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YWCA renovation nears completion

By Emmalee C. Torisk | Metro Monthly Staff Writer

One century ago, after raising $150,000, several members of the city’s most prominent families established a permanent space for the fledgling YWCA of Youngstown: a five-story brick structure on West Rayen Avenue. Constructed in 1911 and dedicated one year later, the building has since been central to the organization’s programs and services. However, in recent years, the structure has often hindered, rather than helped, efficient fulfillment of the YWCA’s mission.

“The women of the community needed a place for women and families. [The YWCA has] been many things for many people and has seen many uses throughout the years,” said Leah Brooks, development director of the YWCA. “It’s a symbol of women’s history, of the women leaders of our community. But it was in need of a facelift.”

Subsequently, in August, the YWCA of Youngstown began an ambitious $10 million renovation and restoration of the historic building that has functioned, at various times in the past 100 years, as a homeless shelter, a place of worship and a center for childcare, education, health and recreation, social activities and women affected by crisis.

The YWCA Board of Directors began planning the project in 1996 after a feasibility study determined renovation of the existing structure more economical than demolition and new construction. Eight years later, the board recommitted to that idea and started searching for an architectural firm to present a visual plan of the renovation. The board chose local architect Paul Ricciuti, primarily for his experience with preserving and adaptively reusing historic buildings.

“[The structure] is very, very sound,” Ricciuti said. “It’s part of the fabric of Youngstown. We’ve torn down too many historic buildings in our community. It’s a major, major plus for our community that the board decided to stay there.”

Approximately $9 million has been committed to the project. In 2007, the YWCA received $3.2 million from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in low-income housing tax credits to renovate a portion of the structure, said Constance Shaffer, executive director of the YWCA. She noted that this award was followed by $1.4 million in historic preservation tax credits, $1 million in state historic preservation tax credits, $1 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank, $750,000 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, $700,000 from a Clean Ohio grant and $400,000 from the city of Youngstown. The project has also received assistance from the YWCA’s capital campaign and is seeking further community support and donations.

“It’s all been tough,” Shaffer said of financing the project. “It’s never a sure thing. Government grants and the stimulus made the project possible. [We had] the majority of money coming through that way.”

Despite some funding struggles and the project’s inherent risks and challenges, Shaffer stressed the need for up-to-date permanent supportive housing, primarily for those who require “help in maintaining homes.”

“It was not a great environment,” Shaffer said of the building before the project’s start. “It was too hot, too cold, there were things breaking. It was not very modern.”

To better meet the contemporary needs of YWCA residents, the structure’s 36 dormitory-style single bedrooms — which featured common bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens — have been transformed into 30 handicapped-accessible one-bedroom and efficiency apartments for low-income single women. Each unit provides a private bathroom and kitchen facility and ranges in size from 450 to 700 square feet, Brooks said.

“Privacy is important. It’s hard enough for students to live like that, let alone grown women,” Brooks said of the previous housing conditions. “[The new apartments] are cozy; they feel like more of a home.”

All apartments feature several amenities, including a refrigerator, a stove, a phone, Internet, cable, plenty of storage space, heat and air conditioning. Prior to the renovation, residents relied on shared air-conditioning units installed in each floor’s community lounge and one thermostat that controlled temperature settings for the entire building. Now, residents can adjust rooms to their personal comfort levels.

The updated residential space spreads across the top three floors and a portion of the second. Construction should be complete by September or October, while all 30 apartments will likely be rented and leased by December, Brooks said. Licensed social workers will provide on-site supportive services for residents.

This comprehensive effort also includes restoration of the structure’s original two-story gymnasium, which will be used as a community all-purpose room. Areas adjacent to the gymnasium have been designated as small group meeting rooms, restrooms and a kitchen. The YWCA’s health outreach staff will be housed there, but building residents, YWCA program participants and the public are encouraged to use the space, Brooks said.

The public will also be welcomed into the YWCA’s first-floor lobby, which is being restored to its 1911 appearance. Historic elements of the structure were preserved, following state and federal historic preservation standards. What could not be preserved or was otherwise unavailable had to be replicated.

