Open Air School, Columbus

Preservation Merit Award

Open Air School is a particularly thoughtful renovation and history-inspired adaptive reuse of a significant school building. Built in 1928 and designed by Columbus schools architect Howard Dwight Smith, Open Air is an example of an early 20th century effort to provide an educational and healthful setting for the prevention of Tuberculosis in the most vulnerable children of the day. The school provided a natural setting, outdoor play areas, a large "rest room" for daily naps, a kitchen and cafeteria, and classrooms with abundant windows that stayed open all year. Nonetheless, the school eventually closed and sat for years before being sold by the district to the Kelley Companies in 2018.

The recent renovation was sensitive to both the materials and spaces of the building. Fortunately, the building was in generally good condition, with original interior brick walls, quarry tile hallways and stairs, and wood flooring. Non-historic partitions were removed and each restored room was given a compatible use. The former covered play area is a breakfast and lunch café, the former cafeteria and terrace are now a restaurant, and the classrooms and "rest room" function as event spaces.

The main hallway retains banks of lockers along with new built-in seating. Original classroom doors remain, with the addition of fire doors behind them, allowing for the feeling of the  historic school corridor to remain. A new elevator was skillfully tucked into a former storage area, and the bathrooms were upgraded with modern fixtures.

On the exterior, the former terrace overlooking the Olentangy River and its bike trail was given a new brick and stone surface and the missing front doors were restored based on historic photographs. A 1956 non-contributing addition remains on the property, but was carefully separated from the façade to restore the symmetrical appearance of the original building.

The concept of "open air" was fully embraced by the owners and the design team, a nod to both the history of the building and the current pandemic. Many visitors comment that the strong sense of this being a school building is part of what draws them to visit the establishments here. Open Air School is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and utilized the historic tax credits.