House at Riding Center destroyed by gas explosion

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News on Nov. 5, 2015.

An acrid smell hung in the air for days after a house at the Riding Centre exploded when a furnace ignited propane that had been pooling in the basement. On Friday, Oct. 23, at 11:12 a.m., contractor Mike Wright had just locked the back door after finishing a few last-minute projects when the explosion ripped apart every wall in the house except one, said Matt Desjardins, director of communication for Antioch College. It is not clear why the propane was leaking, he said. Beams from upstairs floors now hang unsupported and the roof sags precipitously.

The house is owned by Antioch College and located just off Corry Street on East Hyde Road. No passersby or Riding Centre employees were hurt. A riding lesson was in progress at the time of the explosion, but the horse was not startled and the rider was not injured. Wright, mere feet away from the explosion, was safe but rattled.

“We’re extremely blessed and lucky nobody was injured,” said Desjardins.

Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman said that there was no fire following the explosion because the gas dissipated after the walls opened up. It was unusual but fortunate there was no fire, he said. Desjardins noted that the heat was turned off for most of the season because the temperatures have been fairly warm. It’s unclear if the furnace kicked on automatically or if someone working there turned it on, he said. Utilities to the house have since been shut off.

According to Desjardins, the college’s insurance provider is currently performing a forensic investigation of the scene. The propane tank itself is buried outside the house and was not affected by the explosion, he said. It is likely the leak was due to a faulty valve in the basement, but a clearer picture of what happened won’t be available until the assessment is complete sometime next week.

The part of East Hyde Road that runs from the Riding Centre to the covered bridge is closed, as is the same stretch of the bike path. The area is deemed unsafe due to the unstable condition of what is left of the structure, and because of debris in the area, Desjardins said. Once the investigation is complete, the Glen will hire a demolition contractor to clear the site, he clarified, but their timeline is contingent on the insurance company’s investigation.

“It’s likely the road will be blocked off for up to two weeks,” he said.

The two-bedroom house was built in the 1890s and is one of many properties the college owns in the village, said Desjardins. The college owns a few houses adjacent to campus that are typically used to house visitors or host college events, he said, but they are not rented out.

According to Desjardins, renovations were begun a year ago to turn the property into a private residence or an office space because Glen Helen did not have any particular use for the structure and the college had sufficient space to house students and staff. A tenant was set to sign a lease next week to use the house as an office, he said.

Glen Helen renovated the house with the express purpose of renting it to the general public as a revenue source for the Glen, said Nick Boutis, Glen Helen’s director. The house renovation was funded by an endowment that was part of one of the Glen’s first conservation easements. Rental terms were to be $1,350 per month. Boutis said his staff managed the property and the renovation process.

Altman said the fire department is considering the building a “total loss,” but Desjardins said the college is waiting to hear the insurance company’s findings before it determines whether to rebuild or tear the rest down.

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