Bringing the Big Blue Building Back from the Brink


Historic Space Now Upscale Housing for Shawnee Students

A dream conceived in Iraq in PM12003 by a young soldier has finally materialized in Portsmouth, Ohio. Scioto County resident Tim Wolfe was serving in Iraq and like all young soldiers, he longed to see his family, dreaming of the day he would return safely home to them. Beyond that, he was making plans with a friend about something they could do in their community when they came home – something to better the community they cared about. The vision to provide an upscale living facility for students at Shawnee State University was born. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at 318 2nd Street in Portsmouth’s downtown historic Boneyfiddle District, just a few blocks from campus.

The 5100-square-foot building, affection- ately known as the big blue building by those in the neighborhood, was built in 1900. It is rumored to have been one of the first funeral homes in Portsmouth. By all rights, the building should have been condemned a long time ago. At one time, the bank that had possession of it contacted the local chamber of commerce in an attempt to donate the building to a non-profit. There was only one slight problem –nobody wanted it. That was until Tim Wolfe came along.

Wolfe was getting lunch at the popular Dairy Creme across the street from the building and became aware that an auction was taking place. Curiosity led him there and as luck, or maybe fate, would have it, he purchased the building for a mere $2,000. That was September 2013, and this fall, the beautifully restored, industrial-style building will be home for 10 Shawnee State students, giving them the ultimate college living experience.

Wolfe made every effort to use and preserve as much original material as possible while renovating the building – most noticeably, the 100,000 bricks that were covered with several inches of plaster. Another 25,000 bricks were added in the process of securing the walls. Any historic building project or modern loft could not be imagined without exposed brick walls which pull together the whole industrial look, allowing old to merge with modern, according to Wolfe. The walls look incredible and enrich the building’s character. Keeping with the whole industrial style of the structure, exposed ductwork is prevalent throughout the building.  Stainless steel light fixtures and stair rails enhance the industrial feel as well.

The inviting, open-concept first floor plan contains the common area and kitchen for the students. That’s where they can hang out on the retro bright green stools that overlook the wide staircase leading to the basement.  They can prepare their meals in the spacious kitchen that has two of every stainless steel appliance and even two pizza ovens. Counter space and cabinets are more than adequate for a full house. The 18-inch tile flooring throughout is perfect for the massive feel of the structure. And of course, the common area would not be complete without three televisions.

The basement is sure to be a favorite spot for the students. It’s a large open recreation room for playing air hockey, pool or watching television. There’s also a half-bath and what Wolfe calls the “unlimited” laundry room. It too is more than adequate for a full house with two washers and two dryers.

Finally, the upstairs has five spacious, carpeted bedrooms that will accommodate the 10 students. All bedrooms include a large private bath and are completely furnished, including a television. Each bedroom has a tall window, accentuating the ceiling height and allowing the rooms to take advantage of natural lighting.

Rehabbing a century old building is full of challenges. Just ask Tim Wolfe. All the hurdles over meeting codes and regulations can be overwhelming, but Wolfe forged on to fulfill his dream. Although the layout of each floor is open and overall pretty simple, he was forced to enlist the services of an architect to meet more requirements.

Wolfe believes Shawnee State University is the life-blood of the Portsmouth area and he is already working on his next project to provide additional upscale student housing in the same area. He’s learned a lot and the next project should have fewer headaches for the young entrepreneur. Overall, he’s pleased with the experience and has enjoyed fulfilling the vision that he dreamed up half way across the world.


Photos: Ashley G. Quinn

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Lisa Carver

Lisa Carver is originally from Akron, Ohio, but has lived in Greenup County, Ky., for the last 30 years. She is a single mother of two amazingly awesome grown sons and a six-year-old daughter who keeps her young. She has worked at the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce for 21 years. In her free time, she is passionately active in her church, Allen Chapel Church of Christ in South Shore, Ky., and enjoys writing, genealogy and spending time with her kids.

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