Layers of paint have been stripped from the original woodwork and fireplaces, while multi-pane windows have been installed for historical accuracy, Brooks said. The lobby will also feature a cyber cafe, complete with Wi-Fi, and a limited food service operation.

“[The lobby] will be for public use, a public area. We’ve had public programs, but this will bring more of a traffic [to the building],” Brooks said.

First-floor space will also be used for retail operations, start-up space for women- and minority-owned businesses, case-management support for clients and partnerships with local government, businesses and training programs.

The former pool building, which stood between the YWCA and the new Williamson College of Business Administration, has been demolished. An enclosed garden will take its place.

Plans are also in place to further develop the YWCA’s childcare center. A new children’s center will feature an outdoor playground, developmental assessments, therapy and specialized services for children with disabilities. These services target children aged 6 weeks to 12 years, including those with special needs.

Other additions and improvements include activity rooms, a fitness area and computer labs. More efficient and economical operating systems, such as new wiring and plumbing, were installed.

“We’re gutting out the old and putting in new,” Brooks said. “It creates a healthier environment for staff, residents and the public. When people come in here, even members of our own board, they’re amazed.”

Prior to the project’s start, Brooks recalled questioning the YWCA’s downtown location.

“Do we belong here? Do we belong in the suburbs?” Brooks asked. “But we have a value here, a value downtown. We’re very much involved with community revitalization and the renaissance of the community. The community response to this transition, this transformation, has been very positive.”

© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.


Online DJs tune out corporate playlists

By Tyler Landis
Metro Monthly Staff Writer

With a motto like “Blasting forth with complete disregard for the mainstream!” you’d think the minds behind Rukus Radio were a pack of crusaders looking to liberate Internet listeners everywhere.

Quite the contrary. Moe Angelo, Trevor Quillan, and Chris Rutushin have their own sense of style, but seem content with being ordinary guys with a huge passion for music.

While their listeners may know them as Trevor Q and Moestrodamus, it was acoustic performer Trevor Quillan and Kelleys bassist Moe Angelo who got the ball rolling for Rukus Radio back in 2007 during a chance encounter at “Vex Fest IV,” an annual musical festival in downtown Youngstown.

Shortly after, the two were recording podcasts and brewing an idea for a radio show. The result is a Youngstown-based Internet radio station that has been broadcasting free of FCC regulation for a few years now.

The station has a singular identity. Each D.J. has a distinctive style and sound, but everything played on the station is categorized under the umbrella of independent music.

However, listeners won’t hear what is being played on most radio stations. Rukus’ mission is to expose listeners to an eclectic variety of bands and musical genres. Quillan and Angelo take pride in the fact that the station can say or do whatever it wants.

Because they are unencumbered by FCC regulation that means just about anything goes.

“We’re like the extended home show,” Quillan says. Angelo’s free spirited demeanor is what best embodies the themes and tropes of Rukus. “All these stations get playlists from above, we don’t have that,” Angelo says. Each show doesn’t consist of a tidy script or checklist of topics; it’s all very loose with its on-the-go approach.

D.J. Rutushin’s show “Happy Hours,” airs every Monday from 9 to 11 p.m. and features interviews and music from indie artists who Rutushin has had shows with or met during his travels. “It’s about having fun and strays away from sad bastardly music,” Rutushin said.

Angelo’s show, “Notes from the Underground,” is a multi-genre live program that features new releases. It airs every Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m.

“The Jam Band Breakfast,” hosted by Trevor Q, is the station’s daily morning show and primarily focuses on all aspects of the “jamband” genre. It airs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon.

In addition, “The Rukus Roundtable” airs every Sunday from 9 to 11p.m. and features a discussion forum and a revolving cast of characters.

