Former Miami (OH) University Friends to Turn 111-Year-Old Firehouse into Community Arts Center

The former home of Cincinnati Fire Company No. 12 is expected to function not just as an art gallery but also be used for many other community events.

According to a report from Cincinnati Business Courier, former Miami (OH) University classmates Cal Cullen and Heather Bernal recently reunited after going their separate ways and are now transforming a 111-year-old vacant Hamilton, Ohio, fire station into a community arts center.

Earlier this year, Bernal’s Primo Property Services, a remodeling and commercial cleaning company she co-owns in Hamilton, purchased the firehouse in the town’s East End neighborhood, which had been shut down for 10 years and was on the verge of being condemned. After the purchase, Bernal contacted Cullen, now executive director and co-founder of Wave Pool, an arts and neighborhood center based in an old firehouse in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Camp Washington, to help bring the old two-story structure back to life.

Cullen founded Wave Pool with her husband Skip as part art gallery, part community center, where artists from all over the area and country can show off their works and where local residents can meet and get to know each other.

The former home of Cincinnati Fire Company No. 12 is expected to function not just as an art gallery but also as a yoga center and a place to offer health screenings, hold women’s empowerment meetings, and function as a woodworking shop. It has hosted community dinners and is home to the Welcome Project, a program for immigrant chefs.

Leaders from Hamilton arts organizations such as Fitton Center for Creative Arts, Miami University-Hamilton, Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, and Museum and Artspace gallery are also involved in seeing what the Hamilton community needs regarding promoting the arts and building the community, especially in the part of town situated around the station, which is home to a growing Hispanic population.

The opening is still several months away; the building needs substantial rehabilitation before it can be occupied. Bernal said that the building still requires new plumbing, electricity, and HVAC. Most of the work will be done by Bernal and her business partner, Kate Yerigan. Bernal’s father, Bill Duerksen, a custom woodworker and owner of Duerksen Woodworks in Hamilton, will construct a new staircase to the second floor. Bernal’s husband, Arnulfo, will tile the bathrooms.

The second floor will be converted into an Airbnb, which will help fund the Wave Pool project. Currently, the project is mostly funded by grants from foundations, governments, and not-for-profit organizations. Recently, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts awarded Bernal a $100,000 grant over two years to increase its programs that support emerging artists and provide more artist residencies, exhibitions, and community-centered programming.

As the firehouse rehab continues, Cullen and the rest of the Wave Pool staff will continue getting out into the Hamilton community. They are now organizing “pop-up” events to learn more about the interests of the arts community and neighborhood and to help spread the word about her organization.

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