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Oberlin secures matching funds for Underground Railroad facility


OBERLIN — The city of Oberlin has collected enough matching money to start work on converting the Gasholder Building into an Underground Railroad center complete with a Park-N-Ride facility.

Bids came in less expensive than expected, so the city will be able to afford the 20 percent match from a fundraising drive in the summer and early fall, City Manager Eric Norenberg said.

City Council is expected to hold a special meeting in the next few weeks to pass emergency legislation approving a $377,100 bid from R. W. Clark Co. of Cleveland, Norenberg said.

The work involves repointing bricks, installing new windows and replacing the deteriorated conical slate roof with a roof whose appearance will mimic the look of slate but be lighter and less expensive.

The roundhouse building is “reasonably sound” but has some water in the basement, said Dennis Cuthbertson, a city maintenance worker.

Transformation of the building into an Underground Railroad center with exhibits and possibly some artifacts will take place during a later phase of the project funded largely through federal transportation dollars.

It also will have bathrooms available to the public and to people who use a bike trail that winds through Oberlin.

A smaller-than-expected amount of matching funds for this phase of the project was needed because initial estimates for the stabilization and structural rehabilitation were $582,939 — approximately $200,000 more than the bids which ranged from $377,100 to $406,000, Norenberg said.

The city may have to contribute several thousand dollars for engineering costs related to the renovation, but Norenberg credited Assistant City Manager Darlene Colaso, community activist Sigrid Boe and City Hall employee Sharon Pearson with keeping the ball rolling.

Several months ago the Federal Highway Administration unexpectedly directed that the two phases be combined.

“They were working like crazy to raise money this summer and fall,” Norenberg said. “Darlene has been like the coach on a playing field.”

The unusual roundhouse building was built in 1889 and was used as a storage site for coal gas used to fuel gas lamps and cooking stoves, Norenberg said.

Coal was converted into gas in an adjacent building that has since been demolished, he said.

A huge bell inside the roundhouse building would force the gas into a system of pipes throughout the community, Norenberg said.

The project received $917,600 in federal transportation enhancement funding and a $200,000 congressional earmark for architectural design and planning.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or

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