“Chris [Rutushin] does a fantastic job of knowing what he’s doing the entire show, where I tend to wing it a little more often. It all goes to show the acceptance that anything and everything is O.K.,” Angelo said. Quillan’s on-air style is similar to Angelo’s: He lets the vibe of the day lead the show.
“When I get up, I sit in the captain’s chair and just go from there. The first song I choose dictates the rest of the show,” Quillan said.

Sitting with these guys is like getting a musical and a geek education all at once. “Star Wars” references are spat from all three at a dizzying speed. True to their indie-music focus, each dons a T-shirt with the name of a less-realized band. Their laid-back chemistry and keen insight into each other’s refined taste is what makes one believe that Rukus will be around as long as these guys are friends.

In terms of where Rukus can go in the future, signs point upward. “We definitely have plans to make it grow; we’re constantly adding people and content,” said Angelo.

Quillan said they were definitely not running at full capacity, describing the station as a “duct-tape operation.” “If we wanted to full out blast this thing, it’d probably cost us a couple thousand a month,” Quillan said.

For now, running the station and having other jobs keeps the guys busy. “We’re working jobs to try to build a job,” Quillan said.

With future plans to expand the station, the men behind Rukus realize that it’ll get more expensive. However, Quillan is tickled by the idea that they’re able to run the station for very little right now, prompting Rutushin to jump in and advise Quillan not to pull back the curtain.

Still, Rukus boasts a modest – but increasing – following on their site.” It’s our own social network, our version of MySpace or Facebook,” Quinlan said. “People can be a member for free which gives them the freedom to create a profile, chat, post blog entries, and upload music or videos.”

The site had gone from zero members last May, to approximately 600. Although Rukus enjoys exposing listeners to their favorite bands, the guys remain snake-bitten over the lack of support they’ve received from some local bands. “We’ve done our fair share of promoting Youngstown,” Angelo says, but admits that the response could be a lot better.

To hear Rukus Radio, visit You can listen live and most shows are available for downloading after their original air date.

© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

The crew at Rukus Radio. Electronic image by Jack Hughes.

Time runs out for Jeannette Blast Furnace

The Jeannette Blast Furnace prior to its demolition. Electronic image courtesy of the Tod Engine Co. and Richard Rowlands.    

The Jeannette Blast Furnace prior to its demolition. Electronic image courtesy of the Tod Engine Co. and Richard Rowlands.


The following article was originally published in The Metro Eye in November 1993, with updates in October 1996.

By Mark C. Peyko and John Rose

J. Richard Rowlands was 4 years old when the Mahoning Valley’s steel industry collapsed, so it seems quite unusual that the Hubbard youth would have become so taken with the history of the local industry.

But since founding the Jeannette Blast Furnace Preservation Association in 1992, Rowlands has been a lobbyist, activist, and pilot for an organization with a noble, yet ultimately unattainable, goal: the preservation of the Jeannette Blast Furnace.

The Jeannette site is one of the last remaining vestiges of a once omnipresent industrial complex that stretched along the Mahoning River from Warren to Lowellville. With this in mind, the recent announcement that the Ohio Department of Development will raze the historic blast furnace and related buildings has sent a crushing blow to the 23-year old whose mission for Jeannette had at times become messianic.

In a 1993 Metro Eye article, Rowlands said he sought to transform the rapidly deteriorating Jeannette Blast Furnace at Brier Hill into a museum, where people could learn about the Mahoning Valley’s historic role in America’s steel industry – by experiencing it.

“People my age and younger, I don’t think they would know much about it [the mills],” Rowlands noted during a recent telephone conversation. “Most of it [research material] is hidden; that’s one reason why it was really important to help educate.”

With the assistance of his 60-member Jeannette Blast Furnace Preservation Association, Rowlands had hoped to acquire, secure and stabilize the Jeanette site. Rowlands, who had been handling ongoing negotiations with the state of Ohio, said the association “couldn’t do what they [the state] needed for us to do, so we decided to direct those resources to things that we could manage.”

Youngstown resident Bryn Zellers, another member of the association, said conditions from the state that the group carry a large insurance policy, undertake a below-ground cleanup, and stabilize the Jeannette structure were not feasible for the association.

