Shared from the 10/22/2020 The Columbus Dispatch eEdition



Former Maennerchor building an office with a mission


The former Maennerchor building at 966 S. High St. has been updated with a glass entrance that has a stairwell and elevator on the north. PHOTOS BY ADAM CAIRNS/COLUMBUS DISPATCH


The front lobby addition of the Good Haus incorporates some original design elements of the former Maennerchor building.

The former Maennerchor building in the Brewery District has been reinvented as The Good Haus, an office building with a mission.

The building, at 966 S. High St., has been renovated and expanded by the Jefferson Avenue Center to serve as a home for four nonprofits with space to add a fifth.

But converting the building, which for decades served as a link to the neighborhood’s German roots, took an uber amount of effort. The building had sat empty since 2011, when the Maennerchor, the nation’s oldest Germanic singing society, moved next door into the building that also houses Valter’s restaurant.

“It had been open to the elements, in some places for more than 10 years,” said Katharine Moore, executive director of the Jefferson Avenue Center which dedicated the building on Tuesday.

“It was a building added on to and reconfigured over 130 years. I had somebody in architecture and structural management tell me, ‘This is the most troubled building I have worked on.’ Everything that could be wrong was wrong; it was a huge challenge.”

And expense.

The cost of the project, including the value of the building itself, doubled from an estimated $2 million to more than $4 million, Moore said.

The expense was borne by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, Moore said. The donor acquired the property from Columbus City Schools in February 2019 for $527,000 and approached Moore with the idea of adding it to the Jefferson Avenue Center’s portfolio. (The transfer has not been recorded yet by the Franklin County Auditor.)

Moore thought the building was a perfect fit for the center, which owns 12 buildings on Jefferson Avenue that are leased to nonprofits.

“Our mission is a dual mission — historic preservation, but preservation with a purpose,” Moore said. “We repurpose neglected buildings for use for not-for-profits.”

Picked by the Columbus Landmarks as one of central Ohio’s most endangered buildings, the Maennerchor matched the mission. The building is actually two — an 1880s-era home combined with a single-story building added around 1930 along High Street.

The marriage was never a good one, with four levels and four independent stairways — a maze that violated easy use along with building codes, said Mark Ours, owner of Mode Architects, which designed the renovation.

Mode’s solution was to add a glass entry on the north end of the building that serves as a lobby and houses a stairway and elevator connecting to all levels.

That was far from the only challenge the building presented.

“The building itself was in really bad shape,” Ours said.

“You wouldn’t believe how much water infiltration the building had taken on. We had to install a new roof immediately just to stabilize the building.”

The building was so fragile that part of a wall on the east side collapsed during renovation. The building also required all new mechanicals — electrical, plumbing and HVAC. The project, overseen by Lehman Daman construction firm, took 18 months to complete.

Visitors hoping for glimpses of the building’s Germanic past will be disappointed. Almost all the interior furnishings and decor had been removed by the time the Jefferson Avenue Center took over the property, with only a few exceptions such as a mural in one stairwell and some stained glass.

Instead, the former Maennerchor has been reinvented as a 12,000-square-foot office building that Moore had to lease during a pandemic.

“I’ve rented the whole house three times,” she said. “People were coming back and saying, ‘We can’t move now, we have to reconsider the lease. ... It was horrible.”

Moore finally secured four tenants who have occupied about 70% of the building: Southside Early Learning, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Just Society Law and Education Center, and Human Service Chamber of Franklin County.

Moore still needs to find a final tenant, but is confident she has an inviting building to pitch.

“What a win for preservation,” she said.

“I think it really is a wonderful example of fusing historic with contemporary in a way that works, in a way that’s attractive and still fits into the Brewery District beautifully. That’s a real accomplishment.”


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