Bexleys Jeffrey Mansion plan taking shape

Following its first public forum, the Jeffrey Mansion Commission is arranging the building blocks of a plan for the renovation of the historic Bexley landmark.

"If we have another public meeting, we have to have a plan," architect Robert Loversidge said at the Nov. 26 commission meeting. "This group has to put a plan on the table."

The commission will be scheduling its second forum in January, with a date to be announced (the previously announced date of Dec. 3 has been postponed).

The presentation should include information on recreation and event programming and how to pay for renovations, Loversidge said.

The commission has been working for a year gathering information on the condition of the 101-year-old mansion and grounds, as well as the recreation programs and private event rentals that could finance ongoing maintenance.

The Nov. 14 forum solicited comments on ideas for improvements at the mansion and park.

Commission member Jeff McClelland commented that residents were surprised by the poor condition of the mansion, and how little of its space is being used for recreation.

One idea that received a favorable reception was the enclosure of a parking court on the north side of the mansion with a glass roof, to serve as an area for weddings and other receptions, commission member Jed Morison noted.

Participants also seemed to prefer temporary additions such as a tent for private events, rather than an actual addition, Morison added.

Loversidge had also envisioned turning the basement, now used for storage, into an event center.

"I’m sure enough people had enough imagination to picture this as an elegant space," Loversidge said. "But I do."

Commission member Mike Kilbourne suggested that computer-generated images of the proposed renovations be provided at the next forum, to assist residents in visualizing the changes.

Consultant Donna Laidlaw agreed that residents should see how the changes could enhance their experience at the park. "Views and vistas are what make us feel close to nature."

Tim Schmalenberger, with MSI designers, said he was surprised that there was more resistance to making changes in the park than at the mansion.

Schmalenberger’s ideas included expanding parking to the north and south of the mansion, and adding trails and shelter houses in the woods.

Adding 50 spaces to the north would be "a no-brainer," Schmalenberger said. Adding another 50 to the south would entail construction in a wooded area, but the designer believes this can be accomplished without destroying the natural beauty.

Chris Masoner, a commission member and recreation board chairman, commented that the Jeffrey grounds are "an urban park," that could accommodate trails and other amenities, "and not a preserve."

And the park has seen its share of changes over the years, he added. "When I was growing up there was no pool, parking or tennis courts."

Commission members agreed that more parking will be needed. Fewer than 40 of its 137 spaces are near the mansion, with almost half of those expected to be lost through renovations.

The commission will also be making recommendations on recreation programs at the mansion.

One possible casualty could be the preschool program, which Masoner said "is not truly a cost-effective program" that "takes up space."

That program was temporarily removed from the mansion last year when lead paint was found.

Masoner has already told the recreation board to expect the mansion to be shut down entirely for a year when interior renovations begin.

The commission members are also discussing adding a kitchen to accommodate caterers and a storage building on the grounds.

While construction will probably be phased in over several years, the project shouldn’t be seen as piecemeal, warned Peter Halliday, whose Heritage Fund pushed for the mansion study.

That could affect fundraising, according to Halliday, who believes that the community has the private donors to support the plan.

"I’ve tried to tell the parks and recreation department, don’t be confined by money" in its planning, Halliday said. "We have a community that will back this if it is done right."

Creating such an organization, similar to the Bexley Education Foundation, will support the mansion and other projects in the community, Halliday said.

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