It’s no coincidence that Chatfield College is expanding into the heart of Over-the-Rhine. It’s more like destiny.
Since its 1845 founding in Brown County as an Ursuline convent and school, Chatfield College (renamed as such and opened to the public in 1971) has repurposed land to educate those who lack access.
“We want to attract people to Over-the-Rhine, serve them and be part of the growth,” says Chatfield College President John Tafaro.
In November 2012, the private, Catholic college purchased an abandoned, two-story building on the corner of Central Parkway and West Liberty Street for $200,000. Reconstruction of the building, which can hold up to 900 students, will begin by the end of this year and classes are scheduled to start in fall 2015.
The open-enrollment associate’s college has reached half of its $5 million donation goal for renovations, as well as scholarships and founding campus improvements.
Since the Findlay Market campus opened in 2009, the student body has increased about 400 percent, from 74 students to 375. When word of the school’s search for a new Cincinnati location spread over the last few years, waterfront and downtown buildings were offered. The college declined.
“Over-the-Rhine is central to our student population,” Tafaro says. “We are on nine bus lines; people walk here.”
Chatfield College’s new 18,000-square-foot home quadruples the current Findlay Market campus, just a block north. It’s a former brewery, which was established in 1866 and closed as a printing company about six years ago.
The stable, where barreled beer was hitched to horses, is still visible in the bricked, arched doorway in the building’s rear.
The addition of the new school leaves only one vacant building on the iconic corner, also home to the Cincinnati Ballet and the Samuel Adams Brewery.
“We don’t have a climbing wall, we don’t have a lazy river, we don’t have a food court,” Tafaro says. “Our focus is education.”
The new building will hold seven more classrooms than the Findlay location, several with accordion walls or garage doors, which can be lifted for lectures. It will have an art room, with a window-lined wall facing Central Parkway so, as Tafaro says, “passing drivers can see education.”
A chapel will be housed in the Over-the-Rhine campus, with a skylight to admit light to the first floor. Miami University student engineers will design the green space, to the right of the building, into a small park.
“At Chatfield, we address the whole person, including character and spirituality,” Tafaro says. “We don’t just prepare you for a job, we prepare you for life.”
The new building will mirror the founding campus in St. Martin, Brown County — 200 acres of wooded land and brick buildings, which now has fewer students than the current Findlay location. Unlike this cramped campus, the new Over-the-Rhine location won’t use staff offices as interim classrooms or force Tafaro to set up a makeshift office in the commons area, partitioned by an old cubicle. It won’t share space with the social service agency St. John or a free hair service for the needy.
Roberta Smith, 55, never considered herself college material. Neither did Sokoni Hughes, 25. Smith enrolled in Chatfield College in 2011 after a triple-bypass surgery left her unable to work. Hughes joined just last spring, five years after he left a Fort Wayne, Ind., university for employment. Both plan to pursue jobs that help others.
“Chatfield reignited my passion for education,” Hughes says. “I can obtain a degree and create a better life for myself, my family and my community.”
That’s a common theme at the Findlay Market campus, which primarily serves low-income students, at an average age of 30. More than half of the campus is made up of single parents and 95 percent receive financial aid. Only two Ursuline nuns currently teach at the college, and while religion courses are required, they cover varying sects.
Unlike many community colleges, disciplines like massage therapy or culinary arts aren’t offered. Instead, students focus on humanities courses like psychology or education in hopes to obtain bachelor’s degrees.
An average classroom holds about 11 students and about half of Chatfield College graduates graduate from local universities. Graduates include lawyers, business owners and priests. The most popular focus is social work.
“There has been success in housing, arts and business incubators in Over-the-Rhine,” Tafaro says. “Without education, that success isn’t sustainable.”
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