Development Plan.

Members of the Bobcat family near and far as well as area residents cheered as University leadership joined representatives of the namesakes of OHIO’s newest facilities in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, marking the completion of a $110 million project that has brought four new residence halls and a first-of-its-kind Living Learning Center to the campus.

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(From left) Stephen Sowle, Leslie Sowle, Norico Tanaka-Wada, Tim Tanaka, Tamao Tanaka, Janey Smith, President Roderick J. McDavis, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones, and Jovon Johnson cut the ribbon marking the official grand opening of Ohio University’s four new residence halls and Living Learning Center. Photo by Jasmine Beaubien

“The bricks and mortar that you see before you are much more than sleeping quarters for our students; this building complex is a source of Bobcat pride,” Dr. McDavis said. “It enhances the beauty and distinction of our Athens Campus. It honors our growing student community, as well as the committed faculty and staff who support our students. Most importantly, this complex is a pivotal step toward our educational mission – the intellectual and personal development of our students.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the culmination of a day’s worth of events designed to celebrate the completion of Phase I and to highlight the ways in which OHIO is building for the future. It was a day filled with moments honoring the University’s past as well as moments that captured the possibilities yet to come.

Reflections of the past

The grand opening celebration kicked off with a dedication ceremony inside Phase I’s Living Learning Center. During the ceremony, University leadership joined members of OHIO’s Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and student representatives in recognizing those who made the project possible and honoring the individuals whose names adorn the newly-constructed buildings.

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Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis welcomes invited guests to the dedication ceremony for Phase I of OHIO’s Housing Development Plan. Photo by Joel Prince

“The long-term plan that made these buildings possible included vital input from parents, students and the greater community,” Christine Sheets, assistant vice president for student affairs, said in welcoming attendees to the dedication ceremony. “A diverse group of faculty, staff, architects, construction firms and city representatives have planned, built and created a home for our students that will last for decades to come.”

Among those present at the ceremony were representatives from Corna Kokosing-Elford, the construction management firm that oversaw work on the project; individuals employed with AECOM (also known as URS) and Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, the engineering and architecture firms that worked on the project; Tad Gallaugher, a former OHIO employee who designed the images seen in the brick relief sculpture installed on the Phase I site; and Brad and Tammy Spencer, the sculptors from North Carolina who created the sculpture.

The day’s festivities also served as a homecoming for two former OHIO executives who were instrumental in the planning and execution of the Phase I construction project – former Vice Presidents for Student Affairs Kent Smith, who left the University in 2012 to serve as president of Langston University, and Ryan Lombardi, who left the University this past July to serve as vice president for student and campus life at Cornell University.

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Former Ohio University Vice Presidents for Student Affairs (from left) Ryan Lombardi and Kent Smith pose for a photo in front of the University’s new Living Learning Center. Photo by Joel Prince

“It is humbling and thrilling to look back at all that has brought us to this long-awaited moment,” said Dr. McDavis, noting that it was during Smith’s tenure that OHIO created its 2006 Housing Master Plan, which paved the way for the development of Phase I, and during Lombardi’s tenure that Phase I was completed. 

President McDavis then shifted the focus to the day’s guests of honor – the family, friends and representatives for the four individuals whose names now grace OHIO’s four new residence halls.

“Today, we pay tribute to the legacy of a past president, our first African-American student-athlete, the first female board of trustees member, and an integral member of our international community – individuals whose resolve and advocacy have indisputably influenced Ohio University’s course and contributed to the level of excellence for which we are known today,” said Dr. McDavis. 

Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones and Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life Pete Trentacoste joined President McDavis in honoring Arthur D. Carr, Evelyn Coulter Luchs, Claude R. Sowle and Tomoyasu and Sumiko Tanaka. Representatives from each of their families were presented a framed gift that featured either a portrait of the namesake or a painting in their honor as well as the Board of Trustees resolution naming one of the residence halls in their honor.

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Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life Pete Trentacoste and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones pay tribute to the five individuals for whom OHIO’s new residence halls are named. Photo by Jasmine Beaubien

Accepting the token of appreciation on behalf of Carr was Frank Solich, OHIO’s head football coach; Chris Rodgers, director of football operations who played for the Bobcats for five seasons; and current football players Lucas Powell and Jovon Johnson.

A 1905 graduate of Ohio University, Carr is believed to be OHIO’s first black student-athlete. Carr went on to attend Harvard University Medical School, graduating in 1912 and going on to become a successful physician and Howard University Medical School professor. 

Representing Luchs at the dedication ceremony were her daughter, Janey Smith, and granddaughter Julie Smith, both of the Athens area. 

Named OHIO’s Outstanding Student in 1927, Luchs was a magazine columnist, a teacher, a lecturer, a public servant and a celebrated long-time Athens resident who was known for opening the doors of her home to Ohio University students. She was the president of the Ohio Council of Church Women and was actively involved in the National Council of Protestant and Presbyterian Church Women. Luchs served on President Richard Nixon’s Committee on Government Contracts as well as the board of trustees of the International University of Tokyo. In 1949, she became the first woman appointed to OHIO’s Board of Trustees.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Janey Smith said when asked about her reaction to finding out that an OHIO residence hall would be named in honor of her mother. “She was just so special. She was so unique and so loving and cared about everybody. Position didn’t mean much to her; what meant something to her was people. … Anybody that she could help she would help, and their house was always open.”

