Bexley debates future of Jeffrey Mansion

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Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Rusty Whaley, with Quality Masonry Company, of Marion, power washes the brick of Bexley’s Jeffrey Mansion before other crews seal the exterior, part of a $1.3 million project that also includes roof and window repairs to keep water from leaking into the interior. The jeffrey Mansion Commission held a meeting Nov. 14 to gather public input on the future of the 101-year-old landmark.

Bexley residents attending a Nov. 14 forum envisioned a stimulating future for Jeffrey Mansion, that includes expanded opportunities for recreation, and more private events that most concede will include serving alcoholic beverages.

"This is the landmark that other communities would pay millions to have," architect Robert Loversidge said at the gathering held by the Jeffrey Mansion Commission, which has been studying options for the mansion for the past year.

The problem is that the city has been unable to keep up with the maintenance of the mansion, deeded to Bexley in 1941 by the Jeffrey family and now serving as headquarters for the parks and recreation department.

A $1.3 million project is underway to seal the exterior of the buildings. Water erosion has caused damage to the outside of the building, and leaks into the interior have exposed lead paint and asbestos.

The city’s building director, David Long, has reported that more than $2 million in repairs are needed just to bring the mansion into compliance with building codes.

The goal of the mansion commission, explained consultant Donna Laidlaw, has been to form a plan to make the property financially self-sustaining, to improve recreation programs and to reduce the drain on the city budget for upkeep.

Part of the solution would be to increase the opportunities for more private rental events that generate revenue for the city, planners agree.

That would entail creating a not-for-profit entity that would manage the property through a lease or management agreement with the city, according to Pete Halliday, a commission member and head of the Heritage Fund that pushed for the study.

The city would retain ultimate control over the property, Halliday added.

The advantage of having an not-for-profit body is that it can raise private donations, similar to the Bexley Education Foundation, he pointed out.

A new management structure would likely be accompanied by changes in the physical layout of the 101-year-old mansion, Loversidge offered as he took participants through an exercise in "responsible dreaming" about what the facility could become.

Traditional additions to the mansion are an option but probably not a great possibility, Loversidge said.

A more likely scenario is making better use of existing space, such as the third-floor attic and basement, which are mostly used for storage. Less than half of the available space in the mansion is being used for recreation programs.

Another possibility would be adding a glass roof over the parking court on the north side of the mansion, Loversidge offered. He calculated that this could provide enough seating for an event for 150 to 200 people.

The space could also be used for the department’s pre-school program, with its own drop-off area and access to the park and playground.

Temporary additions for large events, like the tents used by Franklin Park Conservatory, are another possibility for adding space, Loversidge said. "It doesn’t have to be ugly, and it’s a lot cheaper than building."

Entrances would probably have to be added to accommodate events and activities taking place at the same time, Loversidge noted.

Physical plans would have to take into account the need for office space, storage, handicap accessibility and security, as well as maintaining the historic character of the mansion, he explained. The plans would also have to determine whether a kitchen for catering is needed.

Bexley’s ‘Central Park’

Tim Schmalenberger, with MSI, conducted a similar survey of the 30 acres he called "the Central Park of Bexley."

The need for additional parking with expanded event capabilities will be a major issue, he acknowledged.

Possibilities envisioned by the planners include adding around 50 spaces to the mansion’s north lot, or placing 100 spaces within the woods to the south.

Schmalenberger’s drawings showed improved trails and educational signs through the wooded areas, and suggested a nature center or shelter house that could be rented.

Suggestions also include a walking path around the park’s meadow, and a shelter house or a bandstand for concerts.

Schmalenberger said that the city will probably want to relocate the tennis courts to provide more green space in that area.

Public reaction

Most participants conceded the need to allow alcohol to be served as a way to attract more private parties.

During group discussions, Chris Masoner, a member of the mansion commission and the city’s recreation board, said that the private functions need to be managed by a board of governors.

"The recreation board shouldn’t have anything to do with the party business," Masoner said.

Edie Herrel, a member of the Bexley Historical Society, commented that the city needs to be "very, very careful" if it allows alcohol to be served.

The bottom line is that the city has no plan for the maintenance of the mansion, Masoner stated, and that a way has to be found to sustain the property without using tax dollars.

The public comments will be collected and discussed at a follow-up meeting scheduled for Dec. 3, Laidlaw said.

The commission hopes to have a plan to present to Bexley City Council by January.

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