Miles of farmland and woodlands surrounded the OSU Mansfield campus when the first building, Ovalwood Hall, opened in 1966. North Central Technical College, now North Central State College, moved to the Mansfield campus four years later.
The nearest industry, GM’s Fisher Body stamping plant, was about three miles away. The nearby Richland Mall wouldn’t be built for another three years.
Through the years, Ontario, the campus’ neighbor to the west, steadily has grown, adding hundreds of retail stores and restaurants in the surrounding area. But development has abruptly ended at the Bell Store gas station and Meijer’s grocery store about one-half mile from the campus’ Lexington-Springmill Road entrance.
Campus administrators and planners say that imaginary barrier hinders the visual connection the community makes with the campus, an essential factor in growing enrollment. They outlined several opportunities to create and grow a “Campus District” in the next 50 years during a town hall meeting March 14 at the Mansfield campus.
Among the ideas in the draft framework plan is relocating the Lex-Springmill entrance, as locals call it, one-quarter mile south, closer to the commercial zone and designating it the main campus entrance. The current secondary entrance follows high-voltage power lines and meanders nearly a half-mile into the 640-acre plat. The area around the stark main campus entry on SR 39 is still undeveloped, save the Molyet Village apartments, a commercial development that the campus now owns for student housing.
“It would be a very defined entry that communicates well visually with the community with glimpses of the health sciences building and what’s going on at the campus,” said Brenda Slack, assistant campus planner at OSU’s Facilities Operations and Development.
A driving factor hindering further development in that area, administrators and developers believe, is the lack of infrastructure, specifically sewer lines. A water easement already runs through the southern portion of the campus and permission has been granted to allow the cities of Mansfield and Ontario to install a gravity sewer easement as well.
“A lot of this is opportunity-based changes,” Dean and Director Stephen Gavazzi told a group of more than 30 local business and government leaders. “Moving the entrance closer to the Ontario commercial district we hope would come at a time that it would make sense to move it closer.
“The sewer and water easement that we are willing to grant, we think is going to be a primary driver for development in that area.”
We are confident that the strong and growing relationship between OSU Mansfield and North Central State College will allow us to develop exciting new partnerships that will directly benefit students from both campuses in tandem with increasing our ties to the surrounding communities.
- OSU Mansfield Dean and Director Stephen Gavazzi
While the entrance relocation seems like a small change, Gavazzi and new North Central State President Dorey Diab believe it could open the way to higher enrollment as well as more community involvement. The combined enrollment between the institutions is about 4,100 students.
“Upwards of three-quarters of our students will leave via a campus change, the vast majority of whom are actually going to the Columbus campus,” Gavazzi said. “We bring in about 500 new students a year; we are retaining at best about 100 to 125 of them.”
Enrollment is of concern to both colleges as the number of students collectively has declined by 11 percent since 2001. The Mansfield campus, like all the regional campuses, must be nearly self-sustaining.
“We are a boat on our own keel,” Gavazzi said. “When our enrollment goes up, our budget goes up; when our enrollment goes down, our budget goes down. With state subsidies having been cut year after year after year, we are evermore dependent on tuition than ever before, without any of that coming from the Columbus campus itself.”
The 50-year plan does not call for building additional classroom buildings; rather, the focus is on modernizing and repurposing the 11 existing joint-use buildings. The plan suggests replacing the campus recreation center and bookstore by moving both to Kee Hall and adding an indoor basketball court.
But what planners are most excited about is the 90 percent of the wooded property yet to be developed. There has been talk with the YMCA about building the recreation center and possibly an indoor aquatic facility closer to the Lex-Springmill entrance for community classes, events and recreation.
“If there were people who were also willing to co-develop our land, even if it’s to get a disc golf course or a dog walking path, the sky’s the limit with these kinds of things as long as we have the right partners at the table to be able to do these kinds of things,” Gavazzi said.
Brian White, superintendent of Physical Facilities at the Mansfield campus, is working with OSU Extension to develop a woodlands management plan.
“It looks at the entire use of the facility from recreation to using our timber to research opportunities,” White said. “We are beginning to draw from across the state. People are finding that we are nicely centrally located and people are starting to see the 600 acres as something we can use here that will draw them here.”
That central location, off I-71 and SR 30, could be a draw for North Central State as well. Its Kehoe Center in Shelby, where more than 26 percent of its students attend, also contains meeting space; the third floor will be converted to convention space. The town does not have a hotel, however; attendees stay 15 minutes away, just up the street from OSU Mansfield.
“What’s good for the community is good for all of us,” Marilyn John, Shelby mayor, said. “This is not in my city, but what this may do for my community is huge. It’s good for me and my community to support this because this is far reaching beyond just this campus.”
Stemming the flow
OSU Mansfield has several initiatives in motion to keep students at the campus longer.
Four-year engineering degree
OSU Mansfield and North Central State College are working together to offer a four-year general engineering degree.
“We heard very clearly from the business community that they don’t want us to do just mechanical engineering, or just electrical. They actually want a general engineering degree,” OSU Dean and Director Stephen Gavazzi said. “In fact they really want one that will allow the NCSC two-year engineering technology program to articulate directly into our program.”
Initially, the degree might include some mechanical, electrical and computer science courses.
Job Ready grant
North Central State College, Ohio State Mansfield and Columbus campuses and Columbus State Community College all partnered on a Job Ready grant that was awarded by the Ohio Board of Regents. Funding will also come from the OSU Mansfield capital campaign to establish a business internship program.
“We are going to be able to have upwards of 60 internships that we are in the act of beginning to get the word out,” Gavazzi said.
NCSC Buckeye Scholarships
The capital campaign would also include scholarships for North Central State students who wish to continue their education at Ohio State Mansfield.
“One of the barriers is tuition,” Gavazzi said. “While we are about one-third less expensive than the Columbus campus, we are still almost double of what North Central is. One of the pieces of our capital campaign is an NCSC Buckeye scholarship program which will allow students who graduate from North Central to come across and not feel that pinch.”
Gavazzi also is looking at offering more programs to attract North Central State students.
“We need to create more programs that are actually desired by North Central students, articulate an AS to BS program in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences that will allow all of those health-care related students to get their bachelor’s degree with us.”
Board Leadership Scholarship
A board leadership scholarship, part of the capital campaign, will allow third- and fourth-year students to get even more scholarship money to remain at OSU Mansfield and complete their programs as opposed to transferring to the Columbus campus.