Woman’s passion to transform Calvin Center builds
YOUNGSTOWN — The combination of extensive education and a tragic loss have placed Erin Timms on what could perhaps be best described as a path in progress.
“My brother died when I lived in Providence (R.I.). He died in November of 2015 and in June of 2016, I moved back to Youngstown to take care of this building,” Timms, 47, recalled. “He was a big, big influence in my life.”
The 1994 Boardman High School graduate who grew up in Boardman was referring to the three-story Calvin Center for the Arts at 755 Mahoning Ave., which Timms is redeveloping to make it more of a functional, multi-purpose building in the shadow of downtown Youngstown.
Before taking over the building, her late brother, Sean, who died from a heart attack at age 45, had bought the Calvin Center in 2009. Since then, Timms and her father, Robert Timms, have worked together to restore the top floor, she explained.
After graduating from Boardman High, Timms worked a few years for the former North Star Steel Inc., where her duties included being part of the quality assurance team and technical departments. She was responsible in part for testing the strength of steel pipes.
Timms also studied art history and historic preservation at Youngstown State University and performed excavation work on a blast furnace in Mill Creek Park. Later, she earned a master’s degree in industrial archaeology from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, then spent about 13 years in that field, Timms recalled.
Her job-related travels also took Timms to Pawtucket, R.I., where she worked at various industrial sites. The city was special to her largely because it’s part of the Blackstone River Valley, said to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
“As an industrial archaeologist, I hit the jackpot,” she said.
In addition, Timms spent about two years in the Atlanta area working for an engineering firm, as well as for the Georgia Department of Transportation and on cellphone towers, which included conducting environmental assessments.
Her time in and near the city presented a challenge, however. The number of building projects diminished mainly because of the housing market crash, she noted.
In the six years since her return to the Mahoning Valley, Timms has worked tirelessly to transform the Calvin Center, which well-known builder and stone mason P. Ross Berry built in 1877 and was used originally as a school until the 1940s.
She grows a series of vegetable gardens consisting of mint, oregano, Echinacea and other plants along the front and sides that are consistent with her vegan lifestyle. She also has a kitchen to prepare meals for the community and for food demonstrations; in addition, Timms wants to develop a health-and-wellness cafe, she continued.
Other plans include creating an air bed-and-breakfast, along with adding more space for catering and several residential areas. Currently, those renting space from Timms are 680 Studios, a private tenant studying music and the Local Competitive Athletic Association, which promotes youth and adult sports leagues in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Timms reflected on the renaissance Youngstown has seen since the demise of the steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as in the last several years in which increased business and other activity has occurred downtown. Nevertheless, Timms is a bit disillusioned by what she feels is an imbalanced priority of tearing down structures at the expense of historic preservation.
“The reality is, we need housing, decent housing,” she said, adding, “We need to think outside the box more to grow Youngstown.”
Another remaining challenge is that some communities continue to fight for resources for themselves instead of working more harmoniously with one another in the city, she observed. Despite these and other difficulties, Youngstown has the potential to strive toward greater prosperity, Timms said.
Also important is to develop and implement more positive ways to better the planet in a limited amount of time, she said.
“All we have is today,” Timms added.
Timms’ family also includes parents Robert and Kathy Timms, as well as sisters Shannon and Kristen.
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