Local artist Jim Williams stands outside of his room surrounded by his artwork in the Collingwood Arts Center.
The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Some of the 28 residents of the Collingwood Arts Center are angry and perhaps a little frightened: In a bitterly cold winter, they have been given 30 days to move out.
Many have an idea about where they will go: a spare room or couch at a friend’s place. They are victims of the deep freeze of ’14, one of the coldest winters in decades.
The cavernous Gothic building they call home is chilly even with coats and hats on, its old boilers unable to rise to the challenge of way-low temps. Residents, mostly poor men ranging in age from 19 to more than 70, use space heaters in their rooms in violation of their rental agreements. That spells trouble in a building wired in 1905 for electricity with enough juice to brighten a single light bulb per room.
Now, multiple space heaters and extension cords running into hallways are tripping fuses and burning up wires that result in power being killed to adjacent rooms. Water pipes have burst, creating midnight cleanups and ice-covered floors. Radiators Wednesday were lukewarm to the touch.
Simply put, the overtaxed and antiquated heating and electrical systems, and consequently, the center’s staff and volunteers, can’t take what January is dishing out.
“We have to put an end to these practices for their own safety and that of the building,” said Patrick Tansey, founder of the center and fixer of many an electrical problem over the last 30 years. “Whenever you’re in business you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.”
“It’s critical to get this going,” he said. "It’s our goal to save the building.”
But residents, he said, are not safe. In the bitter cold, they are overloading the electrical system, using extension cords in violation of building codes, and even using kerosene heaters to stay warm.
The center’s board president, Toledo attorney Mike Bell, did not return phone calls to his office.
The center itself will continue to rent studio space to about 13 people, as well as the Children’s Theatre Workshop, Northwest Ohio Community Shares, and Toledo Pride 419. The complex, on Collingwood Boulevard directly across from Scott High School, was built by the Ursuline order of nuns. It was home to Mary Manse College, primarily a Catholic women’s school, from 1922 until 1975.
Rents range from $135 a month for a tiny room to $460 a month for a large former classroom. There’s a kitchen in the basement and community bathrooms and showers. The building itself is “extremely sound,” Mr. Tansey said.
Michael Grover, 45, has lived there 5½ years. “I’ve hosted a poetry reading on Tuesday nights since I’ve lived here.” To pay his rent, he delivers a weekly newspaper. “You’re supposed to be able to work your part-time job and work on your art.”
Like other residents, he learned at a Tuesday night meeting they’d have to move. “You could kind of read the handwriting on the wall,” said Mr. Grover.
For 15 years, Greg Tarrant, 54, a former high school art teacher, has rented a sleeping room and an airy classroom in which he uses oil paints to create nudes on large canvases.
“It’s inhumane,” he said of the 30-day notice given to residents. “I don’t see the urgency of kicking everybody to the curb. The majority of the people living here are very poor and they don’t have many options. And in the middle of winter. These people should have at least been given the courtesy of time to raise funds so they can put a security deposit down [on a place to rent]. ... I believe this will result in homelessness and that’s heartbreaking.”
Mr. Tarrant will move in with a friend.
Many of Jim Williams’ paintings grace the walls near his room on the fourth floor. He’s 62 and has lived and worked in his small room ($150 a month rent) for seven years. “Sometimes you want to paint at three in the morning,” he said, coming out of his room in a knitted hat, scarf, and jacket.
“I’m staying here. I have no place to go,” he said, staunchly. He said he’s on the side of the building that’s 10 degrees colder than the rooms across the hall, and uses a low-energy space heater. “It’s tolerable.”
Chloey Wilburn, 19, is one of four women there. She calls it “a community of starving artists. Do we buy food or paint?”
“The building was falling apart, but this place is kind of magic. It’s crazy and fun.” Ms. Wilburn sings, paints, and makes sculptures. She hopes her aunt will help her and another resident find an apartment to share.
Nic Botek, 27, has lived there two years. He makes documentary films and works at Jimmy John’s downtown. “I have a friend that has a room open that I can stay in,” he said.
The center’s director, Sarah Kurfis, comes to work thickly dressed.
“It was a hard decision,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know all these people and they’re all great.”
Mr. Tansey doesn’t rule out people being able to move into the center again, perhaps in a few years, but before then, infrastructure must be improved and new revenue found. The center also incurred debt from previous directors who made poor financial decisions, he said.
He added that he hopes when there’s more free time, staff will be able to write grants to get the building in better shape.
Contact Tahree Lane at: email@example.com or 419-724-6075.