Janey and Julie Smith reflected on the contributions Evelyn and her husband, Fred, made to the OHIO and Athens communities, noting the numerous occasions when they opened their home and their hearts to Ohio University students, particularly international students during the University’s long winter breaks.

“The amazing thing is, they traveled the world, they knew everybody, and they could have lived anywhere,” said Julie Smith. “But they chose to live here because they loved Athens and they loved Ohio University.”

“Athens is where their heart was,” added Janey Smith, who noted that the creation of Luchs Hall reunites her mother and father with many of their old friends. “Many of the halls on this campus are named after people my parents were friends with and people who I knew growing up because they were in our home – (Claude E.) Kantner, (John Calhoun) Baker, (Thomas Cooke) McCracken. (Walter S.) Gamertsfelder baptized me!”

In attendance on behalf of OHIO’s 16th president were his son, Stephen Sowle; his daughter, Leslie Sowle; and close family friend Michael Doyle.

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Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis visits with (from left) Michael Doyle, a close family friend of the Claude R. Sowle family; Stephen Sowle, the son of former OHIO President Claude R. Sowle; and Leslie Sowle, the daughter of Claude R. Sowle. Photo by Joel Prince

Claude R. Sowle served as president of the University from 1969-74, navigating OHIO through many challenges, including the 1970 University shutdown following the shootings at Kent State University. Sowle was known for his transparency in office, including facilitating open budget hearings that were broadcast live over campus radio stations. Under his leadership, OHIO saw the establishment of the Office of the Ombuds, the Office of Institutional Equity, and the Honors Tutorial College.

“Our family is just incredibly happy to have our father honored in this way. For my mother, Kathryn, in particular this has been a big thrill and has meant a lot,” Leslie Sowle said after touring Sowle Hall, describing it as “beautiful.”

Attending the dedication ceremony marked the first time Leslie and Stephen Sowle had returned to the Athens Campus since 1974, and the siblings noted their excitement about getting reacquainted with their childhood home.

“I think Sowle Hall is wonderful,” said Stephen Sowle. “I really appreciate that the design of the residence hall paid particular attention to the student experience, which was so important to our father. He would have been happy to have been honored in any fashion, but I think he would be particular pleased that the University chose a student residence hall as the means in which to honor him because his administration put particular emphasis on the student-focused educational experience. A few faculty members have even told me that he was the most student-centered president in the University’s history.”

Also enjoying a homecoming visit were two of Tomoyasu and Sumiko Tanaka’s children – daughter Norico Tanaka-Wada of Japan and son and daughter-in-law Tim and Tamao Tanaka of Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Tanakas were both known for their generous support of international students, both in Athens and in Japan. Sumiko Tanaka frequently hosted exchange students and co-founded and co-funded the exchange program for developmentally disabled and elderly citizens. Tomoyasu Tanaka served as an OHIO physics and astronomy faculty member from 1971-1989 and mentored OHIO student Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009. Professor Tanaka is also known as the father of the OHIO-Chubu University relationship, which began during President Sowle’s tenure and which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.

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(From left) Tamao Tanaka, Tim Tanaka and Norico Tanaka-Wada are presented a plaque in honor of their parents, Sumiko and Tomoyasu Tanaka. Their plaque – one of which was presented to the family and another that will be displayed in Tanaka Hall – included a watercolor painting of cherry blossoms that was created by Ohio University Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit. Norico Tanaka-Wada noted that the family requested that their plaque highlight their parents’ contribution to the OHIO-Chubu University relationship as reflected through the cherry blossom. “The wonderful thing about the cherry blossoms is that their beauty is fleeting,” said Norico Tanaka-Wada. “So only one week of the whole year is their beauty able to be appreciated, but now we have these beautiful pictures of the cherry blossoms that students can enjoy all year long.” Photo by Jasmine Beaubien

“We’re just really in awe and overwhelmed by this tremendous honor,” said Norico Tanaka-Wada. “I think our parents would be so humbled by this and would say simply, thank you.”

The siblings reflected on their childhood years growing up in Athens and at Ohio University.

“Clippinger was like our playground,” said Norico Tanaka-Wada.

“It’s just amazing that our parents are being honored like this,” said Tim Tanaka, who noted that his parents never wanted to be in the spotlight. “This is such a big deal, and we’re learning even more about our parents from all the people we’ve talked with today.”

President McDavis closed out the dedication ceremony, saying,” Ohio University is a more vibrant, diverse, global and transformative home to our students because of President Claude R. Sowle, Tomoyasu and Sumiko Tanaka, Arthur Carr and Evelyn Coulter Luchs. We are grateful for their outstanding contributions, service and impact, and we look forward to introducing them to generations of Bobcats.”