“If we continued with the blast furnace,” Rowlands added, “we could lose everything else.”

Instead, Rowlands is currently negotiating to videotape, photograph, and document the doomed Jeannette complex, which was immortalized by musician Bruce Springsteen last year. A second project in the works is to negotiate the acquisition of the old Tod Furnace Blowing Engine House – where artifacts related to the steel and railroad industries could be housed.

At the proposed Tod Site, the organization would house, among other things, a 250-ton, pre-20th century steam engine once owned by the William Tod Co. In addition, the association would house archival material and assemble steel industry artifacts like pouring ladles, etc.

Although the impending loss of Jeanette is a serious disappointment to the organization – and Rowlands, in particular, JBFPA sees the proposed acquisition of the Tod site as a potential consolation prize and good move. First, it’s the only building on the site with an intact roof. Second, and perhaps most important, it’s located at a remote end of the property being redeveloped, so it probably wouldn’t interfere with the state’s future plans.

Although this scenario is far from the fate Rowlands envisioned a few short years ago, it’s probably the best the group can do, considering the circumstances.

The Jeannette Blast Furnace dates back to 1917 – the year the United States entered World War I. in anticipation of a heightened need for steel, the Brier Hill Steel Co. began building the furnace plant during the same year.

Blast furnaces play an essential role in the steelmaking process. They are basically extremely hot structures that remove the carbon content from iron. Only after this removal can the iron be used as material for steel production.

The Jeannette Blast Furnace, named after the Brier Hill Co. president’s daughter, began production in September 1918 – only two months before World War I ended. After its only upgrade in 1924, the furnace ran with occasional interruptions until1977, having produced a total of 2.6 million tons of iron suitable for steel production.

“A lot of people called it the best-running blast furnace,” Rowlands remarked in 1993.

After suffering from years of deterioration and looting, the last remaining furnace plant in the area was discovered by Rowlands, who had been exploring the Brier Hill area when he was a teenager. Since that discovery about 15 years ago, much of his time had been spent trying to save the furnace.

“That first year I really crammed to learn the steelmaking process,” he said in 1993. “I must have checked out every book from the library.”

The result of all this early work had been the formation of JBFPA and a planned four-phase proposal for the furnace plant’s restoration. In that plan, the ambitious furnace plant museum would have been indoor exhibitions, historical accounts of Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and rolling stock donated by the Mahoning Valley Railroad Heritage Association and others. The rolling stock would have included a hot metal car, slag car, scale car, steam locomotive, and possibly other equipment associated with the steel and railroad industries.

Another person who believed in JBFPA and its core mission was H. William Lawson, director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. Lawson acted as a trustee and secretary for the organization, a role he still performs today.

In 1993 Lawson noted that museums displaying exhibitions about the steel industry, such as the Youngstown Museum of Industry and Labor, will never completely replace the real thing.

“There’s something that’s romantic and mythical to what those people (steelworkers) were doing,” he said “and you can’t give an accurate presence of that under a roof.”

Donna DeBlasio, then director of the Youngstown Museum of Industry and Labor, agreed. In 1993 she said that the preservation of the blast furnace could have complemented the industrial museum’s exhibitions. “It’s the only blast furnace in the area,” she said, “and we obviously can’t put it in the museum.”

On the impending loss of the Jeannette site, Lawson added: “In terms of our short-term drive to recoup the jobs lost 20 years ago in the steel industry, we are obliterating examples of the past such as Jeannette. It will be hard for future generations to understand the scale of the industry and how important it was to this community. I don’t think we can fully appreciate how it [the steel industry] affected both the economic and physical landscape of the Mahoning Valley without having structures like Jeannette to see.”

“That plant gave the whole aura of the industrial town. By losing the mills, we’ve lost an aesthetic component of the area – not to mention jobs.”

On the impending loss of the historic blast furnace, Rowlands concluded: “I feel terrible. I’ve been depressed all week… I don’t even know if I’ll be in town when they take it down.”

© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.