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Students enjoy a little quiet time in one of the two-story living rooms located in two of the new residence halls. Photo by Joel Prince

Looking to the future

In addition to reflecting on the past – both distant and recent – that contributed to the University’s next generation of student housing, the Aug. 29 celebration also focused on the OHIO history yet to be written in these new facilities.

“As an Ohio University alumnus and a past resident of Lincoln Hall, I know from personal experience the ways in which the buildings before you will deeply impact student lives,” President McDavis said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Opportunities will unfold. Lifelong friendships will take root. Horizons will be broadened. … What an honor to participate in the first of so many memories that will take shape within and among these walls.”

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The Singing Men of Ohio perform before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Joel Prince

President McDavis and other speakers also noted how the new residence halls and the Living Learning Center were designed to bring OHIO’s academic experience into its residential experience, fostering students growth both within the classroom and in their day-to-day living experiences.

“The programming that this space enables will strengthen our educational community. The encounters that this complex encourages will define the Ohio University experience for generations of students,” Dr. McDavis said. “This complex is not about shaping a campus; it’s about shaping lives.”

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A student housing ambassador for OHIO’s Department of Housing and Residence Life leads a tour of OHIO’s Phase I site. Photo by Joel Prince

Addy Kuhn is one of more than 900 Bobcats to have the honor of being the first students to occupy the new residence halls. A sophomore from Bryan, Ohio, who is studying nursing, Kuhn is a resident in Carr Hall.

“I love it,” Kuhn said. “It’s almost like living in a hotel – it’s so beautiful and nice. I’m really enjoying the study spaces available in the complex, which are perfect, and the large bathrooms.”

The Aug. 29 festivities continued throughout the afternoon with performances by the Singing Men of Ohio; refreshments, including a cake that featured a replica of the Phase I site; and tours of the new facilities and the grounds surrounding them. The day ended with a special evening celebration for students sponsored by OHIO’s Division of Student Affairs, the Department of Housing and Residence Life, the Campus Involvement Center, Corna Kokosing-Elford, and AECOM.

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A cake featuring a replica of the Phase I site sits inside the atrium of the new Living Learning Center, overlooking the front yard, also known as the sweep, of the Phase I site. The replica was donated by AECOM. Photo by Joel Prince

A look back at Phase I of OHIO’s Housing Development Plan

Ohio University Communications and Marketing developed a slideshow, available by clicking here, that looks back at the more than two-year construction project that transformed an area on the southern end of the Athens Campus into a new residential housing complex, featuring four new residence halls, a first-of-its-kind Living Learning Center and expanded recreational and green space. 

The slideshow, created by UCM video producer Andie Walla, includes a video produced by Corna Kokosing-Elford, the construction management firm that oversaw work on the project.

Phase I at a glance

Spearheaded by Ohio University’s Division of Student Affairs and the Division of Finance and Administration, Phase I of OHIO’s Housing Development Plan included the construction of four new residence halls and a central Living Learning Center on the former site of the Wolfe Street Apartments and adjacent lots. 

The Housing Development Plan is a three-phase plan designed to improve the residential experience and the comprehensive living-learning environment on OHIO’s Athens Campus. In addition to the construction, renovation and demolition of residence halls on campus, the plan includes the creation of additional recreational and green spaces through a “sweep concept” linking East and South Greens to West Green and upper campus. 

The completion of Phase I marks the largest residential housing boom to occur on the campus since the residence halls of Back South were opened in the fall of 1970.

Some fast facts about Phase I include:

Project started – September 2013

Project completed – August 2015

Gross square feet – 277,800

Number of staff involved in programming, designing and construction – More than 1,000

Number of bricks used in construction – Approximately 825,000

Miles of sod throughout Phase I site and sweep – 13

Yards of soil used to raise the site out of the flood plain – More than 20,000 cubic yards (over 1,700 truckloads)

Sustainability features:

Project meets LEED silver design standards for energy and environmental efficiencies

80 percent of construction-generated waste was diverted away from landfills (801 tons of recycled materials)

80 trees were removed and 167 new trees will be planted by fall 

Interior wood doors are made from 85 percent recycled materials

32 percent less water usage projected and water bottle filling stations were installed to encourage use of re-fillable containers  

Living Learning Center features:

Houses central office for OHIO’s Department of Housing and Residence Life

Two smart classrooms

Two flex offices

Mailroom serving Carr, Luchs, Sowle, Tanaka and Adams Halls

Residence hall features:

Total beds – 912 in suite-style living

Carr Hall features – 239 beds (100 percent upperclassmen); two-bedroom resident director apartment; multipurpose meeting room; laundry facility; shared kitchen; complex and staff offices

Luchs Hall features – 217 beds (50 percent first-year students, 50 percent upperclassmen); three-bedroom faculty-in-residence apartment; two-story living room; laundry facility; connected to Living Learning Center

Sowle Hall features – 217 beds (100 percent upperclassmen); three-bedroom faculty-in-residence apartment; two-story living room; laundry facility; connected to Living Learning Center

Tanaka Hall features – 239 beds (100 percent first-year students); two-bedroom resident director apartment; multipurpose meeting room; laundry facility; shared kitchen; complex and staff offices